Thursday, December 10, 2009

Homeless Persons' Memorial Service

By Emily Ball, AmeriCorps*VISTA at the Asheville-Buncombe Homeless Initiative.

I went to the see The Blind Side last night. And say what you will about cheesy movies and Hollywood emotionalism: I cried through the whole thing.
It’s based on the real-life story of Michael Oher, who made his way from the projects to a wealthy private high school, where a family whose kids were students there took him home one night after driving by him walking in the cold and discovered he didn’t have a place to stay. The rest of the story is predictable, in a Hollywood, fairytale way: he became part of their family, ended up going to Ole Miss on a football scholarship, got drafted to the NFL.
Except that it’s not a fairytale. It’s a reality, because one family was brave enough, compassionate enough, generous enough, convicted enough to get involved in someone else’s life. To notice him. To recognize that they had enough to share. It’s a reality because one family had enough humanity to see the humanity in someone else who was suffering, and to act on it.
Will we do the same? In Asheville tonight there are about 550 people living like Michael Oher was: human beings, fellow men and women, who lack resources but don’t lack value. Will we act on it?
On December 19th, we have the opportunity to come together as a community around some of our most vulnerable neighbors. The Unitarian Universalist Church of Asheville, in partnership with the Asheville-Buncombe Homeless Initiative, is holding Asheville’s 3rd annual Homeless Persons’ Memorial Service, to commemorate the lives of the 19 community members who died while homeless in Asheville this year. It’s a public recognition of their humanity. A chance to grieve. An opportunity to show support of our neighbors who are experiencing homelessness. A time to reflect on homelessness in our city and on what we’re each doing individually to help end it.
Deaths in the homeless community are usually the result of preventable causes: hate crime violence; overexposure to harsh weather; inadequate access to medical treatment for chronic or acute conditions. The National Health Care for the Homeless Council reports that people experiencing homelessness are 3 to 4 times more likely to die than people with housing. And that while the average age of death in the general U.S. population is 78 years old, that average for people without housing is closer to 50.
This December, in a month filled with family gatherings, gift-giving, buzzwords like peace and joy, let’s take an hour to remember people in our community who died alone this year. People just like us, who were born to families who cared about them, who laughed and cried and loved and had friends and jobs and community…but who didn’t have housing at the end of their lives. Let’s honor their memories at the Homeless Persons’ Memorial Service and pay tribute to their lives by working to end homelessness in Asheville. Let’s recognize the humanity we share with them, and let’s act on it.

Homeless Persons’ Memorial Service
December 19th at 2 p.m.
Unitarian Universalist Church of Asheville
(Potluck to follow!)

For more information, contact Emily Ball at the Asheville-Buncombe Homeless Initiative: 259.5733 or

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Wasting is making the USA a Garbage Dump!

By Rachael Bliss, Americorps VISTA with the WNC Alliance

I am amazed at the amount of stuff we waste in this country. Look on the curbs on garbage pick-up day, and I'm sure you'll agree with me. Of course, most of it all ends up in huge landfills-- bigger than most farms. The trash is taking up good land that could be used for feeding hungry people and livestock, and instead condemning it to becoming a huge garbage pail for eternity, with nearby streams and springs contaminated forever.

I know we all live in limited situations. We just can't keep every little container, every piece of paper or worn-out appliance. And why would we want to in the first place? I'm the first to admit that the only place for some stuff is in a landfill, but lots of stuff ends up there that should have been put to better use. It's our community's responsibility to tell us what and where the better uses are. First of all, does that paper or plastic bag need to be disposed of? Can't both be reused instead of using new paper and plastic bags? Additionally, why do you have these bags in the first place? Take your own bags to the store and don't put your produce in plastic bags. Your produce will decay faster in a plastic bag than outside of one. The only plastic bag you may run into is the bag your bread comes in. You can avoid this if you bake your own bread. How about getting some sour dough starter, and just get in the habit of adding to it regularly, therefore never needing to buy yeast or bread again?The newspaper? Get your news online and avoid all printed on paper news. It's more up-to-date online, as well. And think of the trees that will be spared!

