AshevilleCity - County Gov.Opinion

Look Who’s Looking for Money: Commissioners Hear from Applicants


The fad this year was asking for funding for community navigators. Like the navigators employed for the Obamacare rollout, these people spread the word about government welfare programs. It is human nature to go berserk in a maze of bureaucracy. Navigators can boldly blaze trails for the uninitiated. They further raise awareness for those who, like millions of Americans during the push to get 20 percent of the population on food stamps, don’t know they qualify for services. More importantly, they build capacity for programs to justify greater transfers of wealth from the private to the public sector, thus feeding the vicious cycle taxing more and more household incomes into poverty.

Last year, Commissioner Joe Belcher attempted to bring more accountability into the awarding of grants. He asked for a fixed percentage of the county’s budget to be set aside each year. Agencies would then be allowed to apply for a portion of this funding, and the commissioners would approve awards based on performance. More specifically, he argued, if an agency was able to deliver a needed service more efficiently than the county could, it would be in the taxpayers’ best interest to fund that agency. Belcher mentioned Eblen as having such an amazing volunteer base, it can provide essential humanitarian services without the overhead payroll necessitates.

Unfortunately, the proposal needed majority support from the commissioners, and that would not be forthcoming. One proposal that did get traction was consideration that administrative costs not exceed 12 percent of an organization’s budget. Eblen, MANNA FoodBank, Homeward Bound, and Asheville Buncombe Community Christian Services (ABCCM) all had overhead running in the single digits last year. “If they can’t provide a service more efficiently than the county, we should be doing their work in-house, or find a better way to do it,” said Belcher in a follow-up interview.

Welfare Requests –

Brian Alexander, executive director of Homeward Bound, an agency serving over 2500 homeless people in the region, requested $130,000 for the AHOPE Day Center and $50,000 for Project Rebound. The greater amount would go toward Coordinated Assessment, which is HUD’s term for triage. Alexander explained he wanted to allocate resources wisely, “so nobody dies on the streets.” Whereas most programs with the name “Project Rebound” rehabilitate prisoners, Alexander only spoke of using the $50,000 to provide permanent housing with continuum care for persons with addictions and other mental illnesses.

The most substantial request coming from any agency was ABCCM’s for $600,000. $50,000 of the sum would go to that agency’s Community Service Navigator program. Another $164,280 would help prop up Our Circle. The program assigns “intentional friends and mentors [to] under-resourced families [to provide] unconditional love, increased self-esteem, encouragement, and insights into ways to overcome barriers they could not discover on their own.” The remainder of the grant would fund Transformation Village. On 24 acres across from Biltmore Square Mall, anywhere from 100 to 300 apartments would be provided for the area’s homeless women and children. According to ABCCM, “Estimates indicate there are approximately 400 homeless women and 300 homeless children at any given time in Buncombe County.” A level of security would be provided for survivors of domestic violence. This ministry will greatly expand upon the services ABCCM is able to provide now through its Steadfast House.

Scott Dedman requested $102,500 to assist Mountain Housing Opportunities. The agency continues by leaps and bounds to help make a dent in the demand for”affordable, safe, and attractive homes in good neighborhoods.” On average, the agency serves over 600 households and builds more than 60 new homes each year. Laura Collins, grants coordinator for the Asheville Area Habitat for Humanity, requested $20,000 for home repair assistance and another $75,000 for “housing services,” which includes providing prospective homebuyers “intense education before closing.” As unfathomable as it sounds, Collins said the coaching routinely succeeds in helping families pay off their mortgages.

Joining ABCCM on the community navigator bandwagon, the Swannanoa Valley Christian Ministry, the Big Ivy Community Club, and the YWCA all wanted $25,000 to hire experts in the use of social astrolabes and sextants; the Asheville-Buncombe Institute of Parity Achievement wanted $86,000. Big Ivy, in addition wanted $50,245 for a community center. All-told, the YW wanted $100,000. $25,000 would fund Mother Love, a program that helps pregnant girls and delivered mothers graduate from high school, graduate from an institute of higher learning, acquire job skills, receive prenatal care, hook up with other government services, and learn home economics skills. $50,000 would provide Drop-in Child Care for parents consuming social services, job hunting, or continuing their education. CEO Beth Maczka mentioned three times that the programs are now bilingual.

Mount Zion Community Development requested $50,000 to help prevent teen pregnancy and support youth who decide to follow through with a pregnancy. Mt. Zion is attempting to fly without a navigator.

MANNA FoodBank requested $30,000 for food distribution and another $20,000 for outreach, which, included a community navigator angle. Regardless, enough cannot be said about MANNA as a powerful force for good in collecting, warehousing, and distributing food to Western North Carolina’s hungry through 248 partner agencies.

Belcher’s example, Eblen Charities, requested a mere $50,000. Perhaps most famous for keeping low-income houses warm in the winter, Eblen also helps the needy get medical attention, intervenes to prevent foreclosure and eviction, and provides meals for school children. This year’s funding request would go toward “doing whatever it takes” to help high-risk children graduate. Assistance could include providing anything from clothing to school supplies to eyeglasses. Speaking of which, the Asheville Lions Eye Clinic requested $25,000 for vision screenings, mostly for school children.

The All Souls Counseling Center requested $100,000 for safety-net services. Robin Merrell, managing attorney, lobbied on behalf of Pisgah Legal Services’ request for $247,500. Merrell reported the organization served 7551 persons in Buncombe County last year, securing $11 million in quantifiable benefits for clients, which included disability and Medicaid benefits, child support, unemployment compensation, and foreclosure prevention.

