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.