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Season of Giving: Nonprofits step in where government help ends

The men and women directing traffic at festivals, bicycle races and church services wear uniforms. They drive marked cars that look similar to regular sheriff’s cruisers. Like other first responders, they work under the hot sun and in the bitter cold, from early morning until late in the evening. Big difference: They’re not paid. The labor force of the Volunteers in Partnership worked 25,300 hours for the year ending Sept. 30, contributing nearly $600,000 worth of service taxpayers did not have to fund.

At Thrive, a nonprofit mental health provider, the Clubhouse Day Program, a housing case management assistance and 24-hour crisis help reduce emergency room visits and other health care costs and dramatically reduces law enforcement involvement with clients, thus saving taxpayers money.
Even in a well-to-do community where poverty is veiled, the cracks can be wide. The Interfaith Assistance Ministry helped feed 12,000 adults and children in 2018, providing 232,000 meals, funded through donations and grants, not tax dollars.
The county jail is responsible for confining and feeding men and women accused of crimes but can do much less than is needed to fix what got the inmates locked up to start with — drug and alcohol addiction. The Free Clinics steps in to provide more than a quarter million dollars’ worth of drugs each year, and is expanding a partnership of after-care to keep inmates on a rehab course when they’re set free.
Two nonprofits, the Blue Ridge Humane Society and the Community Partnership for Pets, have worked with the Henderson County pound, veterinarians and other partners to spay and neuter and vaccinate thousands of dogs and cats and adopt out unwanted animals, greatly reducing euthanasia at the county shelter. Blue Ridge Humane’s efforts are funded by its thrift store, donations and by Henderson County and made possible by the 19,000 hours of labor that 374 volunteers provide each year, a value of $152,000.
The Veterans Administration and other government agencies can only do so much to help veterans struggling with the searing memories of combat. Hendersonville-based Blue Ridge Honor Flight has operated 28 flights for veterans to Washington, D.C., to visit war memorials. Since they added Vietnam veterans, the honor flights have seen days when with the healing power of former soldiers united by common memories.
The Village of Flat Rock bought a closed golf course and built one of the most visited nature parks in this part of the state. Although the village has spent millions of dollars in improvements on the park over the past five years, many more amenities would not have been possible without the Flat Rock Park Foundation, which announced last week that it had now surpassed $1 million in donations to the village for park improvements.
For this year’s Season of Giving theme, we asked nonprofit leaders and government leaders how these partnerships work and how they benefit the public.

‘How do we work and collaborate?’

McCray Benson, the president/CEO of the Community Foundation of Henderson County, sees nonprofits as a key contributor among a three-legged structure that meets society’s needs.
Independent nonprofits, public sectors and for-profit corporations “make our society be able to stand up and hold things together and we do have to work together for some of that,” he says. “We expect the for-profit entities to help bring in income that then with the wealth it helps build, people distribute and give on a personal free basis to nonprofits.”
By definition, government “can be more coercive.” It taxes income and assets, and enforces laws and regulations: “You must do this, you must do that.”
“The nonprofit sector can’t be that coercive,” Benson says. “It’s more, How do we work together and collaborate?
“The city is now going to work with Housing Assistance Corp. to help with affordable housing. The animal shelter has rules and it can fine people and things like that but when it’s a working relationship with the Humane Society and the animal welfare groups, they end up adopting animals out, they don’t have many animals euthanized, they end of having space available without having to expand the building.”
The same sort of government-nonprofit partnership works with the Free Clinics at the jail, the 4-H Club, Boys & Girls Club, Camplify and other organizations helping young people and museums and performing arts organizations adding amenities where schools leave off.
At the jail “they can do some treatment but they’re mandated to do that enforceable part of housing in the jail and it’s the Free Clinics that’s going to be doing the treatment and follow-up care when someone leaves the jail,” Benson says. “That officer can’t say, ‘Well, come back by the jail and tell me how you’re doing.’ The Free Clinic person can say, ‘Check in with me, we’re going to do your blood pressure and we’re going to find out how you’re doing with your kids or your spouse.’”
Volunteerism works as well as it does because it’s not forced.
“Nonprofits call upon that inner calling and passion of people who are willing to give of themselves,” he says. “It really is a spiritual component.”


‘A tremendous force multiplier’


Lowell Griffin admits that as a young deputy in the mid-1990s he didn’t see the need at first when a new sheriff, George Erwin, started the Volunteers in Partnership program. Today, one year after being sworn in as sheriff himself, Griffin doesn’t see how he’d do without the labor force that costs him nothing.
“The vision he had has paid dividends over the last several decades and it continues to do that now because I simply don’t have the budget to be able to provide the services that these folks are able to provide and if we did provide the services (with paid personnel) then services in other areas would definitely be hurt,” Griffin says. “They’ve got that sense of civic duty, civic responsibility and the heart that’s needed to come in and fill these slots and push forward the mission of the VIPs.”
“Almost completely self-sufficient,” the program operates under its own command structure to provide funeral escort, courthouse security, finger printing, Meals on Wheels deliveries, traffic control for festivals, church services and bicycle and running races and more.
“They’re not only providing exemplary service,” Griffin said. “They’re not adding anything basically to our plate.”
The Free Clinics partnership at the jail is expanding, with more mental health care for inmates and guidance to substance abuse programs when they get out.
“They fill a need there that can have an effect countywide by helping us try to reduce this dependency and reduce the recidivism because of that,” he says.
Maj. Frank Stout adds: “They’re a tremendous force multiplier in the game of helping our community.”
Safelight, the domestic violence shelter, helps the sheriff’s office by providing access to skilled personnel that know how to conduct interviews of abuse victims and by providing shelter and care after the investigation. And without that safe harbor, the sheriff’s office may not find out about the abuse at all.
“Victims of crime don’t necessarily go to law enforcement,” Griffin says. “That’s not their first stop. They’re looking for help, they’re looking for shelter, they’re looking to get away from the abuse. And they reach out to Safelight and Safelight will work with them to bring their case over here to us so we can proceed with the criminal (offense) that’s perpetrated each time.”
The deputies themselves often become a force multiplier for nonprofits, too. The sheriff’s office and city police and fire personnel competed in the Battle of the Badges to raise money for IAM.
“We were able to help them with the food drive,” Stout says. “We were just tickled to death to be part of that outreach. Then you have the Storehouse. They’re getting ready to do their annual Blessings in Boxes (Christmas gifts), which will touch more than 2,000 kids.”
Sheriff Griffin says he sees the power of nonprofits and volunteerism every day, whether it’s deputies volunteering to direct traffic for the Storehouse’s Christmas presents for children, Safelight providing counseling and shelter for crime victims or the men and women VIP handling fingerprinting and courthouse security.
“You’ve got some folks out here that are really doing some good things for the right reasons,” Griffin said.


