Whatever it takes: Combatting stigmas

NO SHAME: Stigma remains the biggest challenge for the work Amy Upham and her dedicated staff perform at Eleanor Health Foundation. Photo courtesy of EHF

Editor’s note: For our fall Nonprofit issue, we invited local nonprofit leaders to reflect on the successes and challenges of operating a 501(c)(3) in Western North Carolina. 

Amy Upham is the executive director of Eleanor Health Foundation. The nonprofit works to support individuals in finding access to recovery.

Xpress: What about this year’s volunteer/staff work gives you hope about your nonprofit’s mission and its overall impact on the community?

Upham: This year, our small but mighty staff of four have worked to provide over $200,000 in practical assistance to those with substance use disorder. Most notably, they have helped to house or maintain in housing over 100 individuals with substance use disorder, both in recovery residences and in their own homes. That is no small feat in today’s economic and political climate. That those 100-plus stories are still possible, and that we have such amazing, compassionate and dedicated staff meeting individuals where they are, gives me hope that perhaps there is a roadmap to address the rise in substance use which opioids and COVID brought with them. Seeing the success of our programs, I am more convinced than ever that the roadmap includes addressing basic needs first without requiring sobriety.

What has been the most challenging aspect of operating your nonprofit this year?

I think for us the biggest challenge has been stigma. It’s always around for the people we work with, but the rise in challenges that came with COVID have really hardened some people to others’ suffering more than I’ve ever seen. This shows up in ways that make it harder for someone wanting recovery to actually maintain it, because they are houseless or unemployed, and this of course and unfortunately increases their risk for overdose death. As the saying goes, stigma kills.

How have the last 2 1/2 years reshaped the way your nonprofit operates, and do you see these changes as permanent? 

We began in 2020, right as COVID hit. We started with a framework to address the overdose crisis and pretty immediately had to pivot to an even larger burgeoning need. One thing we have learned in that time is that our staff need caseload caps. We receive upwards of 100 referrals for assistance a month, and while we’d love to help everyone — and have tried — the reality is that there are needs going unaddressed that our small nonprofit cannot tackle without more funding.


Thanks for reading through to the end…

We share your inclination to get the whole story. For the past 25 years, Xpress has been committed to in-depth, balanced reporting about the greater Asheville area. We want everyone to have access to our stories. That’s a big part of why we've never charged for the paper or put up a paywall.

We’re pretty sure that you know journalism faces big challenges these days. Advertising no longer pays the whole cost. Media outlets around the country are asking their readers to chip in. Xpress needs help, too. We hope you’ll consider signing up to be a member of Xpress. For as little as $5 a month — the cost of a craft beer or kombucha — you can help keep local journalism strong. It only takes a moment.

About Thomas Calder
Thomas Calder received his MFA in Fiction from the University of Houston's Creative Writing Program. His writing has appeared in Gulf Coast, the Miracle Monocle, Juked and elsewhere. His debut novel, The Wind Under the Door, is now available.

Before you comment

The comments section is here to provide a platform for civil dialogue on the issues we face together as a local community. Xpress is committed to offering this platform for all voices, but when the tone of the discussion gets nasty or strays off topic, we believe many people choose not to participate. Xpress editors are determined to moderate comments to ensure a constructive interchange is maintained. All comments judged not to be in keeping with the spirit of civil discourse will be removed and repeat violators will be banned. See here for our terms of service. Thank you for being part of this effort to promote respectful discussion.

Leave a Reply

To leave a reply you may Login with your Mountain Xpress account, connect socially or enter your name and e-mail. Your e-mail address will not be published. All fields are required.