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McDowell Mission Ministries’ leader reacts to decision by county commissioners to cut funding

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McDowell Mission Ministries’ leader reacts to decision by county commissioners

On Monday, the McDowell County Board of Commissioners agreed to take away the county funding for McDowell Mission Ministries and spread it to other organizations as part of their action to adopt the budget for 2022-2023.

In response, the chair of the mission’s board said the local homeless shelter is “surprised and saddened” by this action. And numerous people have criticized this decision through social media.

The previous week, Commission Vice Chairman David Walker said he wanted to change the amount that the county provided to McDowell Mission Ministries. The local homeless shelter is one of the many organizations and groups that receive county funding. Previously, McDowell Mission Ministries got $17,500 a year from the county. Walker said on Monday, June 13 he wanted to change that amount to $5,000, which would match what the city of Marion provides to the mission.

The remaining $12,500 from the county would be distributed to the Lake James Environmental Association’s Mill Creek project (which would get $1,000), Freedom Life Ministries and the McDowell Pregnancy Care Center (which would get $6,500), according to Walker’s suggestion on June 13.

But on Monday of this week, the commissioners decided to change the funding even further. They agreed to still give the LJEA $1,000 but decided to increase the county’s funding to Freedom Life Ministries to $17,500 and increase the county’s funding to the McDowell Pregnancy Care Center to $9,000. This eliminates the $5,000 of county money that would have gone to McDowell Mission Ministries.

Before taking this action, county officials heard from Commissioner Chris Allison, who sits on the mission’s board. He said McDowell Mission Ministries could change its name perhaps by this week and suggested it would become a different organization. He added the bylaws have been rewritten by people from Burke County and with no input from people from McDowell. The new board for the local homeless shelter will have seven members from McDowell and six from Burke. He said those recent developments are “concerning.”

After the meeting, Allison shared with The McDowell News emails about the proposed bylaws and possible logos for “Hope for the Homeless” or “Coalition for the Homeless.” He also shared information about a meeting scheduled for Thursday morning in Morganton of the McDowell Mission Ministries board and representatives from Burke County. This would be the “first official MMM+Burke Board meeting,” according to the email.

Allison said he had no problem helping Burke care for its homeless population but his priority is to care for McDowell’s homeless population. “My No. 1 priority is the citizens of McDowell County,” he said on Wednesday.

The decision by the commissioners has been criticized on The McDowell News’ Facebook page.

“Wow, cut funding to an organization that is literally housing people that desperately need their services,” wrote Ginger Gorecki Webb.

“How about the 8,000 or so of you that never admit to voting for this bunch but do..... Stop re-electing the root of the problems of this county,” wrote Steve Chapman Jr. “McDowell county will never grow or change until you cut the head off the snake. Funding stops unless it pads their pockets in one form or another.”

“This is unacceptable! What needs to happen to reverse this decision?” wrote Danielle Walker.

The McDowell County Commissioners will meet again at 11:30 a.m. Thursday, June 30 at the administration building at 69 N. Main St. in Marion.

In response to the action, Debora Workman, the chair of the McDowell Mission Ministries board, said in an emailed statement the local homeless shelter is partnering with people in Burke because more clients are coming here from Burke. This same statement was posted on the mission’s Facebook page.

“McDowell Mission Ministries has a proven track record of success in our work with people experiencing homelessness and substance use disorder,” she said in an email to The McDowell News. “For the past year, we have held a number of roundtable discussions with city and county officials, as well as with several community partners. Together, we identified the need for an overnight shelter for people experiencing homelessness, and we worked collaboratively to meet that need by providing shelter for the unhoused. In fact, our programs benefit not just McDowell County, but surrounding counties as well.

“In the past 18 months, we have received more than $2.1 million in grants, donations, retail sales income and program fees and we have served hundreds of people experiencing homelessness and/or a substance use disorder in the past year alone,” Workman added. “We’ve managed to do all of it with an astonishingly small amount of overhead cost. This level of success at meeting the needs of the most vulnerable, along with the dedication of our staff and spirit of collaboration from our leadership, led to several possibilities for expanding our ministry into neighboring counties.”

McDowell Mission Ministries is planning to expand its outreach to help the homeless in other counties, including Burke.

