Dollars for doers
by Lisa Watters
In the spirit of its namesake — a tenacious herb that persists in growing under the toughest of circumstances — the recently launched Dandelion Fund hopes to encourage and support grassroots, community-based movements struggling for social justice and change in Western North Carolina by providing monthly grants in amounts ranging from $100 to $1,000.
Among the types of projects and activities funded are: community organizing; environmental justice; women’s rights; issues affecting gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people; anti-poverty work; youth activism; racial justice; peace and disarmament; and social and economic justice. “We envision a regional network of communities rooted in diversity, sustainability, compassion and justice,” notes the fund’s mission statement.
The Dandelion Fund differs from more traditional philanthropic organizations in several ways, explains Organizing Committee member Beth Trigg. “We give very small grants, because the idea is to support really grassroots, very community-based movements — groups that are meeting over someone’s kitchen table, or organizing in a church, in a community; groups that are just emerging, aren’t incorporated yet. All of these are categories of work that’s being done that’s oftentimes very difficult to find funding for, so that’s a gap we hope to fill.”
In addition, says Trigg, the fund seeks to reach underserved mountain counties. “Our goal is to take applications from all the western counties of North Carolina, because we feel like there’s even less availability of funding for organizing work outside of Asheville.”
And though the fund believes direct service is valuable, committee members are more interested in funding groups working to change the underlying conditions that lead to injustice or inequality. “Rather than funding a soup kitchen,” says Trigg, “we’d be more likely to fund a group of homeless people organizing around rights … to self-determination.”
“We’re also really committed to making sure that the kinds of things that we fund are efforts that come from the people affected by the problem, so that it’s not an outside agitator coming in and saying, ‘I know what’s best for this community.’ … It’s [about] people coming together for themselves and saying here’s what we feel like we need as a community, and here’s how we’re going to get together to get it.”
Hoping to make the application process as responsive as possible, the fund uses a simple application form and face-to-face interviews; decison-makers also attend meetings or events held by grant applicants. And because the fund operates on a monthly cycle, notes Trigg: “If you don’t get your grant in by April 1, you [won’t] have to wait a whole year. We … meet within two weeks of the time we receive the applications. And within a month, people should have a check from us.”
The first grants, given out last month, went to two groups: the Hendersonville-based Stolen Lives Project ($750) and the UNCA Student Labor Action Committee ($100). Stolen Lives, a project of the Hendersonville chapter of the October 22nd Coalition IS THIS CORRECT??? targets police brutality and civil- and human-rights violations; the student group supports the United Electrical Workers Union’s organizing efforts at UNCA.
The Dandelion Fund was launched by several local people who had come into substantial amounts of money and decided they wanted to support activism for positive social change in the region.
But, stresses Trigg: “The people on the organizing committee are not primarily the donors. It was very important to everybody involved in the setting up of the fund that the people who made the decisions be people who had done organizing for social change themselves. We wanted to make sure it was very diverse in terms of different types of movements represented … people from different constituencies.”
All Organizing Committee members are volunteers. Besides Trigg, whose background is in women’s health, peace and justice (and, more recently, union organizing), other members include Brenden Conley, who edits the Asheville Global Report; Mickey Mahaffey, who has worked on police-brutality and homeless-rights issues; Clare Hanrahan, who’s been involved in war-tax resistance; Alyx Perry of the WNC Alliance; Andy Summers of Warren Wilson College, who has worked on Latin America solidarity issues; and Laura Gordon of the Central Labor Council.
But Trigg envisions periodic changes in committee membership. “I have a feeling it will be a real rotating thing,” she predicts, “which … is good.”
She also believes other community members will step forward to replenish the fund’s resources. “It’s exciting, because I think there are a lot of people in this area who have some level of disposable income that would like to use it in supporting organizing for social change, [but] it isn’t necessarily easy, as one individual, to figure out how you can do that.”
Committee members, says Trigg, hope the fund will become “a sort of conduit … so that people can say, ‘You know, I really trust the ideology and philosophy of the Dandelion Fund, and I see that they do the research, they review the applications, they do the work of figuring out where the best spots in the community are to invest this money.’
