The city's charitable giving and volunteerism outstrip its size
Asheville has a well-earned reputation for many things, from craft beer and a hopping culinary scene to its rich history and gorgeous natural setting. But perhaps less well known, though equally brag worthy, is the area’s commitment to taking care of its citizens.
Measuring volunteerism and charitable giving, in 2014 the financial website NerdWallet rated Asheville 10th on its list of most generous cities, noting that Asheville residents donated a median 6.4 percent of their income to charity, and that 32.3 percent of Ashevillians volunteered.
“That’s an astounding figure for a city this size,” says Elisabeth Bocklet, director of marketing and communications for United Way of Asheville & Buncombe County. “This is a caring community, and you can see it in big and small ways.”
Any way you slice it, the giving looks good. Volunteers donated a median of 37.8 hours per year. Through United Way’s Hands On Asheville-Buncombe volunteer center alone, 3,000 people gave more than 22,000 hours of volunteer time in 2013.
Asheville’s Tradition of Caring
Bocklet attributes Asheville’s generosity to two main factors: a tradition of people taking care of their own and something special about the city’s culture.
“A lot of people come here wanting to connect with one another in a meaningful way,” she says. “Both are equally important, and that combination is very much in play.”
In addition to individual giving, Asheville businesses do their part. The accounting firm Johnson Price Sprinkle, for example, supports Habitat for Humanity, contributing 1,150 volunteer hours from nearly all its employees. The company also supports the UNCA Family Business Forum and the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce.
Laura Webb, founder and president of Webb Investment Services, serves on the boards of Friends of the Smokies – her great-grandfather was instrumental in establishing the Great Smoky Mountains National Park – the Community Foundation of Western North Carolina, the Asheville Chamber and more.
Ashevillian Drue Ray and her husband, Allen Ray, created a business from their passion for helping physically and mentally challenged people live outside institutions. Their SimplyHome business, now a national brand, designs custom systems that help people live safely and comfortably in their own homes.
“Independence really allows challenged individuals to experience life,” Ray says. “Things like ‘What time of day do I want to get up? What time do I want to eat?’ The simple things make life very, very full, and are so appreciated.”
Businesses Give to United Way
United Way has benefited from a variety of giving campaigns. Eaton, a top corporate donor, hosts an annual golf tournament and sends many employees to the organization’s Day of Caring. In 2014, Asheville Brewing created 17 kegs of “United Way Pale Ale,” donating $2,000 from its sale. In 2013 and 2014, Paramount Kia of Asheville donated a brand new Kia Soul to help raise money for UW’s community investment fund. And in October 2014, as a “bonding” exercise, 90 employees of the National Telephone Cooperative Association gave 400 hours of time to Enka Middle Community School, working on beautification and educational projects.
“That’s a real gift,” Bocklet says. “We are just so proud of all the ways people get involved, no matter at what level – meeting these people is exciting and energizing for us.”