LETTER: Group Struggling to Keep Up with Needs of Watertown’s Most Vulnerable

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It’s no secret that this has been a brutal winter, with record snow and cold temperatures. For those who are fortunate to live in warm homes, the weather may be inconvenient and annoying, but still manageable. However, for many other Watertown residents, the weather has put their lives in crisis.

No one knows this better than Nancy Dutton, Administrator of the Helen Robinson Wright Charitable Fund, and the Rev. Mark Harris, minister of the First Parish of Watertown, where the fund is based.

It’s Monday morning, and Nancy and Mark have just begun their workday. The doorbell rings and Nancy answers. Standing outside in the cold is a young woman with a small child bundled in her arms. The woman looks upset. Nancy invites her to come in.

The visitor is 31 years old, and her baby is 11 months. She and her husband moved to Watertown two years ago, on the promise of good jobs for both of them. She tells Nancy of how their dreams fell apart after the marriage broke up, and she was left alone with their young child. The cost of childcare makes it impossible for her to work enough hours to meet all her expenses, especially given fuel costs this winter. She is currently behind on her rent. Her landlord has been understanding up to a point, but has told her that she must pay up or he will begin eviction proceedings. She has no friends or family to turn to for help. She begins to cry as she tells Nancy her story – she is clearly desperate.

With sympathy and understanding, Nancy consoles her visitor, and assures her that help is available. Nancy tells her about Danielle DeMoss, Watertown’s Social Services Resource Specialist, who can help her sign up for fuel assistance and apply to public housing. Nancy and Mark provide a $50 food card, and shortly thereafter, $400 to help cover the back rent. At last, desperation has turned into hope for the young woman.

This kind of scenario may transpire several times each week. Nancy and Mark, through the Wright Fund, are able to provide emergency financial aid, as well as vital referral services, to many of Watertown’s most vulnerable citizens, quietly, and with the utmost confidentiality.

However, their job continues to grow exponentially. Since 2009, the number of requests received by the Wright Fund has more than tripled, and the amount of money the fund has distributed in the community has increased by over 50%. More than $20,000 was given away in 2014. Applicants were assisted with food, utility, housing, and medical expenses, as well as other emergency needs.

Currently, with increasing rents, homelessness is rising in Watertown, with some families living in their cars. There is simply not enough money to meet every need. In order to continue its work, the Helen Robinson Wright Fund must turn to the community for support. Even with help from the Watertown Community Foundation, the Watertown Rotary Club, the Watertown Savings Bank, and members of the First Parish congregation, the fund is not able to keep up with the requests it receives. Contributions from the general public are essential. The fund is now appealing to the generous people of Watertown who wish to support their neighbors in need.

Checks may be sent to the HRW Fund, c/o the First Parish of Watertown, 35 Church St., Watertown, MA 02472. (Ph. 617-924-6143) Donations in any amount will be much appreciated. One hundred percent of all contributions will be passed on directly to individuals and families in Watertown who are experiencing extreme financial hardship.

In addition, the public is invited to attend a benefit concert for the Wright Fund, to be held at the First Parish on Saturday, March 21, at 8:00 PM. Kim and Reggie Harris will be performing a mix of African-American and original folk music – “music that makes you come alive.” Tickets are $20, and may be purchased at the door.


Will Twombly
Marion Road

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