“It’s actually pretty amazing to me, in this time when people are going so crazy about investing in the stock market and making as much money as they possibly can … that there are people that are going in the other direction, … saying, ‘Well, I want to invest in something else [that] doesn’t necessarily pay off for me personally in terms of being able to buy more things or live more comfortably, but it pays off in terms of making my community a better place.’ “
For more information about either applying for a grant or making a donation, call (828) 236-1994; write to P.O. Box 409, Asheville, NC 28802; or visit the Dandelion Fund Web site (www.dandelionfund.org).
State employee honored for bravery
On May 4, Asheville resident Julie Combs, who inspects manufactured homes for the Department of Insurance, arrived early at an inspection site so she could look over some paperwork. Glancing up, she noticed smoke coming from a nearby home. After asking a neighbor to call 911, she ran to the burning structure to find a disoriented woman, who refused to leave, and a toddler inside. Despite heavy, dark smoke, Combs was able to crawl to safety with the child and the family’s dog. From outside, she continued calling until the mother finally left the blazing building just as the Fire Department arrived.
In recognition of her heroic efforts, which saved three lives, Gov. James Hunt presented Combs with a Governor’s Award for Excellence — the highest honor a North Carolina state employee can receive — in a Nov. 20 ceremony in Raleigh. In congratulating Combs and 11 other award recipients for their dedication to excellence, Hunt recalled the state’s motto, “To be rather than to seem.”
“The people who are being honored today live up to that motto,” said Hunt. “They have a passion for performance, and they care deeply about what they do. … I want us to all value public service the way these individuals do.”
Following the ceremony at the N.C. Museum of History, the recipients and their guests were hosted at a reception at the Executive Mansion.
A detailed account of each recipient’s accomplishments is available on the Office of State’s Personnel’s Web site (www.osp.state.nc.us).
In the footsteps of Martin Luther King
If you know of someone who embodies the spirit of Martin Luther King — a leader who works for human dignity and serves others — think about nominating them for the 2001 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Award.
Nominees must be Buncombe County residents, and nominations should include documentation of the candidate’s accomplishments and/or community activities.
Youth nominees must exhibit constructive concern for disadvantaged and oppressed people; speak out on issues affecting the lives of others; be active in community, civic and/or school affairs; and promote community and human betterment.
Adult nominees, in addition to these criteria, must have been involved in at least one human-relations activity that’s worthy of recognition, and must exemplify a positive attitude toward improving human relations.
Nominations must be received by Wednesday, Dec. 20. The nominees and award winners will be honored during the Martin Luther King Jr. birthday festivities in January.
For more information, call Oralene Graves-Simmons at 252-4614. Send nominations to: YMI Cultural Center, 39 S. Market St., Asheville, NC 28801; or e-mail to: email@example.com.
A plan for our parks
The N.C. Division of Parks and Recreation recently issued a draft statewide plan for the parks system. Drawn up to meet the requirements of the State Parks Act, the plan describes how the agency will achieve the mission and purposes of the state parks system, evaluating existing parks, correcting deficiencies and describing any conflicts among users.
Copies of the draft plan are available by calling (919) 733-4148 or on the Web at www.ncsparks.net/systemplan. Wednesday, Dec. 21 is the deadline for comments, which should be sent to: Division of Parks and Recreation, 1615 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, NC 27699-1615.
Internet access in Asheville
For city residents who don’t own computers, connecting with the world through the Internet just got easier. Last month, the city installed personal computers in nearly a dozen recreation centers throughout town.
The computers, recycled from various city departments as equipment has been upgraded, will provide Internet access only (no word-proccessing or e-mail capabilities). “Security and maintenance issues make it difficult for us to provide services other than Internet access at this time,” explains Information Services Director Larry Bopp. “We have also installed two types of security on the computers, so that people cannot install their own software and so that access to inappropriate material on the Internet is blocked.” Bopp also said that, in the future, the city plans to provide more Web-based access to city services.
Butch Kisiah, superintendent of recreation for the Asheville Parks and Recreation Department, says: “Having the computers installed so that residents can access the Internet really broadens the way that we are able to reach out in neighborhoods across Asheville. We will use this new tool to provide assistance to children who need help with homework and other research projects, as well as to provide training for senior citizens on how to access information available on the Internet.”
For more information, call your neighborhood recreation center: Stephens-Lee (252-6233); Senior Opportunity Center (254-6184); East Asheville (298-4990); West Asheville (258-2235); North Asheville (258-2453); Murphy-Oakley (274-7088); Harvest Center (252-6021); Reid Center (254-8008); Shiloh (274-7739); Burton St. (254-1942); or Montford (253-3714).