Nonprofit Collaboration Offers a Fresh Perspective on Volunteering

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By Klesa Ausherman

The social justice arena can be an intimidating one to enter. The intricacies of policy can feel out of our grasp, and the feeling that the battle is always fought up-hill can be a deterrent to rolling up our sleeves and joining the effort. These apprehensions are more easily overcome when we hear the experiences and perspectives of a long-time social justice veteran; someone like Cassie Dillon.

Cassie is the current Asheville Habitat Board Chair, member of numerous Habitat committees, Asheville ReStore core volunteer – and Buncombe County Guardian Ad Litem. Her connection and commitment to both organizations has created the opportunity for some beautiful collaborations. The first is the 1821 ReStore Shopper Program, which you can read about here. And the most recent is the Guardian Ad Litem Association’s Children’s Assistance Fund, the recipient of this month’s ReStore Register Round Up program. We sat down with Cassie to learn a little more about the Guardian Ad Litem Association, their Children’s Assistance Fund, and her volunteer work over the years.

Cassie has been volunteering with Habitat for Humanity for 16 years- long before her retirement from a career in Computer Information Systems. She began with AAHH because it was the only place she could volunteer on Saturdays. Six years ago, she completed a six-week course and received a court appointment as a Buncombe County Guardian Ad Litem (GAL). Since then, she has represented 21 children in Department of Social Services non-secure custody in court. Her  responsibility is to speak for, and in the best interest of children who are receiving DSS in-home, kinship or foster care services.

Five years ago several GALs joined forces to create the Guardian Ad Litem Association of Buncombe County to  provide enrichment activities for children they serve through the Children’s Assistance Fund. This volunteer-funded initiative provides activities such as summer camp and piano lessons to children who otherwise would not be able to afford them. This summer, two young adults who attended the YMCA’s Camp Watai as counselors in training under GAL auspices will become full-fledged summer camp counselors – a positive and life-changing experience for  kids who have spent a good deal of their lives in foster care.

As a Guardian Ad Litem, Cassie does research on her families, writes reports to support her recommendations,  attends court hearings, and visits the children and families she serves at least 1-2 times each month. She admits this type of volunteering can sometimes be emotional and difficult, but also very rewarding. “Volunteering is very enriching,” she says. “If your focus is just economic, that’s a pretty narrow focus. I would encourage people to have a broader focus, and volunteering certainly fulfills that. It keeps you grounded and makes you want to be more aware of the impact of policies on people lives because you see firsthand what these policies do and how devastating they can be.”

Through volunteering with these organizations Cassie has become closely acquainted with our social systems, and comments “It’s so clear that our social safety net has a lot of holes in it. When people make minimum wage and are living in miserable conditions, it’s just a really hard life. Things happen, but I have yet to meet a family where I felt the parents were bad people.” When asked how she remains encouraged and stays committed despite the circumstances that she regularly witnesses, she replied “I had a really  disturbing case with child abuse that actually ended well. Everybody makes mistakes, everybody screws up. I think that’s the other thing you learn- humanity is very flawed, so just expect it and don’t be judgmental.”

This could perhaps be one of the most encouraging statements ever made about volunteering with social justice organizations: through volunteering, we can be witness to the resolutions, to all of the positive outcomes, rather than just the negative statistics describing human error in the world around us. We don’t have to ring our hands and pull out our hair because of the constant bombardment of negative news and statistics; we can be present, part of the solutions and good outcomes by volunteering with our local community social justice organizations. Turns out, volunteering is as important for our health as our daily multi-vitamin and serving of greens. Thank you Cassie, for this awesome revelation! (That must be your secret to beauty as well!)

A good resource on our local social justice organizations is the WNC Social Justice Advocacy Guide found at:  https://wncsocialjustice.guide/. Ask yourself, “If I could serve one cause and do some good before my time on this planet is up, what would it be?”  Then, go see who’s already out there working and link arms!

The January ReStore Register Round Up proceeds will benefit the Guardian Ad Litem Association’s Children’s Assistance Fund. Learn more about GAL at https://gala-bc.org/.

 

 

New Partnership to Meet Senior Housing Needs

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Though older adults (age 55+) comprise 20% of Buncombe County’s population, they have limited access to affordable housing options designed to meet their needs. Coordinator for Buncombe County Aging Plan Alison H. Climo shared, “Neither the current housing stock nor the booming development of new housing matches the expressed desire among older and aging residents to age in place. Buncombe County needs housing options that are affordable but also accessible to enable people of all ages, and all people as they age, to remain in the home of their choice.”

To that end, in the first phase of construction at its upcoming New Heights neighborhood (off of Old Haywood Road), Habitat will build 8 single-level townhomes specifically for aging adults, thanks to generous support from local retirement community, Deerfield. Funding from Deerfield and its newly formed Charitable Foundation includes a Full House Sponsorship ($55,000) on each of the 8 units, as well as $50,000 to research and develop senior-oriented house designs, financing options and HOA management.

“The ability to age with safety and dignity and to live in an age-friendly community shouldn’t be an option reserved for the wealthy. Everyone deserves to live in a stable, affordable home – in all stages of life. We are incredible grateful for Deerfield’s partnership in this important work of ensuring more of our aging neighbors have a safe, affordable home,” said Andy Barnett, Asheville Habitat’s Executive Director.

Specifically designed for and sold to qualified older adults, Habitat’s senior housing will include universal design elements such as:

  • An at-grade or ramped entrance to the main floor or the capability to easily install a ramp
  • Entry doorways and passageways at least 36″ wide
  • A bathroom that will accommodate a wheelchair in a 365-degree circle
  • One-level living that includes a full bath, kitchen, laundry, living space and 1+ bedroom
  • Additional occupant-specific accommodations

 

Site of New Heights as of Dec. 2019.

Like all Habitat homeowners, senior homebuyers will repay an affordable mortgage. To help identify potential homebuyers, Asheville Habitat will leverage existing relationships with Council of Aging, Land of Sky Regional Council and other agencies.

“We are so glad to be able to support affordable housing for seniors in Buncombe County. Deerfield residents have communicated their passion and support for Habitat in such practical ways over the years – consistent volunteerism and generous donations! We listened and are affirming their commitment to Asheville Habitat by investing nearly half a million dollars in the organization’s good work,” remarked Michelle Wooley, Director of Philanthropy at Deerfield.

To learn more about Habitat homeownership (senior housing or traditional single-family and townhome models) here or call 828.210.9362. Information sessions are held multiple times each month and the schedule of upcoming dates can be found on the website.

Innovative Solution to Community Need

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Members of PODER EMMA and staff from Asheville Habitat’s Home Repair team came together to protect manufactured home residents and build community by having a community safety day to install new door security plates and solar-powered, motion-activated lighting.