Mosteller is named HOP Coordinator

 

Christy Mosteller has taken leadership over the Mountain Projects Healthy Opportunities Pilot (HOP) program.

HOP is the first program in the nation to use Medicaid funds to pay for a select set of services to address the food, housing, transportation and interpersonal safety needs of qualifying NC Medicaid Managed Care members.

Mosteller, who has been with Mountain Projects for more than 14 years, works with a number of health services organizations that refer eligible clients so HOP staff can coordinate the specific services they need.

According to Mosteller, the number of families who are referred to HOP continues to climb weekly.

“It is amazing work but all-consuming,” Mosteller said, shortly after finishing a food-box delivery. “I have a really great team, and we work well together.”

The HOP program serves low-income households in both Haywood and Jackson Counties and is reimbursed for all of its services through Medicaid funding. Currently, North Carolina is the only state participating in the program.

Part of Mosteller’s job includes overseeing the HOP Healthy Meal services program, which provides frozen or shelf-stable meals to promote improved nutrition. 

Food boxes are delivered or available for pickup weekly to HOP families to help supplement 1-2 meals per day. Each box includes whole grains, proteins, and vouchers for fresh fruit and vegetables from Duckett’s Produce and Christopher Farms. 

“That way families can choose what they want,” said Mosteller. “We always try to mix it up and make sure the families have a good variety.”

HOP funding is also available to help families find affordable housing and pay for their first month’s rent or a security deposit. 

“We also can help a family if their power or water has been turned off,” Mosteller said. 

Mosteller also partners with other programs at Mountain Projects including Haywood Public Transit to provide transportation to families, and has been able to provide funds to help with vehicle repairs. 

If you are on Managed Medicaid and believe you may qualify for the HOP program, call 828-452-1447 or email cmosteller@mountainprojects.org to learn more.

Si Simmons is Mountain Projects’ new Deputy Director

After 34 years of dedicating her life to helping the Haywood and Jackson County communities, Patsy Davis is planning to take a well-deserved step back in May of 2025.

At the helm of Mountain Projects Inc., Davis has been known as a selfless leader with tremendous compassion for the community – traits that the Mountain Projects staff also sees in Si Simmons, who as of April 29, began his new role as Deputy Director.

Si’s compassion combined with years of experience makes a great fit for the position,” said Davis. “He is well respected among our staff and will help lead Mountain Projects into our next sixty years.”

As Deputy Director, Simmons will be helping Davis with day-to-day operations while a search committee, established by the Mountain Projects Inc. Board of Trustees, works to find a replacement director to assume Davis’ role in 2025.

“Everything you see here is a reflection of Patsy’s leadership,” Simmons said on an early Wednesday morning during his first week on the job “She has a passion for helping people. Nobody can take her place; I believe in Mountain Projects, and she does too.”

Simmons, 62, has worked for Mountain Projects for 18 years – serving as the Manager of Haywood Public Transit for the past five years and working as a WIOA Youth Case Manager before then. 

“I see my role as a tremendous supporter and problem solver,” Simmons said about his career at Mountain Projects. “I’ve always been a team player. I may have had a title on the door, but I believe I’m as good as anybody to roll up my sleeves and drive a bus.”

Though surprised at first by the offer, Simmons felt this new position would allow him to continue his fulfilling work with Mountain Projects, Inc.

“My time with Mountain Projects has made such an impact on me,” Simmons said. “I’m in a great place in my life; I feel like what I do is valued and what I do is worthwhile and helps others.”

A retired coach, Simmons has skills in building teams and is well-known in the community for his experience and compassion for the Mountain Projects mission. 

“As a coach, I told my students that the word ‘team’ stands for ‘Together Everyone Achieves More,’ and I believe that’s true here too,” Simmons said. “It’s so easy to come to work because you feel empowered in your small world to do whatever it takes to help a co-worker, or help a client or someone in need.”

Simmons and his wife, Cindi, will celebrate 40 years of marriage this October. The couple lives in Webster with their yellow lab, Kirby. Their son, Jackson Simmons, is the current Assistant Men’s Basketball Coach for the WCU Catamounts. 

