Education, discovery and service through volunteer outreach
By Michelle Albert
Byron High School Key Club embarked on their 3rd Annual 10-day Mission Trip on May 31 to the Appalachian Mountains. They chose the Asheville area because poverty rates are higher than state averages.
The 2018 Buncombe County Data Card shows that child poverty and hunger remain major problems for children. 46 percent of Buncombe County children still live in poor or near-poor homes, a major risk factor for negative educational, health, and economic outcomes in the future. Additionally, 22 percent of Buncombe County children live in food insecure households putting at risk their immediate health, safety, and ability to learn. Recent estimates show that the city’s population is over 89,000. The city of Asheville covers over 45 square miles, giving it a population density of 2,000 people per square mile. It is the most populous city in Western North Carolina and the twelfth most populous in the state.
In the metro region, which includes Madison, Buncombe (Asheville), Haywood and Henderson counties, 15.4 percent of the population was living below the federal poverty threshold.
“There definitely seems to be something going on with the poverty trend in Asheville that is not happening nationally or statewide,” regional economist, Tom Tveidt said.
He points to issues with changing demographics, a declining labor force, fewer households with retirement income and a shrinking middle class.
Key Club members began preparing in September 2018 with fundraising for the $1,500 per person cost. In addition to selling poinsettias, doing yard clean up and working a pancake breakfast, they received donations from Byron Boosters, Ken Nelson Auto in Dixon, Byron Rotary, The Depot in Forreston, and area businesses kept donation jars. They scheduled a wide variety of volunteer projects to get a broad prospective of the area.
Throughout the year, members worked on pre-service projects like making fleece blankets for abused children, “Thank You” cards for veterans, Kindness Butterflies for children, “Kindness Keys” for those who impact them on the trip, went hiking throughout the winter and spring to ‘get fit’, and participated in educational opportunities, like “trail safety” with the Byron Forest preserve. They rented a home in Black Mountain, which allowed them to save money by eating breakfast and dinner “at home” and packed lunches. The “family” style living and meals builds camaraderie and encourages sharing about the day’s service.
With their Faculty Advisor, Michelle Albert, Byron Kiwanis Liaison, Scott Albert and two Dixon Kiwanis members, Don Knight and Dee Dee Cibu…Key Clubbers arrived in North Carolina late on 5/31 and began serving the following day.
On Saturday 6/1 Key Clubbers volunteered at Full Moon Farms Wolfdog Sanctuary in Black Mountain, NC.
This organization has rescued/helped almost 700 dogs over the last 18-yrs and currently have 66 on this 17-acre site. Key club helped mow, weed whip, organize, prepare for new grass planting, clean, etc.
They were fortunate to meet the “Ambassador” wolfdogs who visit schools, nursing homes, etc. But since we’re not trained/qualified…did not interact with them.
Nancy, the owner says, “A wolfdog is a dog with recent wolf heritage. That is, a wolfdog who has a verified captive pure wolf ancestor within the last five or so generations. (Never wild caught wolves!) Though many people still use the term ‘wolf hybrid’ this is not an accurate term. A ‘hybrid’ is the offspring of two different species. Following reclassification of the dog by taxonomists in 1994, the domestic dog (canis lupus familiars) is viewed as a domestic variant of the gray wolf (canis lupus). Yes, even your Chihuahua!”
Key Clubbers volunteered twice (6/1 and 6/3) at the Buncombe County west Asheville Boys & Girls Club (B&G). This location serves 25 schools, offers after school and summer enrichment programs for Kindergarten – HS, and averages 55 children a day…they can stay as late as 7pm.
“It’s easy to get attached to these kids. They are affectionate, energetic, and eager to engage. Because it’s the last week of school, we played for hours vs. working on homework with them. Our first afternoon was sunshiny. Day two rained so we were inside. This is a diverse group of kids with many in foster care,” said BHS Key Club Advisor Michelle Albert.
Most of the kids are from low-income homes. Over 80% attend B&G on childcare subsidy vouchers and in the summer receive breakfast, lunch & afternoon snack. The programs are open to all children and an entire summer only cost $400. Many organizations utilize MANNA, a non-profit like Northern IL Food Bank, to get their food.
More than 70% of the 50,000 children live in poor to low income homes in Buncombe County, which is above the national average of 41%. Greg Borom, director of advocacy for Children First, “We really have an unacceptably high level of children living in poverty and children who are in low income households,” Borom said. “Those children, I think, unfortunately, kind of fly under the radar. A lot of folks in this community don’t realize there are so many children who are coming from households that are struggling to keep food on the table, to keep a roof over the head.”
On June 1 and 2 Key Club volunteered their mornings with RiverLink. Established in 1987, this group promotes the environmental and economic vitality of the French Broad River and its watershed as a place to live, learn, work and play. Key Clubbers worked on a bio-retention cell or stormwater feature that is designed to col

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