Highlands Circle: Emerging Leaders Giving Back

A few months ago I was talking with someone about Highlands Circle and she asked me, “So what is Highlands Circle? What’s in it for someone to join?”  I’ll be honest: I didn’t have an answer.  Which is interesting, because I usually don’t find myself at a loss for words. As the Chair of the Highlands Circle Steering Committee I resolved to answer that question, not just because I didn’t want to find myself in the same position again in the future, but because I know that what we do and who we are is important.  We are committed to connecting with and investing in our community — and that’s a big deal.  

So What is Highlands Circle? 

We are a group of like-minded emerging leaders who are looking for tangible ways to give back to and invest in our community. We are doers unified around the goal to reduce poverty by educating, engaging, and empowering students, families, and donors.  We gather at social and service-project events to connect with each other and to serve the people in our community who need it most.

Community is Personal

When I first joined Highlands Circle, I knew that the central tenet of the organization was giving back to the community. However, I had no idea just how much the group could affect positive change — right in my backyard. Case in point: I love home decorating, so when Kris Dionne, United Way’s Resource Development Manager, told me about the Pathways to Permanent Housing project — a 2014 collaboration between Highlands Circle and Homeward Bound to house the homeless — I went home right away and shopped my house for gently used items that would transform a house into a home for a homeless member of our community.  A survivor of domestic violence, the project took on even more meaning for me because the family of four we moved into permanent housing was homeless as a result of fleeing an unsafe living situation.  
I realized right away that what we do has a lasting impact — not just for the families and citizens we serve, but on our own innate need for connection and community. For example, each year that I participate in the Back to School drive, I imagine the child whose life will change when she/he opens the backpack I’m stuffing with folders and pencils. And when I volunteer at Middle School Homework Diners, it’s hard not to feel hope for the students who are feeling supported, encouraged, and empowered — a refreshing contrast from my own awkward (unfortunate and unfashionable) middle school years.  With just a few hours of my time, I am investing in the sustainability, health, and happiness of our community.  And that feels important. 

Community First, Networking Second

United Way makes giving back easy. All you have to do is show up to one of the many pre-planned Highlands Circle volunteer experiences or social events.  But those activities can only happen if people like us are investing in United Way. Highlands Circle Community Investors contribute $42/month, which makes events like the annual middle school Book Drive, Homework Diners, We Care Projects and countless other volunteer experiences possible. The best part? The return on that investment is immediate: by contributing to Highlands Circle and participating in volunteer opportunities you get to see and hear firsthand the impact of your $42/month investment in the lives of your neighbors.   
I can’t really answer what will move you the most in your experience as a Highlands Circle Community Investor.  But I can say with confidence that like the Middle Schoolers at our Homework Diners, you will feel supported, encouraged, and empowered.  You’ll know that as a Community Investor you are making a difference close to home — where we live, work, raise families, and form friendships.  You’ll be a part of the powerful group of emerging leaders who raised over $130,000 in 2017. 
So, the next time I’m asked about Highlands Circle, my answer will be simple: Highlands Circle puts community first, networking second. If you’ve already made your pledge for 2018, thank you. YOU make a difference.  And if not, I ask you to join me and the other 142 investors as we work together to reduce disparities in income, education, and health in Asheville & Buncombe County.