Si and Cindi met at WCU, joined by their passion for basketball and coaching. Cindi, now retired, went on to have a tremendous coaching career in volleyball and basketball and was inducted into the WCU Athletics Hall of Fame in 2000.

And as Simmons continues to learn his role in supporting the staff at Mountain Projects, the Board of Trustees is hard at work putting together a plan and forming a search committee to begin a national search for Davis’ replacement.  

“We have got some tremendous Board members,” Simmons said. “I don’t have a doubt in the world they will lead us in the best possible direction.”

Community Action conference comes to WNC: The annual conference paid special homage to several regional leaders

This story appeared in the Smoky Mountain News. Link below this excerpt

True freedom isn’t attainable without economic freedom. This was the central theme of the 2024 North Carolina Community Action Association’s annual convention held at Harrah’s Cherokee Casino last week.

The event, which celebrated NCCAA’s 60th anniversary, was held over several days and included trainings, break-out sessions, various speakers, and of course, celebration.

Community Action was created on the heels of a March 1964 message to congress from President Lyndon Johnson during which he urged the body to pass his Economic Opportunity Act. Ultimately, the act created the Office of Economic Opportunity, including the creation of Community Action Agencies (CAAs) to “strike poverty at its source — in the streets of our cities and on the farms of our countryside.”

While the event celebrated community action organizations around the state and was well attended by folks from the Charlotte area and the Triangle, Western North Carolina often took center stage, especially considering the group’s board president is Patsy Davis of Mountain Projects, an organization that serves Haywood and Jackson counties.

Read the story here

Utility hikes and cold weather taking toll on fixed income households

 

This story first appeared in The Mountaineer

For more than a decade in her previous hometown, Kim Hammon, now of Jonathan Creek, operated a non-profit called “Street Angels” that helped seniors, veterans and single mothers who were in dire straits. Her organization assisted thousands of people through the unexpected emergencies of life.

Recently, Hammon found herself on the other side of the equation.

When her utility bill came in nearly double its previous high and she faced a potential cutoff, the retired teacher needed help.

“Social security isn’t a whole lot,” she says. “I have to budget my money.”

Like many, Hammon spends times of frigid weather in extra layers of clothing or at a relatives’ house. She keeps the heat warm enough to protect the pipes, and that’s about it. But also like others, she has seen her bill double – or more.

“When I got my utility bill I immediately thought ‘this isn’t mine’,” she said.

The North Carolina Utilities Commission approved a 7.7% rate increase that began last month, and increases will continue in 2025 and 2026 as energy providers work to transition to low-carbon energy sources. But Hammon’s electricity provider, Haywood EMC, told her that their rate hike was 18%. She was also told that payment options were limited.

“I said ‘are you kidding me?’” Hammon said. “I don’t know what will happen for people who live on less. It’s just shocking to be in this situation. They’ll shut you off, and I mean right now.”

Local social services agencies are stretched thin, and many people on fixed incomes, like Hammon, don’t fall into an income pool that would qualify them for help from the Department of Social Services. A recent study by the Federal Reserve entitled Economic Well-Being of U.S. Households found that more than one-fourth of American adults had one or more bills that they were unable to pay in full in a given month, or were one $400 financial setback away from being unable to pay them. 

That’s where organizations like Mountain Projects come in. Mountain Projects operates a “Winter Warmth” discretionary fund, maintained through community donations.

Mountain Projects Executive Director Patsy Davis says Hammon is an example of the type of emergency her community action agency often helps.

“Some of us can deal with price spikes,” said Davis. “And there are some resources for people with very low income. But people with fixed incomes, particularly seniors and the disabled are stuck. When the tulips start blooming these people will still be struggling. The early spring is a time we see disconnects go up.”

___

Marla Wengyn is in the same boat as Hammonds. Wengyn, 58, lost her husband a few years back and lives with her special needs brother Charles “Big Mac” Hughes, 64. 

Wengyn has a twenty-year-old massage therapy business, but can’t work the same hours as in the past because of her age. 