“As we began to look at regionalization of our services in order to meet the needs of more people while also reducing our administrative costs, the Burke County Homelessness Task Force emerged as a promising partner,” said Workman in her email to The McDowell News. “In February of this year, McDowell Mission Ministries entered into conversation with community stakeholders in Burke County who, recognizing the fact that as many as 30% of current McDowell Mission Ministries clients are Burke County residents, were interested in expanded collaboration and partnership that would be mutually beneficial.”

Workman said in her email she and others with McDowell Mission Ministries were “surprised and saddened to learn of the decision of the McDowell County Commissioners redirecting funding away from our organization.”

“We learned of this news, not through direct conversation with the county or commissioners, but from the local newspaper after the fact,” she said in the email to The McDowell News. “Furthermore, we are shocked and frankly bewildered by the inaccurate statements made by Commissioner Allison regarding McDowell Mission Ministries and its future operations.

“While Commissioner Allison was invited and expected to participate in conversations regarding future partnerships as a board member, he was absent for all but one of the meetings where these conversations occurred. In fact, at the single meeting that Commissioner Allison did attend, he voted along with every other board member to move forward with collaboration and partnership with Burke County, which included commencing work on new bylaws and exploring possibilities for a fitting name for a more regionalized partnership.

“At no time did Commissioner Allison reach out to Arwen March, our executive director, or to myself for further clarification and conversation. Moreover, while Commissioner Allison failed to attend subsequent meetings where matters such as reformatted and updated bylaws and rebranding were discussed, had he been present, he would have learned that the bylaws are still very much a work in progress, and in fact, McDowell Mission Ministries made the wise decision to have them reviewed independently to ensure that we are on a firm organizational footing as we look to further regionalize our ministry. The same can be said of our rebranding efforts. Sadly, while Commissioner Allison was also invited to participate in these conversations, he failed to do so.

“We have been intentional about ensuring that McDowell and Burke counties both have broad and robust representation. In fact, despite Commissioner Allison's insinuations to the contrary, our board enjoys equal representation from both counties, and the collaborative work we have done to bring us to this exciting next chapter has taken many months of conversation and cooperation from all involved. The fact that our board is so united behind this vision of our future speaks for itself. McDowell Mission Ministries remains more committed than ever to meeting the needs of the most vulnerable among us, and we look forward to expanding our impact and deepening our organizational vitality. The staff and leadership of McDowell Mission Ministries are undeterred in their commitment to fulfill our mission of meeting the needs of the most vulnerable among us.”

In response to Workman’s statement, Allison said to The McDowell News he was present for three meetings since joining the board. He attended the March, April and May meetings. Allison said he didn’t attend the January meeting because it had to be rescheduled due to the winter weather and he had a conflict with the rescheduled meeting. He didn’t attend the February meeting because he was on a family vacation at that time.

Allison said he and fellow board members David Patneaude and Randy Hollifield addressed their concerns about the direction of the mission at the April meeting. They were informed at that time that the decision had already been made to expand into Burke County, according to Allison.

He said the statement that he did not address his concerns to Arwen March and Debora Workman is “completely false.”

Allison said those concerns were addressed at the March and April meetings. He and other board members suggested a larger board representation with nine from McDowell and four from Burke. He said it was rejected immediately by Nancy Taylor, president and CEO of the Community Foundation of Burke County, with no discussion.

“I support McDowell Mission Ministries and it has been successful,” said Allison in an email to Workman. “As the process to expand has continued, the best interests of McDowell County are not being met.”

Hollifield said he left the mission’s board six weeks ago because the shelter was changing from a hometown Christian organization that focused on McDowell’s homeless into an organization that is larger than what he thought McDowell or Marion should have. He had served on the board for seven years.

“We are trying to do too much to help too many people that are not local,” he said on Wednesday to The McDowell News.

Patneaude said he attended only two meetings in March and April. In April, Patneaude said he was told they were considering a merger with Burke County’s organization and he felt the same way as Hollifield. “My concerns were the needs of this county,” he said.

Patneaude said he also was concerned about the seven from McDowell, six from Burke makeup of the board. Like Allison and Hollifield, Patneaude said he was told in April the decision to expand into Burke had already been made. After the April meeting, he left the board.

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