OpenDoors of Asheville: Helping Eliminate Child Poverty
By Tom Kerr
Founded by women in 2009, OpenDoors of Asheville is a not-for-profit organization connecting children living in multigenerational poverty with an active, individualized network of opportunity, education, and enrichment. Kristine Oblock, one of the most active members of the OpenDoors team, sat down with us recently to tell us what inspires her to do this vital work.
Kristine Oblock: I have been really involved in the non-profit sector ever since college. One of the reasons I moved from my home state of Colorado to Asheville was to work on environmental policy issues. After relocating I met Jen Ramming, the Executive Director of OpenDoors. As friends do, I would talk to her after work about how her day went. That led to long, deep conversations about the truly complex nature of poverty and the OpenDoors approach to eliminating it. The more I learned the more I realized that the OpenDoors model was totally unique and extremely effective. I knew that it was something I definitely wanted to become part of, so I volunteered.
How is the OpenDoors model unique?
We call it the “wrap around” approach. OpenDoors wraps an entire community of people and resources around each individual child. I compare it to the same way a caring and concerned family tries to provide every single thing needed for their child to be healthy, happy, and successful in life. OpenDoors works hard to procure whatever resources a child needs to succeed, no matter what those resources happen to be. Along with the practical tools and enrichment opportunities children need and deserve, OpenDoors also involves them in encouraging and supportive relationships with mentors, coaches, tutors, and advocates.
Where do the children’s own parents and guardians fit into all this?
The student’s guardian is always in the driver’s seat. We just help them gain information and access, but they make all the final decisions. We partner with the parents and caregivers and stand side-by-side when we advocate. So it is a partnership of parents helping parents do what’s best for the future of Asheville’s kids.
These are children living in poverty, right?
Yes, we serve children in Asheville who live in multigenerational poverty. To move any child forward it takes an incredible amount of resources, as any good parent knows. That challenge becomes exponentially more difficult when the child is confronted with multigenerational poverty. Poverty is a complicated problem and to solve it you have to provide consistent support in virtually every area of a child’s life.
Can one organization do all that?
No, not alone. We help coordinate services and offer access to programs and resources that already exist because of more than a dozen of other wonderful agencies and schools. The list of support we connect children to goes on and on and continues to grow every day. Whatever a child needs, OpenDoors feels it is our mission and responsibility to provide – just as you would for your very own child. We take a “can-do” attitude. Then we reach out into the community to make it happen.
So you don’t want to reinvent the wheel?
OpenDoors does not want to duplicate or overlap services that are already available to children through various organizations like schools, government agencies, and other charities. We instead focus on ensuring that children are in a position to take full advantage of those existing opportunities. But in the real world, when you are dealing with extreme poverty, there will inevitably be critical gaps that still need to be addressed and filled. We identify those and go out and find the additional resources that are vital to success, so no child slips between the cracks or falls behind.
What kinds of results have you seen?
We see much improved attendance, attitudes, academic abilities, grades, and self esteem. We see increased parent involvement and student participation in advocating for themselves. Children and their families feel welcome in places and with people they did not feel comfortable with before. They see that there are choices and they have a voice where they thought they had none. We have discovered competitive swimmers, beautiful dancers, powerful writers, and great creative minds among these young people. Despite the challenges of learning differences and deep poverty they thrive and make our community richer and stronger. The results are also self-perpetuating.
Self-perpetuating in what way?
Oftentimes, for instance, an older sibling who benefits from OpenDoors will take their newfound academic skills and positive life lessons back and help their little brothers and sisters, cousins, or neighbors succeed. Another example is an OpenDoors child I knew who is now a young adult woman fully invested in giving back to the Asheville community in ways that are lifting other kids and families out of poverty. When you open a door to opportunity that opens many other doors. There is a powerful, positive multiplier effect. That stops the negative domino effect to finally break the cycle of multigenerational poverty.
So it’s about sustainable empowerment?
Exactly. OpenDoors does not do handouts. We are about an entire community of helping hands reaching out and collectively lifting kids up to stand on their own two feet. We are helping to raise children who are raising the bar for themselves and everyone else around them. That is an exciting and beautiful thing to be a part of – to see direct, tangible, personal results saving and changing lives right before your eyes. I know it has changed my life in wonderful ways.
To Learn More: Anyone interested to learn more or to find out about volunteer opportunities may visit the OpenDoors website or call 828-777-1135. OpenDoors also hosts its 5th Annual Art Affair event on Saturday, March 1st, 2014, featuring 75+ auction items with cuisine and libations from many of Asheville’s finest restaurants. All proceeds from the auction directly support OpenDoors initiatives to end child poverty.
Tom Kerr (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a longtime Asheville resident and freelance writer. He is also a huge fan of OpenDoors of Asheville.