City makes HAC ‘a dash-line department’

When we asked John Connet, Hendersonville’s city manager, and Amy Brennan, the assistant county manager, about partnering with nonprofits, both readily listed plenty of examples.
Nonprofits “provide services that one, we may not legally be able to provide, and two, they provide in a way we don’t have to use tax dollars to provide,” Connet says. “If the Hendersonville Rescue Mission wasn’t here or Thrive or other services agencies, those services would have to fall on local government.” Police officers “work closely with Safelight, they work with the mission. We have this homeless resource group where city and county and law enforcement are meeting every other month with all the homeless services agencies. All those players are at the table.”
When fire leaves families homeless, the city fire department works with the Red Cross to find shelter. “We have a partnership with IAM,” Connet adds. “They have an emergency assistance program and they help people that need assistance with utility bills.”
The City Council just endorsed a new partnership with the Housing Assistance Corp.
“It’s really formalizing this kind of loose partnership we’ve had with them,” Connet says. “We’re going to treat it kind of like a dash line department, to share resources. We have some capacity and strength in GIS and planning and they have home repair and construction projects. We might have city property we’re not using that could be turned over to Housing Assistance to build homes or we have the ability to provide utilities where they’re trying to do affordable housing to try to reduce the cost. … They have access to money we don’t have access to and vice versa.” By working together, “we’ll be more competitive in the grant arena.”
Across its wide range of services, the county welcomes nonprofit partners that fill in the cracks and expand the government’s service capacity. The animal control partnership has been especially effective, Brennan says.
“If we can work with nonprofits to reduce the population we’re having to deal with in the shelter there that’s win for us,” she says. The nonprofit spay-and-neuter programs and adoption help have greatly reduced unwanted animals in county custody.
“We’re seeing those at a consistent level now that is consistently lower,” Brennan says. And nearly all nonprofits rely heavily on a free labor force guided by a lean and effective administration.
“I would hate to try to quantify what it would cost this community if we did not have those volunteers,” Brennan says “This really is work that the county would have to do if not for nonprofit and we’re pleased to partner with them to get work done for the benefit of the community.”


The healing power of an honor flight

Jeff Miller wasn’t sure what to expect when HonorAir invited Vietnam veterans to join its flights to Washington, D.C.
“I thought it could be special to them because they were the first group that had come back to negative treatment as opposed to Korean veterans, that nobody noticed,” he says. “We went into it very committed and with an open mind.”
Miller and Marybeth Burns, who serves as a vice president and flies on all the honor flights out of Asheville Regional Airport, talked recently about how that experience has been a positive one for Vietnam veterans.
“If they’re still alive they’ve learned to manage their PTSD to a degree anyway,” Miller says. “Most of it has just been by bottling it up. It hasn’t been, in a lot of cases, because they’ve had a lot of help with it. Through their families and just isolation or through concentrating on work, they’ve learned to deal with it.
“When we get to put these folks together for a day, they know everybody they’re with, odds are, have had very similar experiences and they can talk with each other, they can cry, they can laugh. They don’t have to feel guilty about having done stuff in war that they wish they never had to, because others have been there, too.”
Since its inception 13 years ago by a retired Air Force pilot in Ohio and Miller, in Hendersonville, HonorAir has grown to 140 hubs in 45 states and flown more than a quarter million veterans to Washington for a day of gratitude.
As they turn to the Vietnam era, Miller and Burns are finding that the trips are providing a healing power. Although they’re quick to emphasize that they’re not counselors and have no special training, they know from the veterans’ own words that the experience is helping, sometimes when nothing else has.
Unlike World War II veterans, many Vietnam veterans tried to forget the war. They did not relive combat —sharing and shedding bad memories — at the VFW or in gatherings of Army companies, Navy ships and Air Force squadrons.
“They don’t do reunions, they don’t do groups, they’ve hidden from people,” Miller said. On an honor flight, “They’re in a group again, they’re in a little patrol, and they’re being perceived as heroes, as patriots — as opposed to hiding from what they had done, not by choice. They spend a day in D.C., they have people come up to them all day thanking them for their service, they visit the Wall, they visit the friends that didn’t come back.
“And then they come home,” Miller says. “And the memories of when they came home 50 years ago are not going to go away but the memories of coming home in September of 2019 are quite different — 1,300 people from ages 3 or 4 up (at the airport), waving flags, shaking their hand, hugging them. That’s a fresh memory and coupled with the day they’ve had together, that’s a memory that they can attach themselves to now. We’re having them tell us they had nightmares every night for 50 years and since they’ve been back, a year ago, they haven’t had a single nightmare.”