The (501c3) non-profit seeks funding and items to stock the rental house, as well as volunteer labor to help prepare it.
The initial “Dream Home” shelter is being prepared to open next month, with New Year’s Day the targeted opening day. It can house 12 young people at a time. Its ribbon cutting and open house were held on Nov. 20.
The two-level Dream Home is at 309 Upward Road, at Upward’s southeastern corner with Allen Road. This is east of East Henderson High School, alma mater of Only Hope WNC President and CEO Michael Absher.
Absher said the shelter is “where homeless teens can feel safe when they have nowhere else to go, to transition them into independent living.” Lessons include greater respect for oneself and others. He foresees job/life training there such as learning to cook, and “house parents” to monitor at night. They can track youths via cell phones, and have reasonable (i.e. 11 p.m.) curfews.
There might be only one television, but a computer for each student to use to study and play video games. “It’s what we’d have in our homes,” Absher added of the comfort level. “If they’re doing well in school, they could try to get a part-time job.” Grades come first. He said illicit drug use will not be tolerated.
The Dream Home’s main room is shown, during the recent open house. Photo by Pete Zamplas.
Only Hope WNC assists homeless youth 23 and younger who are in school. To get into the Dream Home, a homeless youth must stay in school and ultimately graduate.
“It’s very important to help homeless kids who want to be successful in life by still going to school,” Absher emphasized. “They deserve the same opportunity others have. We have only a one percent dropout rate. But homeless kids tend to fight to graduate.” He started Only Hope in 2009, the year he graduated.
Absher told The Tribune over a year ago how he was homeless himself most as an East senior and Student Body vice-president.
He said youths helped by Only Hope are generally not impulsive runaways. Rather, he said, they typically flee ongoing abuse or other disfunction at home, get abandoned or in a sharp dispute such as over teen pregnancy. Instead of sleeping under a bridge, these teens tend to go “couch surfing,” he said. “They stay with one friend one night, then at another friend’s house the next night and so on.”
No child should ever be homeless and as we work together, we can see to it that every child has the opportunity to succeed and become productive, contributing members of our community.”
Thus the most basic need is “emergency housing for a night or two, if a student is left out in the cold,” Absher said. The Dream Home is the first of hopefully many in the area, he said.
Only Hope runs a food pantry. Also, “we provide support services for basic needs such as food, clothes, school supplies and getting them to the bus stop.” Utility aid is given, as funds allow. A yearbook helps a youth “feel like a normal kid.” Fulfilled requests have included gasoline to get to work, clothes for a job interview, athletic fees and graduation expenses.
Only Hope WNC helped out about 1,800 youth in six years, and many of the more than 300 homeless youth reported in Henderson County last year, Absher said. Only Hope works with Matt Gruebmeyer, public schools’ director of Title I and Homeless Education, to identify at-risk youth.
Only Hope CEO Michael Absher is in the Dream Home kitchen. Photo by Pete Zamplas.
Absher, 26, has been familiar to many in recent years as a bank teller in Wells Fargo’s downtown Hendersonville branch. The First Baptist Church lifelong member’s organizing and leadership for Only Hope put him as among 55 Heroes of the (Fortune) 500. He got that honor a year ago, from Fortune magazine for “extraordinary acts of bravery, kindness and selflessness.”
A $10,000 service grant from Wells Fargo went toward buying the foreclosed house. The grant came with a Volunteer Service Award a year ago. This made Absher likely the bank’s first WNC employee ever to get such a philanthropic grant, said Wells Fargo District Manager Josh English.
“It’s impressive how many kids Michael helps each year,” English said.
Absher was Hendersonville Heights Property Management’s property manager, overseeing renovation and maintenance for a half-decade. Now he brings those skills for the shelter home.
Mario Polon of Flat Rock stated he and wife Susana are “impressed as Fortune magazine was by the no-nonsense approach by Michael and his organization, and his first-hand understanding of the problem — since during his senior year of high school, he was homeless himself.”
Absher said he stayed at My Place, for a year and a half. That is also how long that teen shelter lasted before succumbing to budgetary woes.
Thus, for a half-decade, Absher patiently organized Only Hope and raised money such as with the fourth annual sleep-out fundraiser to start on good financial footing. About 70 donors slept outside to simulate homelessness, in the sleep-out Nov. 6 at the Historic Courthouse Square on Main.
Nine Only Hope board members are social workers and others with a “heart for homeless kids,” varying political views and shared goal of effective budgeting, Absher said. Carol Burke is treasurer-secretary. The vice-president/COO is Christine Singleton. Her husband Sam is on the board, along with Paul Duncan, Melissa Golden, Anne Madden, Vickie Sanders and Lona Wilson.
Their dream of a shelter materialized, with help of many in generating money and labor. Rent for the first year is covered, thanks to a discount of the local Housing Assistance Corp. and $11,444 donation from Cummings Cove Cares, Absher said.
Jeff Miller, on behalf of his Miller’s Fine Drycleaning’s 100th anniversary, in June awarded Only Hope $500 in the first montly non-profit donation this year.
How to Help
Next, Only Hope looks for specific goods for those staying in the shelter as well as work on the home. Flat Rock Lakes Homeowners Association helped fill such kitchen needs as a refrigerator, a stand-alone freezer, pots and pans to cook for 14 people, a blender, slow cooker, heavy-duty hand mixer, and kitchen knife set, FRLHA Pres. Lou Dalrymple noted.
Volunteer labor can also help, such as painting, and wiring appliances. For more about Only Hope WNC efforts and how to help, call Michael Absher at 693-5499 or check www.onlyhopewnc.org.