Their house is small – 1,600 sq. ft. – and she keeps the thermostat low. They have few appliances. Still she says their power bills more than doubled this winter. Their bill for a relatively mild December exceeded $400, which left her puzzled.

“I try to use good judgment. Our thermostat stays at 64, and we wear thermal underwear,” Wengyn says. “No one is on oxygen. We cut back between 4pm and 8pm, when electricity is most expensive, but nothing seems to help. I open up the bill and it is very discouraging. It’s really frustrating.”

She reached out to the utility provider for an inspection, which was provided, but didn’t produce much she could change. She applied for a funded program through another organization to seal her crawl space, but her income exceeded their limit.

“I’m providing for us, but it’s getting scary,” she says.“ Is there a limit to what they can charge us? I can see that coming down the road. Do I eat or do I pay for my electricity? I feel for everyone in this situation.”

___

When Amy Roberts’ husband passed away, she moved from the Waynesville home they’d shared for 37 years to a 400 sq. ft. tiny home in Jonathan Creek. She’s a retiree on a fixed income, and her move was complicated by a bad fall in which she suffered a broken neck.

Her home is relatively new, and her habits are frugal, but recent power bills have tipped the scale for her.

“They told me my usage had gone up 171%,” Roberts says. “Realize now, I live in 400 square feet. I’m trying to cut back on my usage, and we’ve had a little better weather, but it’s really hard.”

Last year, Roberts says, her bills were in the $80 range, but a recent bill reached over $200.

When she called to ask about a payment plan, Haywood EMC representatives referred her to DSS, but, like others, her year-round income exceeded their limit.

___

There are common themes between the stories of Hammon, Wengyn and Roberts: they say local utility representatives are polite, but inflexible. And they say that drastic energy bill increases are the talk of the town. Also, Mountain Projects was able to help them all.

“I wouldn’t be in this house right now if it wasn’t for Mountain Projects,” Hammon says.

She remembers her work in the non-profit realm: “We helped to cover many expenses for people, and I understand the whole cycle of how this happens. The utilities and the groceries – it’s just startling and shocking to see that you can’t make ends meet. Mountain Projects was a Godsend for me and so are the donors who make emergency help possible. It’s just a miracle that people care. Tears were rolling down my face. I didn’t know what to do.”

But Davis says the organization’s pool of resources is limited. Most of its overall budget comes from grants, and those funds are restricted to specific programs.

“We can’t access restricted funds to support utility assistance or emergency funds requests,” Davis says. “That’s why we reach out to the community.”

Mountain Projects isn’t the only non-profit organization in Haywood County to help with these types of scenarios, but have received at least 100 calls for emergency assistance since the recent cold weather.  

“Low to middle income people are often living paycheck-to-paycheck and they are one high utility bill away from choosing between food and medicine. Rent, food and utility bills are so high these days. We appreciate donations to help community members bridge these situations. You just can’t let people go without heat in the winter,” says Davis.

Staying the Course, Mountain Projects teacher achieves dream at 55

This story first appeared in the Sylva Herald

When Julie Keffer accepts a diploma for her bachelors degree from Western Carolina University in May, she’ll stand apart from most of her fellow graduates. For one thing she’ll have five children and 14 grandkids in the audience, cheering her on. For another, she’ll be at the end of a 27-year journey to graduation.

Keffer, 55, has taught for two decades at the Kneedler Head Start Child Development Outreach Center on the WCU campus in Cullowhee, but her path to a Bachelor of Science in Birth-Kindergarten Education began in Haywood County in 1997, and has taken her through twists, turns and painful places before leading her to the Ramsey Center stage.

It is the culmination of a dream.

“No matter what your age is, as long as you have breath in your lungs and a heartbeat, you’re not done,” Keffer said. “What I hope to show people is that you can finish your degree at any age. I encourage single moms to push for it – I was once there.”

Keffer enrolled her first son in the Clyde Head Start as a working young mother. Head Start is a federally funded child development program for preschool children from low-income families, and Mountain Projects’ Head Start program has educated Haywood and Jackson County preschoolers since 1965. 

At first, she volunteered in her son’s classroom with art projects and reading, but through encouragement from the staff she became inspired to teach. She was certified later that year, and began work as a full-time Teacher’s Assistant. 

