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Only Hope declares support for Absher

The Board of Directors of Only Hope WNC, the organization that Michael Absher founded to serve homeless youth, issued a statement Thursday night expressing confidence that Absher "will be cleared of the charge against him and that these allegations are false."

Absher, who is also on the Henderson County School Board,  was arrested on Wednesday and charged with permitting a 15-year-old male resident of the Only Hope group home off Upward Road to drink alcohol, the Henderson County sheriff's office said.

Absher, 27, turned himself in on Wednesday afternoon on the misdemeanor charge. He also submitted a letter at the school administration central office requesting a leave of absence from the School Board, Chair Amy Lynn Holt said in a message to the Hendersonville Lightning on Thursday morning. Schools Superintendent Bo Caldwell made her aware of the letter Wednesday afternoon, she said.

Absher faces a court appearance in District Court next month. He has hired Doug Pearson, a former assistant district attorney who is now in private practice.

“North Carolina State Bar rules of professional conduct prohibit me from any further discussion of the case details at this time," Pearson said Wednesday night. "We are confident once a court discovers all the evidence Mr. Absher will be cleared of any wrongful conduct.”

The offense of allowing the 15-year-old to consume alcohol "whereby he could become adjudicated delinquent and undisciplined," was alleged to have occurred between Nov. 1, 2016, and Jan. 1 of this year, according to the arrest warrant.

"We had some allegations made and we investigated it and after our investigation and consultation with the district attorney these were the charges against Michael," said Sheriff's Office Maj. Frank Stout. "The investigation showed that he had knowedge of them consuming alcohol at his home for homeless children."

In its statement, the board of Only Hope WNC stressed that it has strict policies against drug and alcohol use in the home.

"The main priority of the Board of Directors of Only Hope WNC Inc. has always been and will continue to be the safety and protection of the youth within our care," the statement said. "This commitment includes obeying the law in regard to drugs and alcohol. We at Only Hope have a strict policy against drug and alcohol use at our youth home. Violation of this policy may cause students to be dismissed permanently from our program.

"Because of the commitment, we have made to work with homeless youth, we often encounter young people working to overcome challenging backgrounds. Some students refuse to adhere to our policies and regulations and as a result become ineligible to continue participating in the program. The youth who has brought these allegations was terminated from our program on 4/1/17. These events occurred a few days before the allegations were reported. In our internal investigation, we have found no evidence to support the claim made by this student.

"As a Board, we want to reassure our many supporters and the Henderson County Community that we do everything in our power to provide a safe environment for the youth in our care. We are confident Michael Absher, our President and CEO, will be cleared of the charge against him, and that these allegations are false."

A graduate of East Henderson High School who was homeless himself in high school, Absher won a School Board seat on his third try last November. He has won wide acclaim for his work on behalf of homeless teenagers, forming the Only Hope organization and opening a home for homeless teenagers in April 2016. When he was a parttime teller at Wells Fargo bank, Absher received a "Heroes of the 500" honor from Fortune magazine that recognized Fortune 500 employees who had helped their community.