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Tips For Volunteers December 30, 2010

Posted by abhomeless in The Basics.
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This time of year brings special holidays that offer many people time for celebration and reflection. With the turn of the year, people often take time to stop and reflect on their lives – what they enjoy and what they’d like to change. As well, good experiences over the holidays and the realization that at the end of the celebrations, many people have a safe, warm place to call home can lead to a sense of re-commitment to those who are not as fortunate.

Perhaps this is why we get a lot of people contacting us here at the Homeless Initiative during the holidays asking how they can help. We are happy to say that there are hundreds of different opportunities for community members. If you’re looking for some inspiration, here is a creative list of what you could do to help those experiencing homelessness, developed by Earth Systems. Additionally, the National Alliance to End Homelessness has some great tips.

Volunteers have done everything from help serve a single meal to serving at Project Connect to joining a mentoring program with a team, helping a family settle into new housing and stabilize their lives. There is something for everyone and, often, the single most important things volunteers take away from the experience is the one-on-one connection made with a person experiencing homelessness. It is those human connections that again and again have birthed the most amazing actions and commitment that support housing and the people seeking it in our community.

To learn about volunteer opportunities: Contact United Way’s Hands On: http://www.handsonasheville.org. At this site you can search for local opportunities by agency, category or volunteer job to find your perfect fit.

If you know of an agency or type of agency that you’d like to contact, United Way’s 2-1-1 Community Information Line can help you get that agency’s contact information – just dial “211” on your phone or visit their online database: http://www.211wnc.org.

If you’re considering donating goods, be sure to call ahead to agencies to find out what they need and when the best time to donate is. If you’re planning on volunteering, here are some things to consider:

Know your strengths (and your limits).

Not all volunteer jobs are suited to everyone and that’s okay! Give some thought to where you think you could be most useful and chat with volunteer coordinators at different agencies to learn what opportunities exist. Your communication can help agencies offer better opportunities and can help you know more about what works for you!

Be open to new things!

It’s okay to be nervous, especially if you’re doing something totally new to you, and you might just discover that you love it! Being flexible not only helps the people you’re volunteering for, but it can teach you a lot about yourself.

Be consistent and considerate.

It takes a lot of effort to coordinate volunteer efforts and you can aid in the process by honoring your obligations by showing up on-time and with a positive attitude. Remember that the people you’re there to help are having a rough time and a smile from a stranger can mean a lot. It’s not always easy or elegant work, but it’s important work.

Lastly, be available!

Certainly the winter months pose significant challenges for people experiencing homelessness and the agencies serving them are glad that people want to help. But don’t forget that agencies need your help year-round. Their needs may shift slightly throughout the year and, by volunteering beyond the holiday season, you may find new volunteer opportunities that you adore!

You can make a difference now and you can make a difference year-round. Together we can end homelessness! To find the information detailed in this blog and more about volunteering and donating in our community, visit the Homeless Initiative website.


Awareness Week Recap November 23, 2010

Posted by abhomeless in Events.
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National Homelessness and Hunger Awareness Week was a great success in Asheville and Buncombe County this year. During the week of November 14-20 2010, the Asheville-Buncombe Homeless Initiative raised awareness about homelessness, dispelled myths, and talked with the community about existing efforts to end homelessness. Through our partnership with AB Tech, UNCA, Warren-Wilson College, Buncombe County Schools and Libraries, Asheville City Schools and Malaprop’s Bookstore and Café, we were able to reach people throughout the Asheville-Buncombe area.

The week started with a proclamation by City Council, acknowledging the importance of the week. The proclamation was accepted by Homeless Initiative Staff and staff from UNCA’s Key Center, which worked with students on a food drive and other awareness raising activities throughout the week.

AB Tech’s Holly Library featured a display at the entrance of their library for over two weeks that included facts about homelessness and suggestions for related media (books, movies and more). Librarians reported that anywhere from 800-1000 visitors passed by the display each day, leading to requests for information and conversation about homelessness.

Along with AB Tech, UNCA’s Ramsey Library, Buncombe County Libraries, the City of Asheville all featured interactive displays. Filled with information and resources, the displays also prompted individuals to write their thoughts or feelings about homelessness and hang them on the display for others to read and think about.