“I see now it was my calling,” she said. “It just felt right.”

Not long after, as a single parent of two sons, she began Early Childhood Education night classes at Haywood Community College. Her father babysat the boys, Mountain Projects footed the bill, and Keffer set her sights on a four-year degree through a joint program between HCC and WCU. When she graduated from HCC, her employers were in the audience to cheer her on.

“That meant a lot to me,” Keffer said. “Not everyone’s boss comes to stuff like that.”

It wasn’t long before she was lead teacher at Kneedler, and in hot pursuit of her bachelor’s degree.

But then things got rocky. She took time off from school to care for an ill grandparent, and when she applied for readmission in 2006 she couldn’t get back into the Pre-K program. Her earlier GPA wasn’t quite high enough. For four straight years she appealed the decision, with essays and letters of recommendation in hand, but was denied despite support from Mountain Projects staff and its Executive Director, Patsy Davis. 

“Patsy told me, ‘I don’t know how you’re gonna do this – but you’re gonna do this. Just don’t give up,’” Keffer added. “I just kept hitting walls, but I kept the hope alive.”

Years passed, and a colleague, Christie Paxton, became director of Mountain Projects’ Head Start. Paxton engaged with the director of the WCU program and took up Keffer’s cause.

Things looked good, but then came the Covid-19 pandemic, and her progress stalled again. When in-person classes resumed in 2021, Keffer was admitted to the program at last.

“I was ecstatic,” she said. “I felt like I was finally going to make this happen.”

She and her family celebrated – prematurely. She contracted a debilitating case of Covid-19, followed by many months of recovery, and her return to school was delayed again until winter of 2022.

Even then, the challenges weren’t quite over. Her father fell terminally ill during her first semester, and she was his primary caregiver. Although she missed a lot of work she still managed to complete her studies. 

“I was in the hospital crying, typing, and doing homework,” Keffer said. “One of the last things my father said to me while he could still talk was, ‘Don’t give up, no matter what happens here.’ So, I just did not let anything derail me.”

Keffer is now a Dean’s List student. She credits Mountain Projects, “her second family”, for making it possible. Aside from years of support, the organization helped her earn a full scholarship through the T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood North Carolina Scholarship Program.

And in May her journey will end at last.

Presbytery of Western North Carolina supports Mountain Projects and Smoky Mountain Housing Partnership

Thanks to a $20,000 grant from the Mission Team of the Presbytery of Western North Carolina (PWNC), Smoky Mountain Housing Partnership (SMHP) will continue its mission of helping families achieve the American dream of homeownership.

As the affordable housing division of Mountain Projects, SMHP partners with nonprofits and finance entities to provide homeownership services such as credit evaluation, mortgage sources, down payment assistance, self-help housing, and turn-key homeownership opportunities. 

In 2023, the Mission Team of PWNC created an Affordable Housing Grant program that awards funding for the development of buildings, living spaces or properties. Nonprofit organizations who partner with a PWNC member congregation are eligible to apply for the grant.

Spearheaded by its Mission Team, First Presbyterian Church of Waynesville (PCUSA), a member of the PWNC, served as the partnership congregation for SMHP, allowing the organization to apply for the Affordable Housing Grant last year.

“Affordable housing is something that’s needed in Haywood County and all over the US,” said Melonie Gross, chair of the Mission Team at First Presbyterian Church of Waynesville. “Anything that helps support that only does good.”

The congregation of First Presbyterian Church of Waynesville generously funds their Mission Team with 10 percent of total church contributions as they carry out the church’s mission to “Love God and Love Our Neighbors.”

“We meet and determine which organizations we want to support during the year,” Gross said, noting that supporting affordable housing was on the list. “We are just happy to have facilitated getting this grant for the Smoky Mountain Housing Partnership.”

The Mission Team and its Pastor Holly Davis presented a check to SMHP and Mountain Projects on March 20 at Mountain Projects’ Bethel Village development in Jonathan Valley. 

Bethel Village is a self-help housing subdivision in which qualifying participants work within a small group of 4-6 families to help each other build their homes under the leadership of a construction supervisor.

