In just a month, I’ll be doing one of my favorite things with a couple of new twists. I’ll be leading a team of Habitat for Humanity Global Village volunteers – this time in Asheville, NC! That’s right. A sweet journey of less than 5 hours with only one 45 minute layover will bring me to my next project. Haha, a far cry from the 16 hour flights I’ve found myself on recently. No passport required. No money exchange. No bungling a foreign language. I can brush my teeth with water from the sink and eat whatever is offered! Oh what a relief. 🙂
It seems like a sign that I’ll be taking on this project at a time when the US is sparring with the UN over their recent report that levels of poverty are increasing here at home. The report – and our response to it – bring their own controversy. But what rings true in my mind is that our status as a “wealthy, developed nation” does not negate the fact that many of us are in need of assistance. Yes, I said “us”. We are in this together.
This trip has been in the works for more than a year and is special to me for many reasons. I’m excited to engage with the Ware Institute for Civic Engagement and the Office of Alumni Relations at Franklin & Marshall College to team up with Habitat for Humanity and offer this experience to students, alumni and staff for the first time! I am passionate about the work of this organization and have wanted to become more involved with my alma mater for quite some time. I’m thrilled that these things are all coming together! I’ve also never led a domestic volunteer team and am looking forward to a new experience – including challenging my own assumptions about what “need” looks like.
The Asheville Area Habitat for Humanity (AAHFH) does amazing work around Buncombe County, NC. They’ve worked on more than 450 homes, serving over 1,300 individuals, since they were founded in 1983. That’s right – we’re talking about Asheville, North Carolina, United States of America. A hip, vibrant community set amidst the Blue Ridge Mountains which is home to the Biltmore Estate. A place where you might want to retire someday. AAHFH builds 20 houses per year here for families in need. And they can barely scratch the surface.
There is a lack of affordable housing in the area due largely to the fact that many people who live here with their families are employed in jobs which depend on the highly seasonal tourist industry. The discrepancy between the wages of hospitality workers and the cost of living in the area is becoming insurmountable for many. Of the top 20 occupations in Buncombe County, 9 are insufficient to afford appropriate, fair market rental housing. In 2016, 23.3% of children in Buncombe County lived below the poverty line.
Our team will be working with several families, since AAHFH usually has about 6 projects ongoing simultaneously. We have information on two of those families and when reading their stories, the reality of the situation becomes obvious. Shaketia is a teacher and has two children. When her lease was due for renewal, she was unable to afford the significant increase in rent and was forced to move in with her mother. She now shares a twin bed with her daughter while her son sleeps on the floor. Mary has been driving a school bus for 10 years and has four children. Her landlord decided to sell affordable rental home they had been living in for 8 years and she was forced to find a new home for her family. Her only option was to lease a small 3 bedroom apartment for the 5 of them.
Stories like those of Shaketia and Mary are far too common. Many of us may be fortunate enough to have not experienced this type of hardship, but we only need look to see those important qualities that we share. They are good people, hard working, striving to support their families and raise their children as best they can. When times got tough, they did what they had to and kept a positive outlook. Sounds familiar? Yes, to me too.
Our work in Asheville will be a time of learning, sharing, hard work and, yes, love. The lives of these families will be changed forever and I’m lucky to be able to be a part of this experience. I’m excited for the journey.
*If you would like to make a financial contribution toward the work of Habitat for Humanity and help families like those of Shaketia and Mary, please use this link. Every dollar counts!
**This post contains statements and images provided by AAHFH. Their collaboration and support is appreciated.