by Elisa Jacobs
Assistant Director of Enrollment Management, Lenoir-Rhyne University
The statistics about poverty in our community are sobering: one in four children in Buncombe County live in poverty. One of my favorite authors, Brené Brown, says, “If you want to make a difference, the next time you see someone being cruel to another human being, take it personally. Take it personally because it is personal!” The fact that there are over 750 homeless students in Buncombe County is something I take very personally. And I want to make a difference. Adept at moving in quickly thanks to a nomadic background, and impassioned about reducing poverty in our community, I was thrilled to participate in Highland Circle’s Pathways to Permanent Housing project in collaboration with Homeward Bound of WNC.
It was exciting to collect household items in anticipation of helping a family transition not only into permanent housing, but transform it into a home. That excitement became even more palpable on move-in day when I met the family: a single mom and four children who, having escaped domestic violence, had been living in a shelter for several weeks. The impact of the experience was very real to me when I looked back into the house before leaving. A matching living room suite occupied the once-empty room, kids sang upstairs, the kitchen cabinets were stocked, and there were household supplies and toiletries climbing the staircase waiting to be put away. Yet the most powerful moment of the experience for me was our departure, when the authenticity of the single mom’s words of thanks could not only be heard but felt. We had made a difference. (Check out a gallery of the move-in.)
In fact, I found myself moved more than once over the past several months reflecting on the fact that some of the things I have never gone without – a roof over my head, stocked pantry and fridge, reliable transportation, and consistent support system – are basic human needs that too often go unfulfilled. For one family of five we were able to satisfy some of these needs relatively simply by collecting generous and gently-used donations and rallying several volunteers. I can’t help but imagine how many more families – with children – we help could transition out of homelessness if even just a handful more of our community members got involved. After all, making a difference is simple: start taking inequality personally.
Elisa Jacobs serves as Assistant Director, Enrollment Management, at Lenoir-Rhyne University Center for Graduate Studies of Asheville. She's also a member of Highlands Circle, a network of passionate young professionals looking to change the odds for families and Buncombe County communities through positive, lasting change.
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