“We got to tour one of the houses,” Gross said. “It’s a great starter home.” 

 The grant will be used to upgrade and secure the tools used for self-help housing projects.

“This grant will allow us to have a work trailer to be able to move from location to location,” said Patsy Davis, Mountain Projects Executive Director. “I want to say how encouraging it is to have faith-based efforts to preserve the American dream of homeownership. It’s hard to do that now without a lot of money and resources, so when we have that it really is inspiring.”

 Davis will be attending First Presbyterian Church of Waynesville on April 14 along with SMHP Construction Manager, Chris Stevens, to lead the discipleship hour at 9:15 am and talk about what SMHP is doing throughout the community.

 SMHP was one of eight non-profit organizations to receive an Affordable Housing Grant from the Mission Team of PWNC. To learn more about the PWNC, visit https://www.presbyterywnc.org/

 Monetary support and volunteers are always needed for SMHP. To learn how you can help, visit https://smokymountainhousing.org/.

 

Crucial donations make year-round Miracles

HOLIDAY REQUEST – While many members of the community are out shopping for Christmas presents this time of year, others may be worrying about how they are going to pay their heating bills.

For Patsy Davis, the executive director of Mountain Projects, this time of year is always a reminder of the young families, low-wage workers or people on Social Security who desperately need emergency heat or utility assistance.

Davis’s commitment to the cause is driven by her memory of a news story she read about in which a family lost their life while trying to stay warm in Haywood County.

“I am forever reminded of that tragedy and about how important it is to keep people with heat in the winter,” Davis said. “All children and seniors deserve a place of safety that is warm and safe.”

Mountain Projects is keeping vulnerable families from falling through the cracks by using donations to provide emergency heating and utility assistance to keep them warm, safe, and secure.

And this year, the need for heating assistance is higher than ever.

“Our heating assistance fund is critically low,” said Davis. “And yet we have been seeing an increase in senior citizens having trouble paying their utility bills. Oftentimes, the older we get the more heat we need to stay warm.”

To celebrate Davis’ birthday on Christmas Day this year, Mountain Projects is asking for donations for its emergency fund and heating assistance fund – which is how the nonprofit can help families with their most urgent needs.

Any donations made to these funds are unrestricted; this means that these donations can be used for any kind of crisis that may arise.

“We had a 76-year-old man come in who was behind on his mortgage because his significant other went into long-term care,” Davis said. “Another time, someone needed tires. You never know what kind of situation is going to walk through the door. But without donations, we have to turn people away and say no.”

And according to Davis, being able to help these families that walk through the doors doesn’t only restore their livelihood, it gives them strength to keep going.

“I really think when you can help somebody, you restore their hope,” she said. “Just a little support can restore people’s hope and drive to carry on.”

 It all started at Head Start

Anyone who knows Davis will agree that she has a deep connection with community outreach, which likely started when she was in preschool.

Davis grew up in Cullowhee and attended Head Start in Jackson County in the late 60s.

“I’m a Head Start child,” she said. “I remember an outreach worker came to my house and recruited me. They had toys there like we didn’t have at home. I don’t remember last week, but I remember my days in Head Start.”

The Mountain Projects Head Start program is available at no cost to qualifying families on a first-come, first-served basis for children ages 6 weeks to 5 years old.

In addition to offering childcare services at no cost, all other supplies such as diapers, formula or other food items are supplied by Head Start as well.

“We now have Head Start in the same location where I went to high school,” Davis said with a laugh, noting that she attended Cullowhee High School, which has now been turned into the Kneedler Child Development Center at WCU.

Davis had always wanted to be a teacher. She recalls sneaking away from her high school classes to go work with the younger children, who were in the same building.

“I probably should have been learning but I loved it,” Davis said.

Davis followed her dream of working with students in the classroom, but some things she saw made her change her major while at Western Carolina University.

“I didn’t know that children were without clothes and were hungry,” she said. “I thought, ‘These children can’t learn when they’re hungry and don’t have a place to sleep.’ So, I changed my major to social work.”

