Whatever it takes: Moving out of survival mode

HELP WANTED: The nationwide shortage of direct support professionals has created many challenges for Open Hears Art Center, says Debbie Harris, the organization’s co-executive. Photo courtesy of Harris

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.


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.