Support Asheville’s displaced youth

by Lisa Watters

“Most of us cannot imagine what it is like to be young and homeless, too poor to even buy a soda,” explains 19-year-old Asheville resident Breanna Leslie. “This situation is a reality for a surprising number of young adults in Asheville, many of whom are disrespected and harassed for being financially challenged.”

Enter Mosaic Vortex, a new collective aiming to create a community center for Asheville’s disconnected youth.

“These are the kids who brighten up Pack Square, annoy assorted coffee shops. … Many of these young people are discouraged by a society that treats them with contempt and punishes them for their unique pursuit of happiness, says Leslie. “The problem is that these kids have nowhere to go for support, nowhere to vent frustrations, nowhere to be free. That’s where we come in.”

The group’s goal, she explains, “is to gain respect for these kids and show everyone the talents of these neglected [and] underestimated individuals.”

Mosaic Vortex will present its first show — titled Transform — on Saturday, Feb. 17 at The Compound (129 Roberts St. in the River District). The performers will include members of both Vortex and Surreal Circus. The evening will also include a fashion show (with the clothes available for purchase) and a live DJ after midnight. The show starts at 9 p.m., and Vortex is asking for an $8-$10 donation to help cover the costs of art supplies, rent and sending members of both groups to New Orleans to perform at Mardi Gras.

The group’s name, says Leslie, expresses its spirit: “mosaic” suggests that while these young people are seen as shards from broken families or troubled lives, they can come together to make a beautiful picture. And “vortex” evokes the potent creative energy that Leslie says has been there from the beginning.

“We’re all about helping people believe in themselves — that they’re capable of making a difference,” she continues. Citing environmental problems and the threat of nuclear weapons, Leslie explains, “A lot of kids feel really, really insecure compared to when my parents were young. I know a lot of the kids feel complete helplessness and feel like they can’t do anything about anything.”

“This will give them the feeling that they can do something. … You’ve got to start small.”

The idea for the group came to Leslie when she was attending a poetry slam at Malaprop’s one evening. She made an announcement to the crowd, asking anyone who was interested to meet with her after the performance. Says Leslie, “I sat down with 10 people I didn’t know — and it started from there.”

Eventually, the group outgrew its weekly meetings at Malaprop’s and is now renting a space, called The Compound, in the same building as the recently opened Future of Tradition Center for Folkloric Arts.

The long-term goal is to obtain a more permanent home — perhaps a house or warehouse space — with help from grants and private donors.

Besides being a place for performances and arts activities, the building would also serve as a youth hostel, a “kind of inner-city intentional community,” Leslie explains.

Vortex also has an educational component. Local yoga instructors and painters have already volunteered to teach classes. And the group’s ambitious plans include an on-site store where young mothers and other youth can sell handmade crafts and other goods, with 25 percent of the proceeds going back into the Vortex to help cover operational costs.

The city has already donated the use of a bus to the group, and Leslie hopes that Vortex will be allowed to use the vehicle as a traveling store during the summer months.

Interested in helping out or joining? Call Breanna Leslie at 254-5752. Mosaic Vortex meets at 5 p.m. every Wednesday at The Compound (off Clingman Avenue behind the Grey Eagle). All are welcome to attend.

Leaving room for wildlife

Interested in ecology and wildlife preservation? No need to journey to East Africa or the Galapagos to fulfill your passion. Spend a little time this winter learning how to create wildlife habitats in your backyard, garden or neighborhood, and by spring you could be a certified habitat steward.

The Habitat Steward Training Program, designed by the National Wildlife Federation, is being offered at Blue Ridge Community College in Flat Rock on four consecutive Tuesdays (Feb. 20 and 27, March 6 and 13). Classes run 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., and the cost is $25 per person. The registration deadline is Friday, Feb. 16.

Each student must be willing to donate 50 hours working on — and teaching others about — wildlife habitats. The Environmental and Conservation Organization, a sponsor of the course, can provide students with projects to help them fulfill their volunteer hours and use their new skills.

Students will learn basic landscape-design principles, including how to attract butterflies; building and maintaining backyard ponds; resident and migrant bird habitats and needs; biodiversity, pollinators and plant rescue; soil and its structure; landscaping with native and natural species; and the principles of backyard wildlife habitat.

Although the program has been popular in other areas across the country, it hasn’t been offered before in WNC. Course graduates will be qualified to assist neighbors and others who want to develop wildlife-friendly environments.

To register, call Linda Finster at (828) 692-3572, ext. 285.

Help for Madison County volunteers

Being a mentor for at-risk youth is rewarding but not without its challenges. Many of the young people with whom mentors work face significant difficulties or stresses in their lives. Recognizing this, Helping Hearts of Madison — which recruits, trains and places volunteers to serve as mentors in Madison County — has launched an ongoing support group for its volunteers.

The free monthly meetings will give mentors a chance to express their concerns about the work, find support, and gain additional skills.

Says Project Director Marsha Andreola, “We appreciate the great work that our mentors are doing, and we are excited to offer them this new level of support.” Attendance is purely voluntary.

The first meeting — scheduled for Saturday, Feb. 17 — will focus on developing and using effective listening skills.

“Listening with awareness is a life skill that can enrich all relationships,” Andreola explains. “The mentors will be learning skills that will also be of use in their own personal lives. It’s a wonderful situation, because everyone benefits.”

For more information or to volunteer as a mentor, call Andreola at (828) 689-1614.


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