Annual Community Meeting: On The Rise

Annual Community Meeting: On The Rise

Walley  9-23-2010
Photos: On The Rise President Carol Goss (above, right) said farewell during the meeting to Gerry Wolf and Alexander Walley, both stepping down after long service on the organization's Board of Directors. Wolf, shown above with Goss, has been on the board since 2001 and served for several years as Treasurer;  a Medford resident, he is the founder of the 1369 Coffee Houses in Cambridge. Goss presented him with a painting of On The Rise by a program participant. She also expressed appreciation for the service of Dr. Walley (left, shown at an On The Rise event in 2010). Walley, who could not be present, has been a board member since 2005. He is a physician at the Boston Medical Center.

by Mary Holbrow

Economy down. Homeless numbers up.

That was one story that emerged at On The Rise’s Annual Community Meeting, held yesterday morning at Cambridge’s Main Library. But a larger, richer story surfaced at the same time – a story about women getting help, making it through tough times, and going on to give others a hand.

On The Rise, Inc., located at 341 Broadway in Cambridge, is a non-profit organization that assists area women facing challenges that include homelessness, addiction, abuse, trauma, physical or mental health issues, unemployment . . . the list goes on.  The Annual Community Meeting, which is open to the public, featured accounts of 2011’s highlights by Board President Carol Goss and by Executive Director Martha Sandler, Program Director Charyti Reiter, and Community Relations Manager Marisa Serrano.

Executive Director Sandler reported that 390 women were aided at On The Rise in 2011, up from about 350 per year over the past several years. Of the 390, 138 were new to the program. She noted that increased numbers of women needing help are in part a reflection of state-wide cuts in mental health and legal services.

Martha Sandler 4-10-2012“More new women means there's more poverty out there,” said Sandler (left). “We’re a landing place for people who fall through the cracks in the social service system, and the cracks are getting wider.”

Data from the U. S. Department of Housing and Urban Development indicate that there are some 5,500 homeless people in Massachusetts at a given point in time, she said, and there may be 4 to 5 times that many in the course of a year. Of the statewide total, about 1,500 are in Boston and 350 in Cambridge; some 15 - 20% are women. Sandler noted that the count does not include people who move from place to place or those who steer clear of observers -- both common practices among the homeless.

On The Rise is a day program funded mostly by contributions from individuals, businesses, and foundations. It also receives financial support from the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families Domestic Violence Unit and the Massachusetts Office for Victim Assistance. Its main fund-raising event is the yearly “Prepare for Winter” Dinner in the fall.

“Our annual budget runs around $1 million,” Sandler said. “We’ve run a deficit for the last couple of years, and that’s likely to continue. We need to raise more money!“

Despite the tight budget, On The Rise recently started a program of street outreach, partnering with CASPAR (Cambridge and Somerville Program for Alcoholism and Drug Rehabilitation). A program to begin outreach to women in prisons is under consideration.

Photo, below: On The Rise, 341 Broadway

A feature of Tuesday’s meeting was a video of women who have been aided by On The Rise. Charyti Reiter introduced the film, noting that the women who appeared in it did so because they had been helped by On The Rise;  they felt that sharing their stories on camera would be a way of helping the program and other women in return.

Scars and welts covered the neck of the first woman to appear in the video; she was a victim of domestic violence -- someone had set her on fire, she said. Several of the stories that followed were likewise emotional and/or shocking, but a common thread was the women’s recognition of help they had received at On The Rise. Typically the help begins with the offer of a safe place to spend the day, nutritious meals around the kitchen table, a shower and clean clothes, and a sense of being part of a community.

“It’s a whole bunch of women helping each other,” one of the women in the film said, describing her experience at On The Rise.

Once the ice is broken and confidence established, many of them go on to benefit from professional services offered by On The Rise staff members, who provide support and advocacy for women seeking jobs, housing, and access to medical or legal help. On The Rise’s unique Keep The Keys program helps those who obtain housing to get settled, equip and maintain their new quarters, and learn how to deal with landlords and property managers. This part of On The Rise's mission takes on higher priority as the state pursues its "housing first" initiative to move homeless people directly into housing, according to Sandler.

Charyti Reiter, Gilda Bruckman

Women at On The Rise can also work with staff and volunteers on life skills such as writing and computer use. Some discover their own creative potential in painting classes with local artists. Others broaden their experience of the community through organized outings to area points of interest.

Photo, left: At the meeting Gilda Bruckman (r) told Program Director Charyti Reiter (l) that she will observe World Book Night April 23 by giving On The Rise readers 20 copies of "The Glass Castle" by Jeanette Walls. Bruckman was proprietor for many years of New Words, a women’s bookstore at Inman Square.

On The Rise offers wholesome meals every weekday. Fifty volunteer cooks provided 217 lunches in 2011, Community Relations Manager Marisa Serrano reported.

marisa and volunteersSerrano (right) oversees On The Rise's meals program and other volunteer projects and work parties involving individuals, families, and people from faith communities, civic groups, and schools. The events she organizes include drives to collect clothing and provide household items for women moving into housing, as well as tours of the house and grounds. The tours, titled “Strong at the Broken Places," introduce interested people and potential volunteers to the facility and programs. A series of "Strong" tours is scheduled for 5:30 – 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, April 24; Tuesday, May 22; and Thursday, June 21.