Young: “The Carter Compassion Center needs more volunteers and funding”
Published 15:24 Wednesday, March 15, 2023
By Heather Richardson
Shortly after opening, the Carter Compassion Center, a nonprofit serving Carter County residents in need, received a call from a man whose starter had died with his car. Starter cost $97, which at the time, he didn’t have any. Since his car was the only way to and from work, the man was worried he might lose his job. Not knowing what else to do, he called the Compassion Center. With donated funds, the center was able to purchase a starter for the man.
“We meet that need,” said Compassion Center President Brandon Young. “We were able to get a starter for the car. He can wear it, and it keeps him working because it’s the only transportation he has to get to and from work. He was so worried that he would lose his job and his boss wouldn’t understand…He said if it wasn’t for that [the Compassion Center] I will lose my job and I don’t know what my family will do.”
Around the same time, the center heard from a woman whose husband had abandoned her and her children, draining their bank accounts and leaving them with nothing. After calling the landlord to explain the problem, he was told he would be evicted if he was unable to pay the rent. With tears in her eyes, the woman called the Compassion Center to explain her situation.
“He said, ‘Me and my girls are going to stay in the car on Saturday,’” Young said.
The Compassion Center was able to help him pay his rent, look after him and his children in their home, and then help him find second jobs to cover his husband’s income.
“He was just going through a rough patch and had nowhere to go,” Young explained. “He said he had no family here and said ‘you guys have become my family just by sitting with me trying to help me.’”
Needs like these and many more have filled the Compassion Center since it opened in 2020, and now staff are seeking volunteers, mentors, and donations to meet the growing need. In 2021, more than 19 percent of Carter County residents, or approximately 10,400 people, live below the poverty line. The national average at that time was only 12.8 percent. Most of the population that the Compassion Center serves is considered to be the working poor.
“They’re working, but they’re only a paycheck away from disaster,” Young explains. “There’s no money in savings, so if something bad happens, they go straight to the payday loan. So, the hole they’re in is getting deeper and deeper.”
Immediately after starting their work, the people at the Center for Compassion realized that for many families this was a recurring and often multi-generational problem that had the potential to, and for many people, lead to much more dire circumstances.
A 2021 study showed that 14.6 percent of Carter County’s population live with a “severe housing problem” – an indicator that has grown by nearly three percent since 2014. Young estimates there are between 60 and 80 homeless people living in Carter County. The waiting time to receive low-income housing in Elizabethton is currently two years, Young said.
The Compassion Center’s goal is not only to meet people’s immediate needs, but also to provide education, guidance, and advocacy to help people improve their situation in the future. People who contact the Compassion Center have the opportunity to sit down with a mentor, identify current and recurring needs in their lives, and get help creating a budget and filling out a help application that fits their situation. The center also offers classes on literacy, parenting, stress management and more.
“We try to help them with that initial trauma, and then we coordinate resources and we mentor them and educate them to try to get them out of poverty,” Young said. “That’s the key. This is not just a handout, this is a hand up.”
“We can do so much more together,” Young said. “Poverty is a problem in Carter County, but if we tackle this problem together, we can do more and we can see this problem get better. We can.”