Our Director

W. Christopher Jernigan

Our Director, W. Chris Jernigan began his career with Southmountain in 1990 as associate executive director. During his tenure as associate director he led the organization through two multi-million dollar capital campaigns from which new homes and recreation facilities were built for the children on the main campus near Lake James in Burke County. Additionally, Jernigan led the agency through the establishment of two award-winning collaborative programs, the Burke County Child Advocacy Center and the Burke Family Support Center.

Since becoming executive director in 2003, Jernigan has created the State’s first and only Foster Community and established three additional Children’s Advocacy Centers.


In 1995 Jernigan received the "Award for Excellence in Management" from the North Carolina Association of Children and Family Services (now Benchmarks). Jernigan is also active in child abuse prevention programs both locally and statewide and serves as the Vice President for the Board of the NC Children’s Advocacy Centers.

He is a charter member of the Burke County Community Child Protection Team and the Burke County Child Fatality Prevention Team and has served as chair numerous times. Very active in civic and community affairs, Jernigan is a member of the Optimist Club of Morganton and has been a member of Optimist International since 1977. He has served as Western NC district governor for which he was awarded both distinguished and outstanding status, International Vice President, and as a member of the International Board of Directors for three years. He is a member of the Catawba Valley Masonic Lodge #217.  He currently serves on the Board of Directors for Morganton Savings Bank and the Morganton Main Street Advisory Board.

Throughout his career he has served on various other Boards and Teams including; the Burke County Community Collaborative for Mental Health Reform, the Burke Partnership for Children, the Leadership Committee of the Burke County Chamber of Commerce, the Therapeutic Recreation Advisory Committee for Western Piedmont Community College, and the Mayor's Youth Advisory Council of Morganton.

In 2007, Jernigan received National recognition after donating a kidney to his administrative assistant. Afterwards, he was chosen to serve on the Living Donor Committee of the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) for three years.

Jernigan earned a BA in communication from NC State University and an MS in child care administration from NOVA Southeastern University.