Michael Lee Absher
Location: Hendersonville, N.C.
Homeless youth are rarely noticeable to people who aren’t looking for them; they often sleep on friends’ couches, in school buses or in their cars. But for Michael Absher, a teller for Wells Fargo (No. 30) in Hendersonville, N.C., who was homeless for a portion of high school, homeless youth are far from invisible. It wasn’t long after Absher graduated from high school and secured housing of his own in 2009 that he learned the homeless shelter that supported him would be closing its housing services. He started Only Hope WNC, an organization dedicated to addressing the need of homeless youth in his hometown of Hendersonville. Through the organization, Absher arranges informal host homes for homeless youth so they have a place to live until they graduate. In emergency situations, such as extreme weather, he’ll pay for a hotel room for them. Only Hope WNC also stocks a basic needs closet for local youth containing items like food (“food that kids would eat—not just green beans”), hygiene products and school supplies. Much of the funding for the group comes from the annual “Sleep Outs” that Absher hosts each year on the steps of the local courthouse. Through his efforts, Absher met state Sen. Tom Apodaca, who has worked with Absher to introduce a bill in the North Carolina Senate that would authorize a legislative study on the needs of unaccompanied homeless youth.
For the homeless kids Absher encounters, his own history with homelessness makes a difference. “They get a little more comfortable because they know that it’s not an old person trying to tell them what to do,” he says. “It breaks that barrier of respect because I can help that kid understand it’s not their fault.”