Tin cans? Those are recyclable, as is the paper above. But fresh local produce is better for you. Try to avoid food from cans. Food from cans is not as nutritious and may be contaminated from the lining in the tin cans.Old clothes? Don't throw them away. Pass them down to younger or smaller persons, either in the family or through thrift stores. You may even be able to sell some to consignment stores. Old appliances? Most likely, the metal in the old stoves, washing machines and similar equipment is recyclable. Check with your local metal recycling center. Maybe they'll pick it up for you or let you drop it off at their location.Food? Preserve it if you can't eat it all now before it spoils. You can freeze, can, dry or ferment it. If you do preserve your food, you will have local food in the winter, and will save on transportation costs that uses up our country's fuel getting food from one coast to another.

Stop it! Buy only local, even if this means that your diet in the winter becomes limited. If you should have food that no one can eat, compost it. The little bugs that make better dirt in the compost pile will love it and transform it to grow more food in coming seasons. Old furniture? Most likely, that can also still be used by someone. Go to in your community. This is a site that allows only stuff that is free to people, with the main purpose of keeping material out of landfills. Recently I was able to keep old darkroom material and chemicals out of the landfill through the use of freecycle. If you want to sell something (even if you think it is useless) you may also consider eBay and craigslist in your community.

Old boxes? Recyclable. They're also good for storing your stuff. Avoid buying boxes when you can use many that many folks throw away.

Styrofoam? Shipping places can use that.

Other reminders: Don't buy napkins, paper towels, disposable diapers, plates, cups or facial tissues. There are cloth substitutes for all of these. When you buy your toilet tissue, be sure it's made from recycled paper. Avoid the soft stuff. The rough stuff lasts longer and toughens up your rear.Then save a few things that you have room for. For example, I refused to get rid of an old leather purse, so I kept it in my closet for a number of years. Recently when I saw that my favorite wool sweater was getting thin in the elbows, I cut up elbow patches from my old purse and sewed them on my sweater. Now I feel like a fancy college professor with leather patches on my elbows.Save those wire twists found on bread wrappers. They come in handy when you store other things in bags, such as frozen foods. Same for rubber bands, paper clips, paper clean on one side.In nature there is no waste. I think waste is a human trait. Wonder in the woods and see the decaying trees that are nourishing the soil. Dead animals eventually return to the soil, just as we are supposed to do with the command from the Bible, "Dust thou art, and to dust thou shall return." One of the biggest disgraces in modern society is the way we waste our bodies after we are dead. We need to dispel the use of formaldyhide, fancy caskets and vaults. Let our bodies decay as the animals, thus nourishing Mother Earth as she nourished us while we walked on her.

What should you throw away? Candy wrappers, cellophane, that's about it.Cities should constantly shrink the size of city-owned garbage containers while they increase the size of the recycle containers. If folks have too much garbage for the small containers, maybe they need to pay extra. Those who recycle need a tax rebate.We live in a consumer economy. For our free enterprise capitalistic society, our leaders want us to consume. But we don't have to do them the favor. I say don't consume any more than you have to. Do with less. Then waste not so you'll want not. There are more than six billion of us consumers here on this earth, and we must all protect our resources so that those who follow us will have resources themselves. The only other alternative is to have about half as many people on this planet than we have now. If we want this many people, we must learn to use whatever we have to it fullest and to do without regarding the unnecessary things we are begged to buy.In the past it was a sign of success to keep up with the Joneses. I say today, keep up with People Power Granny, and see if you can use as little as me, can waste as little as me and recycle as much as me. What a terrific example for our grand kids who are bombarded with advertisements daily saying that they have to consume more and more everyday!

Rachael Bliss Americorps/VISTA
Western North Carolina Alliance
29 N Market St., Ste. 610
Asheville, NC 28801828-258-8737

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Thank You!

The kick-off of our Go Public campaign was an amazing success. It was inspiring to see our community come out in support of public education. I've been thinking about ways to transform that momentum into real support. Currently, the Asheville City Schools Foundation has been spending a lot of time thinking about and researching the impact of "out-of-school" time on learning. Our website contains the summary of our Listening to Teens report that details how our students want to spend their after school and summer idle hours. It's worth a look.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Our VOICE news! Events in October...

