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.
Debbie Harris is the co-executive director of Open Hearts Art Center. The nonprofit works to empower adults with varied abilities to connect through the arts.
Xpress: What about this year’s volunteer/staff work gives you hope about your nonprofit’s mission and its overall impact on the community?
Harris: I think now more than ever staff and volunteers are more driven; they know what’s at stake and how quickly things can turn sideways. We are slowly moving out of survival mode and into a place where we can refocus on our mission and be excited for what lies ahead.
What has been the most challenging aspect of operating your nonprofit this year?
Our organization continues to be impacted by the critical nationwide shortage of direct support professionals. Like so many other businesses, we have struggled with retaining employees, which in turn has hindered our service capabilities. Also, for the first time in the history of our organization, we have had to operate out of our reserved funding. This has brought on new challenges and concerns as we try to budget for the new year.
How have the last 2 1/2 years reshaped the way your nonprofit operates, and do you see these changes as permanent?
In 2021, we began offering telehealth services, which allowed artists to participate in virtual art classes. We saw the need for everyone to stay connected and maintain some sort of normalcy. Telehealth became a permanent flexibility and will continue to allow us to serve individuals long after the public health emergency ends.