Walnut Cove Members Association representatives Cary Findlay (left), Koni Findlay (second from left) and Joan MacNeill (right) share a light moment with Paws the mascot. The property-owners association recently directed contributions to Western Carolina University’s Resilient Independent Students Association and its Learning Live Program.

Residents of an Asheville community recently contributed $6,000 to Western Carolina University to support a program for students from disadvantaged backgrounds and an initiative to expose Western North Carolina school children to the arts.

The Walnut Cove Members Association, a nonprofit organization consisting of property owners at The Cliffs at Walnut Cove, directed $3,500 in funding to WCU’s Resilient Independent Students Association, which provides a network of support for students who are former foster youth, former orphans, emancipated youth, homeless youth or come from similar circumstances.

The association contributed another $2,500 to the Learning Live Program, an arts education effort of WCU’s John W. Bardo Fine and Performing Arts Center.

Lowell Davis, assistant vice chancellor for student success at WCU, said the contribution to the Resilient Independent Students Association will be instrumental in “leveling the playing field” for students supported by the program.

“This funding will provide a safety net for many vulnerable populations on campus served by the RISA program,” Davis said. “The hurdles faced every day by homeless and emancipated students and students who have exited the foster care system as 18-year-olds often can seem insurmountable and draw students away from the pursuit of education.”

The contribution will allow the program to fund emergency housing and other critical needs and to provide participating students with professional clothing for graduate school presentations, internships and job interviews, he said.

The funding directed to the Bardo Arts Center’s Learning Live Program will support a matinee series designed to introduce younger audiences to the performing arts through high-quality, curriculum-related performances by professional and nationally recognized touring companies that bring literature, history, drama and music to life on stage, said Denise Drury Homewood, the center’s executive director.

“This support from the Walnut Cove Members Association enables us to offer low-cost performing arts experiences to K-12 schools in a seven-county service area in Western North Carolina, including Cherokee, Clay, Graham, Haywood, Jackson, Macon and Swain counties as well as the Qualla Boundary,” Drury Homewood said. “Funding to keep these programs low cost is critical because the majority of our service area represents what the North Carolina Department of Commerce considers among the most economically distressed counties in the state.”

The contributions from the Walnut Cove Members Association were facilitated by members Joan MacNeill and Koni and Cary Findlay.

Since its inception 10 years ago, the association has contributed more than $754,000 to area nonprofit organizations that serve individuals across WNC.

MacNeill currently serves on the University of North Carolina Board of Governors and has also served on WCU’s Board of Trustees and Foundation Board. She received WCU’s Distinguished Service Award in 2013.

Cary and Koni Findlay have a passion for making a difference in WNC and helping young people get an education, said Lori Lewis, vice chancellor for development and alumni engagement at WCU. The Findlays have become active with WCU’s Friends of the Arts organization and have taken an interest in assisting students access an affordable education, Lewis said.

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