The Avila family photographed above received Duke Endowment rental support to maintain housing.
COVID-19 has affected our nation in ways unimaginable. Citywide shutdowns, higher rates of unemployment, and reduced work hours have left thousands of North Carolina families in financial distress. With the significantly increased need, our community action agencies have stepped up to help their communities survive as the state works to bounce back from the economic impact of the pandemic.
Blue Ridge Opportunity Commission (BROC), located in Wilkesboro, North Carolina, serves low-income households in Alleghany, Ashe and Wilkes counties. It is one of many community action agencies in the state to have recently received supplemental funds from NCCAA to provide supplemental support to those reeling from the effects of the pandemic.
The funds were made available through a grant from The Duke Endowment, one of the largest private foundations in the southeast. The organization focuses on child and family well-being, health care, higher education and rural United Methodist churches. “With these grants, we continue to emphasize meeting urgent needs among communities that have endured sustained challenges” as a result of the pandemic, said Endowment president Rhett Mabry.
Alison Crisp, BROC’s lead case manager, described the financial hardship on families in Wilkesboro, and Sparta, N.C. as ‘immense.’ “Alleghany County is a small and very tight-knit community,” she said. “It was important for me to connect with as many people as possible to see how BROC might be able to help.”
Many of the county’s residents are older, so digital communication would not have been effective. Instead, Alison asked local landlords and power company staff for help in locating residents who may be in need of assistance paying outstanding bills due to the effects of the pandemic. Through this method, she was able to reach people who didn’t know BROC existed or the services it provides.
After learning about the support provided by BROC, a grateful resident said, “Thank you so much for all you do for the residents of our county. You are such a blessing.”
Alison recalls one resident who, while waiting to receive unemployment benefits, had accumulated about four months of delinquent rent and electric bills. The Duke Endowment funds were used to help her get current on her bills, preventing her from being evicted or having her power shut off.
The community response to the support by BROC has been overwhelmingly positive. “This has truly made a difference in our counties” said BROC Executive Director Dare Stromer.
“Thank you for all you do! BROC has been a blessing during this trying time,” said a client after receiving $800 to cover rent after being quarantined.
“We had no idea we could receive this kind of help with our struggles from COVID-19,” said another grateful resident who received $545 to cover past due rent. “Thank you so much!”
To date, more than 160 North Carolina low-income households have benefited from The Duke Endowment grants. funds have helped families secure transportation, food, childcare and eliminate late payments on rent and utilities bills, among other necessities.
The Avila family had to quarantine due to the pandemic, resulting in missed work and lost wages. Rental payments fell behind during this time. Duke Endowment funds, coupled with CSBG funding, provided rental payment support, preventing eviction for this family of six.
The Avila family expressed great appreciation for the support, stating “Thank you so much for helping me! BROC has done so much for my family, and I can’t thank them enough for helping us stay in our home during this difficult time. Alison has been so kind and helpful.”
Braysion Wright is a writer in the North Carolina Community Action Association’s Communications Fellows Program. NCCAA Communications Fellows are students or recent graduates pursuing a career in communications, graphic design, IT, public policy or a related field. They receive a stipend for their participation in the program. For more information on the NCCAA Communications Fellows Program, please contact Yvette Ruffin, director of the NCCAA Communications Fellows Program.