Asheville – Is there anything more important than our children? They are the future. But life can be difficult, and students today face overwhelming obstacles to staying in school—illness, abandonment, homelessness, poverty.
What can be done to help kids that show promise but are financially vulnerable through no fault of their own? That is what the Children’s Welfare League of Asheville has been solving since 1923. For 99 years they have helped kids stay in school and create a better life. Many of the students helped by CWL’s stipend program are able to maintain good grades, graduate and frequently attend higher education. There are even scholarships available for AB-Tech and UNCA.
The Children’s Welfare League (CWL), a 501(c)(3), is an all-volunteer organization, whose one common purpose is to improve the lives and education of children in Buncombe County. Because CWL is voluntary, all of the funds collected go to student support programs.
And it seems that The Children’s Welfare League is doing a great job. In the academic year 2021-2022, 305 high school kids, from the 10 Buncombe County and Asheville City schools, took part in CWL’s program. CWL works in partnership with guidance counselors and social workers who recommend students in good academic standing, with a demonstrated financial need. Each student receives a monthly stipend of $40, with an additional $50 for the holidays and upon graduation. Typically, students use the money to supplement basic necessities like rent, groceries, and personal supplies. They also use it for school fees, field trips and, sometimes, to just be able to join their friends in typical teen activities like a night at the movies. Yet, to join the program they have to sign a paper stating that they will stay in school and keep their grades up.
Even with the good work CWL is doing, each school has a waiting list of students who are eligible.
CWL’s one major fundraising event each year is the annual Spring Gala, an evening of dinner, dancing, raffles and auctions. This year’s auction items are: an ultimate waterfront getaway at a 5BR/3.5BA chalet-style home on beautiful Lake Lure; a two-night stay with golf for 6 at Cleghorn Golf Club; clay shooting for four at Cleghorn Gun Club; and VIP table for 6 at Legends Club for Saturday Night Lights. Other items include work by local artists, hand made jewelry, and so much more. Celine and Company are providing an assortment of hors d’oeuvres, wine and beer followed by an exclusive dinner. and DJ Mark Dickerson will be spinning dance tunes. The Gala is on Saturday, April 23, 2022, at 6 pm, at the Mission Health/AB-Tech Conference Center. Everyone is welcome. Tickets are $125 per person. Get tickets at cwl-asheville.ejoinme.org/SpringGala2022.
Eight years ago, after her daughter went off to college, Debbie Heffner learned of The Children’s Welfare League of Asheville from a friend. Debbie decided that joining might be a way to meet new people, and serve her community in a fun way. She never dreamed that she would love it so much that one day she would become President of CWL, a position she has held for the last two years.
Heffner shared, “We have monthly member luncheons from September through May. On two of those months we invite the counselors to come, to tell us about the kids. I cry every time. They tell us about the situations that these kids are in, and what they face. It’s hard. I feel so good about providing these stipends, and our SoS (Support our Students emergency funding) programs.” Heffner went on to say, “The latest thing is kids want to go to the prom and they can’t afford a ticket, or they want to graduate with their class and can’t afford to buy the cap and gown. It just feels good to help these kids out.”
Due to covid restrictions, The Children’s Welfare League of Asheville has not been able to have an in-person fundraiser since 2019, so they are hoping to have one of their best Spring Galas yet.
When Heffner was asked about plans for the future she said, “At the end of each school year we meet with the 10 school liaisons and critique the school year. There always seems to be a new need to arise, gas cards to give out for transportation to school or work, sturdy backpacks, sleeping bags and air mattresses for homeless students. We feel fortunate to be able to help 305 students. Each year after the Spring Gala, we have to evaluate how many students we’ll be able to help for the next school year.”
Although the members of CWL seldom meet the children, whose identity is only known by their counselors, some choose to speak out. Anna Stearns was one. “The gift I received from Children’s Welfare League was so much more than money. It was an affirmation that I was deserving and important—that I mattered.” Anna Stearns is a former stipend student and General Counsel and Chief of Staff to Chief Justice Cheri Beasley, Supreme Court of NC.
Next year will be The Children’s Welfare League’s 100th anniversary of serving our community’s youths. How can you help? Attend the Spring Gala; learn about volunteering; honor a loved one with a gift; support one student for a year; become a corporate supporter; donate an auction item, or service, to The Asheville Spring Gala; or you can donate any amount at www.cwl-asheville.org.