“I think people would be surprised at the number of people we serve each year,” Russo says. “In 2021, we helped just under 10,000 people struggling to pay rent, heat, for medications and other needs. We’re tiny but mighty and strive to be nimble enough to help people with complicated situations.”
Check out our full Q&A with Russo below…
Tell us about your business and the role you play in it.
Eblen Charities is a local nonprofit working to keep our Buncombe County neighbors housed, warm and safe by helping with housing, heating, energy, water, medical needs and other essential services. Eblen was founded in 1991 and just celebrated its 30th anniversary of service to our community. I joined as the Executive Director at the beginning of this year.
Where did your vision begin? How has it grown?
Eblen Charities was born in a very simple but profound moment – after founder Joe Eblen learned at a fundraiser for Cystic Fibrosis that a local man had a daughter with the condition but couldn’t afford to travel to and stay in Durham to receive treatment. The man told him, “Research is important, but what do I do about tomorrow if I can’t take my daughter to the hospital?” Mr. Eblen ended up paying for the family’s travel expenses out of his own pocket and shortly afterward began Eblen Charities.
Who are your key partners?
We’re honored to partner with Buncombe County Health and Human Services, Sisters of Mercy, the Dogwood Health Trust and a host of caring businesses, faith communities and individuals.
What has been your greatest challenge? Your greatest victory?
A very simple but profound victory happened the first day I was in the office. A woman came to our door on a bitterly cold day, with a 2-month-old baby in her arms. They had no heat at home. By nightfall day, we were able to have a tank of oil delivered to her home. It’s hard having a small baby and I was happy that we could offer that small bit of help to improve their situation.
What is a little-known fact about your organization?
I think people would be surprised at the number of people we serve each year. In 2021 we helped just under 10,000 people struggling to pay rent, heat, for medications and other needs. We’re tiny but mighty and strive to be nimble enough to help people with complicated situations.
If you had to give one piece of advice to someone just starting out in the non-profit realm, what would it be?
I’d first recommend that they start talking to the existing nonprofit community and determine if there is an agency that would be a natural partner. We have so many charitable organizations doing excellent work that a new partnership might be more impactful than a new agency.
What does the word “community” mean to you?
I tend to think of “community” as a group of people who care about each other, and who feel connected to each other. Community is also about place to me – a shared space. Eblen’s heart and mission is rooted in both our care for our neighbors and our location in the heart of Western NC.
Do you have anything else you’d like to share?
We are seeing a tremendous increase in the number of people requesting help – which isn’t that surprising considering what we’ve all been through in the last 2 years. People are still hurting, and the people who were struggling financially before the pandemic are still living on the edge. We’re here to help our neighbors.