By Monica Antonazzo
AmeriCorps VISTA

Did you see what she was wearing?

She should not have been drinking!

He couldn’t control himself.

Boys will be boys.

For the past 35 years, Our VOICE has been serving the Asheville community as a rape crisis center with victim services, prevention and community education. Last year, volunteers undertook a vast community assessment that revealed that the majority of people in Buncombe County see sexual violence as a major issue, but many of us also subscribe to rape myths. Rape myths are misconceptions about sexual violence that tend to blame victims and provide justifications for perpetrators.

For those who would like to join us in addressing these rape myths and working towards our goal of creating a community free from sexual violence, there are several opportunities coming up in the next month. First, in commemoration of our 35th anniversary, there will be a benefit concert at the Grey Eagle on Oct. 4th: Voices, featuring Nikki Talley, StereoFidelics, and Skinny Legs and All.

On October 15, we will host a Community Gathering for the Prevention of Sexual Violence at the MAHEC building, 5:30pm. This is a free event including dinner and a keynote speech from Tony Porter of A Call to Men. Please add your voice to the diverse group of participants that will share their knowledge, experience, and ideas on how to work together on this issue.

Finally, we have three training opportunities for people who would like to get involved with Our VOICE.
Victim Advocate Training (Sept. 29-Oct. 17) prepares volunteers for the crisis line and hospital visits.
Gentle Brothers (Oct. 28-Dec. 16) is a group of men who examine our culture’s depiction of manhood, create an alternative story of masculinity, and serve as mentors to boys as they navigate growing up amongst these pressures.
Community Educator Training (Nov. 30-Dec. 17) prepares volunteers to use innovative approaches as they engage in education around sexual violence in a variety of settings.

Get involved! Make a difference! Be a mentor! For more info, contact Monica Antonazzo at

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Let's End Homelessness Together

By Emily Ball
AmeriCorps VISTA
Asheville-Buncombe Homeless Initiative

How many homeless people do you think there are in Asheville?

I’ve been asking this question with staggering results; so far, the best guess has been almost double the real number. Each year the city does a point-in-time count, where shelters, outreach workers, and service providers all do head counts on the same night and combine their numbers to give us a snapshot of how many people experience homelessness on any given night in Asheville. 2009’s point-in-time count was….555.

Five hundred and fifty five people. That’s it.

To be sure, homelessness is a complex problem, and my intent is not to underestimate the seriousness of its contributing factors or the people who work hard to combat it. The homeless community has high rates of mental illness, substance abuse, and criminality. Low rates of education. Severe health problems. Histories short on employment and long on generational poverty.

But in a city as caring and magnanimous as Asheville, a city of 75,000 people whose shared humanity is a stronger bond than their economic divisions, I’m confident that we can find room in our apartment buildings and workplaces, our churches and community groups, our hearts and lives, for 555 of our neighbors who need our support.

Let’s end homelessness together. To find out how you can help, visit

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Summer Camps Recap

The Foundation took the lead in securing funds for two camps this summer, the Dream It, Make It, Manufacturing Camp at Asheville High School and the Renewable Energy Camp at Randolph Learning Center.

Local television station WLOS covered the Energy Camp, which was supported by a grant from Progress Energy. Click here to see the video.


Welcome to the blog of the Asheville City Schools Foundation.

There are several bits of news around the office:

-- The Listening to Our Teens Network recently adopted the PASA model (Providence After School Alliance) based in Providence, R.I. PASA was featured in George Lucas's Click here to watch the PASA video about this exceptional program.

-- Applications are now being accepted for the Foundation Innovators Fellows! The fellowship is a brand new professional development opportunity for ACS teachers brought to you by ACSF, ACS, and the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation. Applications are due September 18, 2009 and the first cohort of Foundation Fellows will be selected in October. For an application, contact Kate Pett at or download an application from the ACSF website,

-- Save the Date! Go Public! Celebration for Our City Schools will be held Thurs., Nov. 5th at the DoubleTree Hotel in Biltmore. Tickets are $20 in advance, and $25 at the door. Email for tickets. Donations are also being accepted for the silent auction and raffle.