Asheville Merchants Fund Awards $350,000 in Grants

The Asheville Merchants Fund has awarded grants to seven Buncombe County nonprofit organizations. A total of $350,000 was distributed for innovative projects designed to build a stronger community and stimulate economic growth.

The Asheville Merchants Fund supports projects that strengthen the community through economic approaches such as community asset development and entrepreneurship; quality jobs and workforce development, including living wage work and job training; social infrastructure encompassing family success and affordable housing; and youth success in school.

The recipients are:

Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project (ASAP) received $50,000 to increase Buncombe County local food sales for farmers, farmers markets and restaurants. The project will increase local food sales by expanding consumer education, building community relationships and funding cross-promotional campaigns through ASAP's Local Food Guide. More than 100 farms, 13 farmers markets and 80 restaurants and other food-related businesses serving Buncombe County will benefit.

Asheville Area Habitat for Humanity received $50,000 to continue the Adopt-A-Lot challenge grant program to purchase affordable lots on which to build Habitat houses. The funds will leverage an additional $100,000 in donor sponsorships to purchase at least 10 additional lots in Habitat neighborhoods.

Asheville Buncombe Community Christian Ministry received $50,000 to support a program for homeless women living at the Steadfast House for Women that provides transitional housing and life and job skills training to help residents secure employment and increase self-sufficiency. Funds will support 50 participants over the two-year grant period.

Buncombe County Schools Foundation received $50,000 toward the Graduation Initiative to continue providing at-risk students alternative pathways for academic success and a high school diploma. Grant funds will support "Minimester" and "Twilight School" classes as part of a program that anticipates graduating a minimum of 60 students who would otherwise not earn a diploma.

Green Opportunities received $50,000 to provide incentivized job training and placement services to 210 low-income adults with significant employment barriers. Programs offered at the Arthur R. Edington Center combine hands-on vocational instruction with case management. Trainees have opportunities for employment in social enterprises and job placement assistance upon completion of a 14-week program in the culinary and building trades.

Mountain BizWorks received $50,000 to provide customized business training and microloans (less than $50,000) to a target population of low-to-moderate income entrepreneurs in Buncombe County. Grant funds will support training classes and individualized coaching for 250 entrepreneurs per year. The services will provide access to capital for start-ups and existing small businesses experiencing barriers to traditional lending sources. This program has been an important part of developing Asheville's small business community for the past 25 years.

OnTrack Financial Education and Counseling received $50,000 for its Affordable Housing Program, which helps to make housing more affordable for potential homebuyers and renters in Buncombe County by empowering them to stabilize finances, improve credit and build assets. Over two years, 420 clients will receive credit education and coaching and 360 clients will receive pre-purchase counseling and support, including access to down payment assistance. OnTrack's services are used by several other organizations and programs, including Habitat for Humanity, Homeward Bound, programs working with victims of domestic violence and employee-assistance programs of major employers.

"In reviewing applications, we looked for opportunities to fill gaps, increase employability and help build a more well-rounded community and workforce in Buncombe County," said Tom Hallmark of the Fund's Advisory Committee. "The goals of these nonprofits best matched our criteria of funding programs that strengthen the community through economic impact." Asheville Merchant Fund grants are awarded every two years.