The following requests were made by agencies defending the rights of the innocents: Helpmate requested $82,455 to succor victims of domestic violence in crisis; Child Abuse Prevention Services, $20,000; the Arc of Buncombe County, $35,000 to service people with intellectual and physical disabilities; the Mediation Center, $24,000 for supervision and other assistance to allow children to visit divorced parents in safety and without drama; and Senior Care Fellowship, $1500 for transportation to activities and meals for the elderly. Al Whitesides, who at one time appeared to serve on every board and commission in town, said he was in semi-retirement, serving only on the board of the Arc because he believed so strongly in helping the helpless with respect and access.

Getting Artsy –

The Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce is listed as requesting $500,000 for its Economic Development Coalition, but nobody spoke at the meeting. The third largest request was $415,000 for the Pack Square Cultural Partnership, which includes the Asheville Art Museum, the Diana Wortham Theatre, and the YMI Cultural Center. Pam Myers, executive director of the museum, reminded commissioners of the long-standing partnership the county had with the charity, and said last year more than 200,000 participated in last year’s programming. The YMI actually requested $40,000 on top of the Pack Square request. The amount would go toward general support for cultural awareness and expanded cultural expression. YMI recently worked with UNCA on an exhibit calling attention to the slave trade in the area, and it will soon screen a documentary on Tryon’s “Priestess of Soul” Nina Simone.

A number of other organizations appealed for assistance with the arts. David Whitehill, executive director of the Asheville Symphony, said Asheville’s is ranked in the top 12 percent of US orchestras. He told how the organization had grown over the years with a skeleton administration working amongst music crates and instruments. This year, in addition to a wealth of educational programming, the symphony put on the first Asheville Amadeus festival. With tens of events in tens of venues, it attracted its fair share of tourists. He asked $72,894 to help with the office situation.

The Asheville Downtown Association produces about a hundred events for the city, including the Holiday Parade and Jingle Festival and Downtown After Five. It pays the insurance and permits for the Asheville Drum Circle, and this year it is introducing a Sunday Music in the Park series. Local icon Adrian Vassallo requested $25,000 to keep the good times rolling. The Folk Heritage Committee asked $4275 to support Shindig on the Green.

Additional artistically-inclined requests came from the Black Mountain College Museum and Arts Center for $20,000 for its funky {Re}HAPPENING festival, and from the Historic Resources Commission for $10,000 for master planning and surveying the community’s less spectacular historic sites. Kitty Love asked for $45,000 on behalf of the Asheville Area Arts Council to pay for educational programs and entrepreneurial support. Susan Harper requested $15,000 for the Asheville Community Theatre, saying stage shows help promote self-awareness, diversity, cultural enrichment, and fun amongst youth. Laura Hope-Gill requested the same amount to support Lenoir-Rhyne University’s Asheville Wordfest. The program invites members of the community to answer the questions, “What is your Asheville?” “Who makes it up?” and “Who writes it?”

Sundry –

On the educational front, Allison Jordan, executive director for Children First/Communities in Schools, brought a fifth grader with her to make her plea for funding the Success Coordinator program. Following an articulate reading, Jordan jokingly threatened the kids they are serving today could become the county commissioners of tomorrow. Pastor Spencer Hardaway asked $75,000 for Project Lighten Up. The program provides after-school and summer programs for low-income and minority students. In addition to teaching reading, writing, and personal development; the program shares crafts, bike safety, and music; takes kids on field trips to the police and sheriff’s departments and the Nature Center; and, of course, provides lunch. Buncombe County Schools requested $94,000 for its Career Academy at Erwin High, and One Youth at a Time requested $67,000 for mentoring.

Looking out for the more rural parts of the county, Steve Duckett requested $17,500 to help with the North Carolina Cooperative Extension’s nutritional education program. Putting a face on the problem, he told about a man living in his car and unable to make healthy food choices. With help from a local Christian ministry and friends he met in program participation, he is now an asset to the community with his own place and custody of his daughter. Another group, WNC Communities, requested $20,000 for general support. Executive Director Linda Lamp explained the group takes on a raft of responsibilities, ranging from fighting the wooly adelgid blight in the hemlocks to helping schools with energy-efficiency projects.

A number of requests were made by green organizations. Green Opportunities requested $50,000 for its program that helps feed youth in poverty while providing a program in kitchen training that places graduates in jobs earning at least $10.75/hour. Asheville GreenWorks requested $50,000 for reducing waste, cleaning rivers, planting trees, recycling, and community building. Executive Director Dawn Chavez said each dollar the county spends on greening up has a $10 impact. The Appalachian Sustainable Agricultural Project asked $35,000 to grow demand for locally-grown edibles, and the Environmental Quality Institute wanted $9660 for volunteer water quality testing programs.

Vicki Meath, executive director of Just Economics, requested $15,000 for poverty remediation. Just Economics is best known in the area for its push for living wages. Last year, it lobbied businesses and governments to voluntarily increase employee wages. Meath called attention to the French Broad Food Co-op, which was able to increase payroll by $125,000 in one year without adding employees or raising prices. In accordance with its mission of civil engagement, Just Economics now has a member serving on Asheville’s Transit Committee.

Other requests in the realm of economic development came from Eagle Market Street, in the amount of $50,000 for job training; River Front Development Group, $136,716 for the provision of skills and educational opportunities; the Support Center, $100,000 to connect women entrepreneurs with startup capital; and the Asheville-Buncombe Regional Sports Commission, $75,000 to support the Southern Conference Championships and general sports tourism.

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