Doorways to tomorrow

Asheville is arguably the best place in the country to call home. People are drawn here by the awe-inspiring mountain views, the hip nightlife, the stunning architecture and the quirky Appalachian ambience wrapped in a European sensibility. Ashevilleans are passionate about supporting our progressive, intentional community and justifiably proud of our diverse yet inclusive neighborhoods. Folks envy our sexy, laid-back lifestyle. Tourists come from all over the world and weep when they have to leave.

Yet many Asheville children struggle to survive in the shadows of our cool prosperity, paralyzed by a multigenerational poverty that permeates their young lives. They’re really no different from your own kids, who might even be their classmates and friends. But due to a lack of the opportunities and resources that most of us take for granted, their experience of Asheville is radically different.

Being poor isn't just about finances. Oftentimes it's about fighting steep odds to try to raise a remarkable little girl or boy. Imagine being that parent. You don't want a handout; all you ask for is a fair chance to provide for your family. You’re convinced that the good people of Asheville really do give a damn — but how do you connect and interact with that dynamic, broader community in a way that most benefits your child?

OpenDoors of Asheville proactively connects families living in poverty with an active, individualized support network that includes social services, medical and psychological support, tutoring and mentoring, professional and educational advocacy, sports and other extracurricular activities, plus transportation so the youngsters can take advantage of those opportunities. I know of no other charity, system or organization, here or elsewhere, that works this way. The nonprofit also provides opportunities for enrichment and higher education to ensure that children lead the most vibrant, productive lives possible.

Without duplicating the vital work of other charities, OpenDoors leverages its exceptional organizational agility and flexibility to help coordinate and deliver existing services to children’s doorsteps — and then strives to fill any remaining gaps in service, ensuring that these kids receive absolutely everything they need in seamless, holistic fashion.

Meanwhile, the unique organizational model integrates OpenDoors volunteers into the lives of the children and families they support, rather than serving from some geo-cultural remove. Like a family, the group approaches each child unconditionally, aiming to do whatever it takes, without restriction or hesitation, to guarantee their safety, health, success and happiness. All OpenDoors efforts and initiatives are client-driven, fueled by each individual’s needs.

A couple of years ago, I helped out as a part-time volunteer during the group’s annual fundraiser. At that event, I was introduced to some of the families and youngsters whose lives have been profoundly touched by this organization’s work. Their stories of struggle and accomplishment moved me deeply: I felt honored to have a chance to meet them. Not a day goes by that I don’t look to them and to OpenDoors for inspiration in my own life.

Wouldn't you like to be part of a network like that? To be true to this community’s unique promise, we must bring the children into our hearts, helping ensure that they feel included, accepted, celebrated, wanted and loved.

Here’s what I suggest: To derive the most from your own Asheville experience, first venture into the mountains to enjoy the great outdoors. Then come back to town and get in touch with OpenDoors (see box, “Making it Happen”). Find out just how little it will take for you to enhance your own life while radically and sustainably helping to free deserving local children from the burden of multigenerational poverty.

Invest in a child. Strengthen your community!

— Longtime Asheville resident Tom Kerr volunteers for OpenDoors’ annual Art Affair event.

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