Spotlight On: BeLoved Asheville
Story by Frances Figart | Photos by Megan Authement
It’s often said that it takes a village to raise a child. Reverend Amy Cantrell believes everyone needs a village. That’s why she created BeLoved Asheville, a nonprofit that helps those living on the fringes of society.
“BeLoved is a community of people from the streets and margins who eat together, laugh together, cry together, create together, and share what we have with each other and our neighbors,” says Amy, a Presbyterian pastor educated at Columbia Theological Seminary. “We have no paid staff and are powered by individual donors, people from the streets, and volunteers from all over Asheville and Buncombe County who have come together to end homelessness, poverty, and racism.”
Raised in Spartanburg, South Carolina, and influenced by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Amy traveled to New York City in her late teens with the goal of building relationships with people who lived on the streets. “I began to see how many people we lock out or lock up in America—from prisons to the streets to nursing homes and hospitals, shelters, and doorways,” she says.
The inspirational people she met in NYC and later in Atlanta utterly changed Amy’s life, leading her to form BeLoved Asheville in 2009 as a place where marginalized people could be fully themselves and fully at home. “We are not an institution; we are a community. The door opens without anyone signing in or showing identification. A relationship starts with a handshake, a hug, an introduction, and it is usually followed with ‘Make yourself at home.’”
BeLoved works with many other nonprofit organizations to offer these important services:
- Community support–providing clothes, basic necessities, and assistance with healthcare, court appearances, and completing job applications.
- Transitional housing–sharing BeLoved House with those particularly vulnerable on the streets, such as gay, lesbian, bi, and transgender individuals, people with disabilities, women who are pregnant, and couples or families who would be split up in the shelter system. Last year, BeLoved also helped 22 homeless friends find permanent housing.
- Nutritious food access–partnering with MANNA FoodBank to share thousands of meals, distribute 10,000 pounds of produce yearly, and provide the Elders Free Farmer’s Market weekly at the Senior Center.
- Children’s enrichment–hosting summer camps at public housing developments, providing books and back-to-school supplies, and supporting community gardens.
- Cultivation of the arts–supporting Rise Up Studio artists collective where artists living in poverty can create art, heal through art therapy, and sell their art to support themselves and their families.
- Social and economic justice–leading homeless rights projects and campaigns in partnership with the Campaign for Southern Equality, Black Lives Matter, Showing Up for Racial Justice, Grassroots Equity Alliance, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Moral Mondays, People’s VOICE on Transportation Equality, Just Us For All, Center for Participatory Change, and Just Economics of WNC.
BeLoved is currently working on creating a community Internet café in a donated space. “Those on the margins have a tough time finding and applying for jobs, looking for housing, and learning new skills since most public resources have limitations on computer use,” says Amy, who is seeking new or used laptops, monitors, and, keyboards, and hopes to enlist volunteers to do repair and setup.
“A mentor taught me that love requires proximity,” Amy says. “We must cross boundaries in order to begin to build community. There are places that we just don’t go and people we just don’t know. This, I believe, is how injustice thrives. We can create healing through relationships. This is what Dr. King called the beloved community.”