Overnight lows in the mid-40s didn’t stop a small group of children and adults from raising money for homeless youth by spending the night outside at the Historic Courthouse plaza in Hendersonville over the weekend.
Turnout for Only Hope WNC’s ninth annual Sleepout – a major fundraiser that typically brings in $15,000-$20,000 as people sleep in tents or their cars as a show of support — “definitely was affected” by the Coronavirus pandemic.
Nonetheless, agency President Michael Absher said he and dozens of volunteers will continue providing food, shelter and personal care products to homeless children and teenagers, despite his reluctance to approach local sponsors for donations.
“We don’t feel comfortable pushing them to help when they’re struggling themselves (because of the pandemic),” Absher said.
Fortunately, several charitable organizations, including the Community and Pisgah Health foundations and Dogwood Health Trust, have stepped up to help fund Only Hope after receiving Covid relief money from federal and state sources, according to Absher.
“That kind of helped bridge that gap,” he said. “We were able to get some grants to cover some of the normal expenditures” contained in an operating budget of $58,000.
Only Hope helps about 300 young people ages 5-21 a year, and currently has four clients living in an all-male transitional youth home owned by the agency Absher co-founded a decade ago after being homeless throughout his entire senior year at East Hendersonville High.
“A lot of these kids, they’re focused on school,” Absher said of the school-age youth who stay at the home. “Some could (be there) a couple of weeks, some a couple of years.”
Only Hope board member Carol Brown said she wants the agency to establish a similar home for girls, many of whom are being helped by Safelight, a Hendersonville crisis shelter that serves victims of domestic violence and abuse.
“The problem is, girls have the same needs as boys,” Brown said.
She and Absher said they hope to launch a capital fund drive once the Covid pandemic is under control, or possibly sometime in 2021.
“Places like Only Hope, there aren’t very many of them,” said Brown, who runs a cancer program at Pardee Hospital.
That’s all the more reason to support the local agency, said Tamara Maybin, who befriended Absher when both became involved with a food pantry next to The Grafted Olive, Maybin’s food catering business in Tuxedo.
“(Only Hope) is a must in our area,” Maybin said. “People don’t know” how bad the homeless situation is in Henderson County. “There are at least seven homeless families living in tents around Lake Summit; they’re everywhere.”
Donations to Only Hope can be made online at onlyhopewnc.org or by calling Absher at (828) 693-5499. Volunteers are welcome.
Stephen Kindland is a freelance writer, photographer and author of an award-winning children’s book titled “I Beg Your Pardon, But This Is My Garden!” He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.