Help to Make A Difference in Your Community

by Laura M. MacNeil, Executive Director

As the year ends, we find ourselves reflecting on how we helped others throughout the year. Some of us have purchased toys and clothing for families who struggle to make ends meet; it’s a one way for us to share what we have with others. Many people begin to think that they’d like to do more to help others; perhaps even make a resolution to be more engaged in a meaningful way in their community.

Might I suggest a really fun way to help others? A way to meet other, like-minded, generous people who also volunteer in their community? A way to spend a few hours doing meaningful work? Work that has an immediate impact on others? Might I suggest that you volunteer at NSCAP’s Tax Services program?

EITC Nimmi and Laura

Happy volunteers: Above, Laura MacNeil with Nimmi Wadhwa, former VITA site coordinator. Below, past volunteers with the tax program.

EITC 2007 Let me guess… you are thinking, “No way! I don’t know a thing about taxes? I pay my accountant to do that. That’s too hard!”  What would it take for me to convince you that it really isn’t that difficult to prepare tax returns for low-wage workers? What could persuade you?

What if I told you that it really isn’t that difficult? Really and truly. It isn’t. We provide IRS-certified training to all our volunteers. We don’t just send you out into the wild. We teach you how to prepare a tax return. There is an on-site Coordinator who is well-trained and understands tax law who is able to answer your questions. Every single return is reviewed by a qualified reviewer to make sure there aren’t any mistakes.

What if I told you that there are many ways to volunteer? We need volunteers to greet the clients,  to provide clerical support, to prepare and review returns. The hours and locations are flexible. The program starts at the end of January and runs until the middle of April. You can volunteer in the afternoon, evening and weekends. We have locations in Peabody, Beverly and Salem.

What if I told you that you would be participating in one of the most successful anti-poverty programs in the area? Many people are familiar with the tax program where volunteers help elderly people file their tax returns. This program is similar but it is targeted to low-income workers who may be eligible for the Earn Income Tax Credit. EITC is a refundable tax credit. That means that EITC can reduce the federal tax to zero and any unused credit is refunded. But, workers must file a tax return to get the credit even if their income is below the filing requirement. To qualify, workers must have taxable income from working for someone or from running a business or farm.

Tax prep 005

VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance) training booklet. You can do this!

Tax prep 001Not enough? What if I told you that volunteers who at first thought they couldn’t do this come back every year to prepare returns because it is so rewarding? People who struggle to make ends meet come in to get help with their tax returns. We make sure to apply for every possible credit they qualify for: Earned Income Tax Credit, Child Care Tax Credit, Educational Credits, etc. There is nothing like seeing the surprised joy on single mother’s face when she finds out that through our help she is going to get a refund of $3,000 or even more.

I can speak from personal experience that this is a fun and rewarding volunteer opportunity. This will be the eighth year that I will volunteer. Of course it takes time out of my busy weekends and there are mornings when I question why I go, but by the end of the morning I am flying high. I have met families who come back every year. Eight years ago, their children were in school. Now their children come in to have their tax returns done. We celebrate when the children tell us that they were accepted to college — the first generation in the family to go to college. We fuss over new babies who were born. It is so much more than preparing a tax return.

Are you convinced? I hope so. Give us a call at 978-531-0767 x222 and leave a message for the Site Coordinator to let her know that you want to volunteer. You won’t regret it.


The Giving Season

By Laura McNeil

The season of giving is upon us and the people of the North Shore are very generous!

Jenn Hondras delivers a carload of presents  for two families in emergency shelter  from the staff of Harmeling Physical Therapyto NSCAP's Holly Brauner

Jenn Hondras delivers a carload of presents for two families in emergency shelter from the staff of Harmeling Physical Therapy to NSCAP’s Holly Brauner

Yesterday, Jenn Hondras of Harmeling Physical Therapy delivered a carload of presents for two families in NSCAP’s emergency shelter program.  The families are both starting over and made modest “wish lists” of mostly clothing and a few toys.

Jenn and her co-worker Nitkita McElwee organized the traditional gift-giving for Harmeling’s holiday party this year. The outpouring of gifts was tremendous!  Jenn delivered several boxes of beautifully wrapped gifts in yesterday’s rainstorm.

Many thanks to everyone at Harmeling for your generosity and kindness. You will make these families’ Christmases very special.

A few of the lovely gift bags donated by families at Shore Country Day School for 25 children of families being served by NSCAP.

A few of the lovely gift bags donated by families at Shore Country Day School for 25 children of families being served by NSCAP.

Then today saw more excitement when the “Giving Tree” presents arrived from Shore Country Day School.  Each year, Shore families fulfill Christmas gift wishes for about 25 children whose families are associated with NSCAP.  All are low-income families, some are homeless and in shelter and some are children of new immigrants who are learning English at NSCAP.

The Shore Country Day families are incredibly generous, going above and beyond to fulfill so many of the wishes expressed. We know their brightly wrapped gift bags must light up Christmas morning for these children.  Program Director Heidi Williams coordinates the Giving Tree each year and cannot say enough about the Shore families who take part.

logo_haven from Hunger

Many thanks to Haven from Hunger for donating goodies like decaf coffee, low-sodium soup, and canned tuna for the gift bags for elders.

If you are feeling inspired, you can still get in on some holiday giving!  NSCAP’s Home Care program is running its annual Gift Drive for Elders.  Each year, the program identifies about 50 to 60 if its most needy clients. These are low-income, frail elders who have little or no family involvement.  The staff seeks donations from the community to give each a gift bag full of goodies.  Items might include non-skid socks, large print books, lotion, soap, gloves, scarves, dish towels, washcloths, and healthy foods. We also need medium sized gift bags and tissue paper.  Cash donations are welcome and will be used to purchase items that are not donated.