And so began Davis’s career of changing lives. 33 years later, she is still at the helm of Mountain Projects, crusading for the safety and security of vulnerable families all over WNC.

“Every contribution, every act of generosity is a blessing to a person in need,” Davis said, noting that currently, the organization receives an average of 10 emergency requests a day. “A lot of times everything is OK until their husband or wife passes away or has to go into long-term care. Then all the sudden they don’t have that income anymore. The community helps us solve serious problems like this when they make donations.”

This holiday season, consider donating to a cause that will go directly back to the community, and do it with Davis in mind.

With your help, we can restore the heating assistance fund and help make December 25 even more special for the woman who is always there for the community when they need it most.

To make a donation, visit https://mountainprojects.org/product/heatingassistance/ or https://mountainprojects.org/product/campaign_2023/.

You may also contribute by check by mailing it to Mountain Projects, Inc., 2177 Asheville Rd., Waynesville NC 28786, Attn. “Winter Warmth” or “Emergency Fund.”

 

Get Covered WNC Manager, Jan Plummer Honored by County

RECOGNITION – Haywood County Government proudly recognizes the outstanding contributions of Jan Plummer from Mountain Projects, Celesa Willett from United Way of Haywood County and Mebane Rash with EdNC, in their dedicated efforts towards the success of the GetCovered WNC/Milltown Health Care Initiative. They were honored at the Haywood County Board of Commissioners meeting on Monday, December 18th, 2023.

The initiative, aimed at providing crucial healthcare coverage for former mill workers and individuals affected by the Pactiv Evergreen closure, has made significant strides in improving the well-being of our community. The collaborative efforts of Jan Plummer, Celesa Willett and Mebane Rash have been instrumental in achieving this milestone.

Through generous funding support from Dogwood Health Trust and the Haywood Healthcare Foundation, Mountain Projects’ certified application counselors, led by Jan Plummer, have played a pivotal role in assisting former mill workers and those impacted by downsizing in finding suitable healthcare coverage for themselves and their families. The initiative recognizes the importance of accessible and comprehensive health coverage in ensuring the overall health and resilience of the community.

One of the key highlights of the GetCovered WNC/Milltown Health Care Initiative is the provision of financial support to workers. Thanks to the dedication of Celesa Willett from United Way of Haywood County, individuals enrolled in the program have received up to $500 per family member per month as reimbursement for health insurance premiums. This financial assistance has alleviated the burden on families, allowing them to prioritize their health and well-being without compromising on other essential needs.

Mebane Rash and her dedicated team at EdNC have played a crucial role in championing Haywood County. Through their diligent efforts, they have adeptly navigated various resources and forged valuable connections to support this vital initiative.

“The GetCovered WNC/Milltown Health Care Initiative is a shining example of community resilience and compassion,” says David Francis, Haywood County Economic Development Director. “Their commitment reflects the collaborative spirit that defines our county, and we extend our deepest appreciation for their tireless efforts.”

This initiative stands as a testament to the positive outcomes that can be achieved through public-private partnerships and the unwavering commitment of individuals like Jan Plummer, Celesa Willett and Mebane Rash. Haywood County looks forward to continued collaboration and success in ensuring the health and prosperity of its residents.

To learn more about GetCovered WNC, click here.
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SMHP Housing Needs Survey Released

In order to make sure that our programming aligns with the needs of our community, we request your assistance in filling out the accompanied survey. The survey is designed to provide us with accurate information about housing conditions in our community and the housing situations of our residents. Survey information will be used to:

  • Help Mountain Projects staff develop a housing plan
  • Identify housing projects that will meet the needs of our community
  • Provide information to pursue funds for housing projects through state, federal, and private sources

Please complete the survey by 12/31/2023. The information you provide will be kept confidential and anonymous.
Your cooperation and assistance is greatly appreciated! Remember, this survey is important in identifying housing projects and funding for which Mountain Project’s clients may qualify!

 

Community Survey: https://forms.office.com/r/AJsXZ1bwmT

Employer Survey: https://forms.office.com/r/ACVKpAQDpp

Real Estate Survey: https://forms.office.com/r/D3cr4J0XwN