Buncombe County and Asheville School staff were excited to join us too. They created a list of facts about homelessness available to over forty schools through the Buncombe County website, while the school librarians distributed a list of books about homelessness used by students and teachers to help during classroom discussions and activities.  Students asked each other questions like: “When you went to bed last night, did you have a snack? Did you have a comfortable, safe place to sleep? What is it like to be hungry, or not have a place to call home?” By doing so, our local schools enabled thousands of children to be educated on a very important topic.

To bring the information alive for older students, the Homeless Initiative was pleased to engage in a dialogue about the 10-Year Plan to End Homelessness during a panel discussion hosted by Warren-Wilson College.

Another engaging dialogue on homelessness took place at Malaprop’s. The dialogue was on The Soloist by Steve Lopez, which was selected by Homeless Initiative Facebook fans as the book for the community read.  Everyone at the discussion was so interested in the event that additional discussions and book-reads on the issue of homelessness are now being planned.  To further illuminate the story of The Soloist, UNCA’s Key Center held a movie screening of The Soloist for about 20 students and community members who turned out and made pledges to end homelessness.

The first step towards ending homelessness is to help grow people’s knowledge and, in Asheville-Buncombe this year, we accomplished that over this year’s Homelessness and Hunger Awareness week. Thanks to everyone who helped out and joined in!

To learn more about the Homeless Initiative and how you can get involved, visit our website or Facebook page.

Project Connect 2010 Update October 29, 2010

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An excellent program …. Moved me to do more.”

On September 10, 2010 the Asheville-Buncombe Homeless Initiative, in collaboration with the VA Stand Down, held the 4th annual Project Homeless Connect. This year was our best event yet!

Project Connect brings community-wide agencies together to provide services, information, and outreach to people experiencing homelessness or at risk of experiencing homelessness in order to provide them with the system of care that will help them move into or maintain stable housing.

“It was great to see so many people working together to help homeless people.”

For Asheville and Buncombe County, a community which prides itself on collaborating for the greater good and doing so in innovative ways, Project Connect is a perfect fit. The event not only helps people access housing, but is an opportunity for much more – it

  • Allows us to join together as a community to answer the needs of our neighbors,
  • Provides a space for innovation and creativity,
  • Fosters networking and collaboration among providers, businesses, faith groups and community members,
  • Offers a positive experience for everyone that is carried beyond the event,
  • Opens doors, creating new partnerships as we work together to end homelessness,
  • Honors the spirit of collaboration through our partnership with the VA Stand Down, a veteran-specific event that mirrors Project Connect.

“This is a truly rewarding experience. I appreciate the opportunity to participate. I think this is an event that everyone in our community would benefit from attending.”

Our collaboration and creativity allowed us to reach over 200  participants, 177 of which were documented in our HMIS database.

We couldn’t have done it without the efforts of over 65 volunteers, including 12 AmeriCorps and RSVP SeniorCorps volunteers who worked to help more than 50 community agencies represented at the event.

Project Connect was able to provide participants with services and supports such as: bus tickets that helped people get to and from the event and to follow-up appointments, housing information & applications, financial assistance, HIV & pregnancy tests, vision screenings,  foot care, substance abuse & mental health counseling, voter registration, haircuts, legal advice, employment & educational guidance, and pet care.

Furthermore, in an effort to support the City’s commitment to sustainability, all dining materials were recyclable and purchased from a local green vendor!

A special thank you to the participating agencies!

Feedback from participants:

“After talking with a teenage volunteer, he mentioned that his father is homeless. The young person expected to see his father at the event, hoping he knew about the services being offered. I had no idea that he had a close family member who was part of the homeless community. Just goes to show that homelessness can affect anyone and it’s even in places you might not expect.”

“I think what hit me again this year was the difficulty I had in differentiating participants from those volunteering and providing services. There is something about the change in terminology from homeless people to people experiencing homelessness that takes the labeling away. While I understand the need to categorize sometimes, homeless people sounds more like a charity perspective for people who are not like me, while people experiencing homelessness gives me the sense that people like me are having a challenge.”

Thank you again to everyone who turned out for Project Connect 2010! Your ongoing efforts to serve our community and end homelessness in Asheville and Buncombe County are deeply appreciated.

Interested in helping with Project Connect 2011? Want to learn more about the Homeless Initiative? Want to volunteer at other events? Visit our website for more information on how to contact us!

You can see images of Project Connect 2010 on our Facebook page and on our Flikr account.

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