Vanna Farrar's love for family is the lens through which she views Person County. She, like many Personians, comes from a large family whose matriarchs and patriarchs still lead the family. So the ties that bind her to the community are family ties. Here story is not simply a story about growing up in Roxboro. It's a story about her roots.
Q) What was your upbringing like in Person County?
A) My experience growing up mostly involved family. My grandmother and her siblings are all very close so we’ve always had family gatherings. My grandmother has a lot of siblings so whenever we got together it was always like a family reunion. We got together on Fourth of July, Thanksgiving, pretty much any special occasion. The whole family went to the same church so we were around each other a lot. That’s what I’m used to. That’s how I was brought up. And things are pretty much still the same way. Of course we haven’t been able to get together much the past couple of years, but as things get better I think we will be back to normal.
Even though I’ve always been around my family in Person County, I didn’t actually move there until I was in fifth grade. So that is where my journey began in Person County Schools. I went to North Elementary that year. My principal was Mrs. Williamson and she was the greatest principal ever. North Elementary was mostly Black as far as the students, and we had quite a few Black teachers, so we saw a lot of African-American representation. And we know that students being able to see themselves in a teacher and vice versa is very important and is talked about a lot these days. So we had that at North when I was there and I had a good experience, even though it was short-lived. My best friend today is my best friend from fifth grade. So being at North really made an impact on my life.
After that I went to Northern Middle School and met even more people from Person County. I started to learn a lot about people’s experiences and backgrounds at that point. I learned that everybody is not the same and was not raised the same. But I still had a good experience at Northern. I played clarinet in the band and ran track. I was very athletic in middle school; I won awards and things like that. But when I got to high school I just focused on learning. Also I had a job. But going to Person High School was great. Everybody knew everybody. I went to school with my cousins. And that’s the high school that my father, Terry Cunningham, went to, so I was a second-generation Person High student, and I think most of us were, actually. Person County is a small town so everybody grew up together and went to school with each other, and that repeats down through the generations. So I had a good time growing up in Person County. I knew I wanted to move a way when I became an adult because it is a small town and I wanted to experience something greater. But my experience there was good. I miss it sometimes. I definitely miss being able to get up and go to my grandmother’s house any time I wanted to. And my dad and younger siblings are in Roxboro so I do miss being close by them. I’m not that far away but I still can’t be around my family on a daily basis the way it was when I was growing up, and that’s what I miss.
Q) What have your educational and career paths been like?
A) After I graduated high school in 2007, I wanted to go to North Carolina Central University, and I actually got accepted there as well as Winston-Salem State University and a couple of other schools. But my daddy, being from a small town, was afraid for me to go off to college. He didn’t know what to expect and he wanted to keep me close for a little bit longer. Because, and I guess I could’ve mentioned this earlier, my father raised me as single father. For the majority of my childhood, it was just him and I. We are very close and he was very protective of me at that time. So instead of going straight to Central, I went to PCC for a year. Then I transferred to Durham Tech to continue taking courses because I was working in Durham at the time. And then from there I transferred to NCCU in 2012.
The whole time I was in school I was working in the nursing field. I started out in assisted living as a nursing assistant and went on to other roles. Specifically, while I was at NCCU, I was working at UNC Hospital in Chapel Hill. Also my husband and I had our daughter by that time, so it was a lot. But I was able to juggle home, work, and school, and in 2014 I graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Public Health.
After I finished at Central, the jobs that I was seeking based on my degree required me to have a Master’s degree, so I was going to need to continue my education. At the same time though, I really liked being in the nursing field. So I decided, if I’m going to need additional education anyway, I should get it in nursing and build on that career. So I went to Vance-Granville Community College and I earned a nursing degree to go along with my public health degree. Today all of my education and work experiences have aligned, and I am a public health nurse at the Health Department.
Public health is exactly what it says, providing health to the public. It deals with those things that can affect the whole population. Most people have become more aware of the work of public health during the pandemic because part of our job is to keep track of the case numbers and provide testing and vaccines. Right now I am also focusing on communicable diseases like Tuberculosis and STD’s. Most people don’t even think about Tuberculosis anymore but people are still becoming infected with it, so we stay on top of diseases that people don’t even realize are going around in the community. I am currently taking courses to have an enhanced role in STD testing so that when patients come for that, it doesn’t have to be a doctor who does the test, I will be able to do it. My job at the health department consists of a lot of paperwork though, so I also work part time at UNC Hospital in Hillsboro. I do that to keep my nursing skills sharp and to get that added fulfillment of working with patients.
Q) Why is it important that women be recognized for their foundational work in our community and our nation?
A) It’s important for women to be recognized nationally and locally during a month like this because women weren’t always given the opportunity to be leaders like we are now. Way back when women were caretakers and homemakers, they were still leaders because they were taking care of the things that needed to be done—that’s leadership. But they weren’t recognized for it. But now we also have more public women figures. Our vice president is a Black woman. Women are business owners, managers on their jobs, and things of that sort. So we are taking on leadership in all forms now, and its good to have that be recognized considering that it wasn’t recognized for so long.
Q) What do you envision for the future of Person County?
A) I would like to see Person County cater more to the younger generations. It’s a town for older people who are settling down so there is not much for younger kids to do. But I envision that Roxboro would be a place where young adults can thrive and would not have to go to other places to work and have fun. If you want young adults to stay here and raise their children, then there must be things that meet the needs and interests of those young adults and their kids.
Q) What is your advice for girls and young women who look to you as motivation?
A) You have to have a positive outlook on things. If you think positively, then positive things are more likely to happen. There are even studies that show that and countless people can attest to it. So be positive. I try to instill that in my daughter, and I also tell her to do the best in everything she does. My grandmother is my inspiration for that. She is the hardest-working person I know. She raised three children while taking care of the home and working, and now even as a great-grandmother she is very active in all of our lives and she encourages us to be our best. That type of encouragement is what helped me get through nursing school. That was the hardest thing I have ever done. I tell people, nurses don’t get the credit they deserve because nursing school by itself will take you out. But I had to be positive and I kept giving it my best. You have to take things one day at a time. Looking too far ahead will distract you from the present. Maintain your focus and keep believing that you can do what you are striving to do.