One local organization is working to provide for all WCU students who may find themselves without food, clothes, or the necessary support needed to graduate.
HOMEBASE, an outreach of Baptist Children’s Homes of North Carolina, has been located in the small white building next to Cullowhee Baptist Church on campus since 2016.
This organization was started five years ago when a need for student support was recognized by the University. After WCU reached out and partnered with the Baptist Children’s Homes of North Carolina, HOMEBASE was formed. The Baptist State Convention of NC leases the old Baptist Student Union Building to HOMEBASE for one dollar a year. Additional funding for this program comes from the community and donations from on-campus organizations such as SGA and Greek Life.
Dr. Jim Dean, director of HOMEBASE, has been an active part of this organization from the beginning.
“I tell people I’m the luckiest man in the world. I have the best job. I get to come to school every day and work not knowing what I’m going to do and what kind of life might be changed because of something that we have done at HOMEBASE,” Dean said.
HOMEBASE is a unique program that strives to provide limitless support to as many students as possible.
According to Dean, HOMEBASE is one of two programs in the state that is open to all students. The other program is located at Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte, N.C.
The goal that HOMEBASE set early on was to provide for any student, regardless of their status or needs.
“I cast the net wide and just said we are here for anybody,” Dean said.
HOMEBASE provides a variety of services including a computer lab with free printing and webcams, a seasonal clothing closet, emergency housing, rides to appointments, and a safe place to relax. They also have a food pantry and a full-service kitchen, so students can come by and make themselves a meal.
“Our food pantry is unique because we keep options available for gluten-free, vegan, and vegetarian students,” HOMEBASE intern and WCU social work major, Tiffany Fansler, said.
Check out a photo story of HOMEBASE’s facilities below.
Fansler explained that some students feel uncomfortable asking for help and are reluctant to visit HOMEBASE.
“Sometimes people just don’t want to come and get help, but I always try to encourage a mutual cycle of donations. I tell them, ‘when you’re in a better spot, come back and donate to us.’ I think it’s a really positive way to present goods and services to people in a way that makes them feel confident,” Fansler said.
To ease the discomfort often felt by students, HOMEBASE doesn’t require any forms to be filled out and no personal information to be shared.
“If they want to share with us, then we are glad to hear their story. There are no judgments from us. This is a safe space,” Dean said.
Over the past year during the COVID-19 pandemic, HOMEBASE has seen a change in how its facilities are used.
“We had 13 students stay at HOMEBASE over the 2020 winter break for at least part of the time. Seven was the most we had at once. We turned our computer lab and student offices into housing,” Dean said.
HOMEBASE also saw an increase in donations from students during the abrupt move-out in mid-March of 2020.
“We had a lot of students bringing items in when they were leaving in March and thought they weren’t coming back, and I thought that was really cool,” Dean said.
The food pantry is the most used service at HOMEBASE. According to Dean, HOMEBASE provided 25% more food in 2020 than they did in 2019.
“Considering students were not here for a large part of the Spring semester, it is amazing that our 2020 numbers were so high,” Dean said.
The pandemic has proven that HOMEBASE is essential to supporting students in need on campus. The goal of the organization is to not only provide students with essential supplies but also with the support they need to graduate.
“We’re here to validate and support these students by giving them assistance on their journey and tools to help them navigate college and hopefully life,” Dean said.
HOMEBASE is open Monday through Thursday from 10 a.m to 10 p.m and Friday from 10 a.m to 5 p.m.
“We are not just for independent students, we are here for anyone who may need some support,” Dean said.
This story is produced as a part of a journalism topics class focusing on food insecurity.