Boaters supporting social justice in Western North Carolina
Paddlers for Pisgah combines two things I’m most passionate about – paddling and social justice. Join us this Thursday, May 28, 2015 from 5:30 – 7:00 p.m. at The Bywater (796 Riverside Drive, Asheville, NC). ASTRAL, the Asheville-owned company that designs and manufacturers some of the best kayaking lifevests and footwear around, teams up with Pisgah Legal Services, a grassroots non-profit poverty law firm, to host a one-of-a-kind event at our favorite river venue, The Bywater. ASTRAL presents its famous products, games and activities. The crowd will also have an opportunity to learn about Pisgah Legal Services’ life-saving work that keeps our community afloat. Your $15 donation at the door supports PLS and gets you two of the Bywater’s signature cocktails or drafts.
To learn more about the inspiration behind this unique event, I sit down with ASTRAL’s VP of Operations, Yonton Mehler and Pisgah Legal Service’s staff attorney, Molly Maynard who are engaged to be married later this summer.
Mountain Mama: What’s your connection to Asheville and why do you care about the community here?
Yonton: I’m originally from Tel Aviv, Israel and fifteen years ago the freestyle circuit brought me to the U.S. After visiting WNC many times, I started working at ASTRAL and have been living in Asheville for ten years.
Molly: I came to Asheville to work at Pisgah Legal Services a little over three years ago, and now I can’t really imagine living anywhere else. I went to law school because I wanted to work in public interest law, and I feel really lucky to do it in a community that is so supportive of that work. It’s pretty unique.
Mountain Mama: How did you first become involved in Pisgah Legal Services?
Yonton: I drive by Pisgah Legal Services almost every day and I’d heard the about it on the radio, but it wasn’t until I met Molly that I really learned about the work Pisgah does and began to understand how much need there is for Pisgah’s services in this area. Last year I became part of PLS’s Young Professionals Board and we were brainstorming how to reach out to let more people know about Pisgah Legal Services and tap into slightly different circles. That’s how the idea to host Paddlers for Pisgah originated.
Mountain Mama: How did you get involved in kayaking?
Molly: I grew up in Wilmington and did a little kayaking at the beach, but it was all in a giant two person sit on top kayak that was mostly good for getting picnics out to barrier islands. I didn’t really learn anything about whitewater kayaking and the community around it till I met Yonton. I’m actually signed up for beginner lessons this weekend!
Mountain Mama: What is the connection between paddlers and the services of Pisgah Legal Services?
Yonton: This area is a very tight knit and strong paddling community. Although kayakers aren’t known for being the most ethnically diverse group, we are socioeconomically diverse. Kayakers are likely to be very sympathetic to the kind of work and services that Pisgah provides in the area. We often band together to promote and support causes that we believe in, but I think the cause of social justice is just not on the radar for a lot of kayakers yet. I hope this event can bring it to their attention.
Molly: I think social and economic justice are causes that people in this community feel very strongly about, but don’t always have ways to act on directly. It’s been exciting for me to talk about Pisgah’s work to people who aren’t familiar with it because helping people get access to civil legal services- whether it’s to stop the illegal repossession of the car they need to get to work each day or to get someone a protective order that stops life threatening domestic violence- is a way to have a direct, measurable impact on those issues.
Mountain Mama: ASTRAL seems to mostly sponsor environmental causes. Do you see any links between alleviating poverty and improving the environment?
Molly: Being poor is really expensive. Many of our clients move frequently and the cost of moving is staggering with having to pay the security deposit and first and last month’s rent. People are in survival mode. Once we help our clients stabilize their financial situations and legal issues, they can think about saving money and higher level concerns like their environmental impact, or even doing the kind of outdoor activities that cultivate a lifelong love and appreciation for the environment.
Yonton: Until now I actually saw this as a completely unrelated from the environmental philanthropy that Astral is usually involved in, but Molly brings up a good point. I didn’t even think of that.