Please drop donations at the NSCAP office at 119 Rear Foster Street, Building 13, in Peabody.

Volunteer Sue Watkins and NSCAP's own Deric LePard wrapping at Northshore Mall today.

Volunteer Sue Watkins and NSCAP’s own Deric LePard wrapping at Northshore Mall today.

You can also support NSCAP by bringing your presents to the gift wrapping table at Northshore Mall. NSCAP volunteers will be there from 11am to 8pm daily, now through Sunday 12/14. Then, we’re back at it Monday 12/22 through Wednesday 12/24. Christmas Eve hours run 9am to 6pm. Donations ($3-$8, depending on gift size) go directly to support NSCAP programs.

We have some beautiful wrapping papers, gift tags, ribbons, bows, and tissues to do the job right.  You can find us by the escalators at the Nordstrom wing, right next to the mall guest services booth. See more information below.

Let NSCAP do your wrapping

NSCAP Honors Michael Bonfanti

By Laura M. MacNeil

At our annual meeting in November, North Shore Community Action Programs celebrated our accomplishments and honored former Mayor of Peabody, Michael Bonfanti. The employees enjoyed a dinner with their co-workers and family. We recognized employees who reached employment milestones, including Debbie Jackson, who has worked at NSCAP for 25 years!

annual meeting 2014 015

The Senator Frederick E. Berry Community Service Award was established in recognition of former state senator Berry’s inspiring leadership and his dedication to improving the lives of low-income families and individuals. Senator Berry is a testament to a life committed to serving others and giving back to his community. He served as a VISTA volunteer as a young man. His work at the State House focused on education, human services, and children. His charitable work on the North Shore – collecting food for the local pantries and through his charitable foundation — has helped so many nonprofits, including NSCAP.

It was fitting and our joy to honor Michael Bonfanti with this year’s award.

Mike Bonfanti is a life long resident of Peabody. He served the city for 30 years: as library trustee, on the Peabody Electric Light Commission, as a board member and volunteer with nonprofits on the North Shore, including Haven from Hunger and the local historic society. As mayor, he led the charge in making sure children had enough to eat and to rehouse the homeless families who were sheltered in the motels on Route 1 – back before the current situation with homeless families now sheltered in motels in Danvers. The Mayor instituted the Social Service Summit, bringing together the many nonprofits that serve Peabody so that we could improve the way we worked together and helped the residents in need.

Under his leadership, he provided prudent fiscal management which resulted in low property tax rates, an ability to secure funding to build and renovate schools, minimize personnel layoffs during tough economic times. The Community Preservation Act was adopted on his watch, and during his tenure as Mayor, over $8.5 million was spent on open space, historical preservation and affordable housing projects using this new fund. NSCAP worked closely with the mayor’s office, helping Peabody residents access services that they needed in order to get through hard times.

annual meeting 2014 040

Michael Bonfanti (center) with Peabody employee and NSCAP board member, Sara Grinnell (left) and NSCAP Executive Director, Laura MacNeil (right.)

Mayor Bonfanti’s remarks focused on the importance of teamwork. He said that he did not achieve anything in his work for the City of Peabody by himself, but rather he had many people who worked together to provide the best they could to the citizens of Peabody. He included NSCAP as one of those members of the team: we are a place that the city can reliably send people in crisis to in order to get the help they need.

Thank you, Michael Bonfanti, for your service to the residents of Peabody and your continued support of NSCAP. We are happy to be playing on the same team as you!

Why Voting Yes for Question 4 on Earned Sick Time Helps Massachusetts

This week’s guest blog is written by Lew Finfer, Director of the Massachusetts Communities Action Network.

About 30% of workers, or almost one million people, in Massachusetts get NO sick days in their jobs.  But if Question 4 passes on Election Day, they can earn up to five sick days or 40 hours a year to take care of themselves, their children, and/or relatives who are ill.

It is a terrible dilemma for a parent whose child is sick that, when they stay home to take care of a child, they lose that $100 or so day’s pay. It’s not fair that while most employees who get a salary get sick days, most who work for hourly wages do not.

Question 4 for Earned Sick Time is supported by religious denominations, labor unions, community groups, senior groups, hospitals, health centers, and some business groups.

Yes on 4

Small businesses of less than 11 employees get a break under Question 4. They would have to provide unpaid sick time while businesses of 11 or more employees would have to give paid earned sick time.  Part-time employees could earn some sick days and hours if they work enough hours.

A doctor who works in the Emergency Room at Brigham and Women’s Hospital told this story.  He frequently has to sew stitches for restaurant workers who cut themselves badly slicing vegetables and meat. He tells them to stay out of work for a few days to let the stitches heal.  Then he too frequently sees them back again in the ER because they can’t afford to stay home because they get no sick days in their jobs.

4 business

Two mothers told this sad story.  They can only get off work to take care of their sick children if they first bring their children to school. They bring them to the school nurse’s office, take the bus to their job, and then only when the school nurse calls their job will their boss let them off. They then have to go back to the school, collect their sick children, and take them home. When my own mother was dying of cancer, I had sick time in my job to drive her to doctor’s appointments and be there with her. It’s not fair that so many others don’t have those options.

Religious congregations and denominations are for Question 4. The Massachusetts Catholic Conference issued a statement of support for Question 4 Earned Sick Time that was signed by Cardinal O’Malley. Their statement says, “Today, those without sick time are oftentimes forced to choose between going to work sick or losing a day’s pay, in many cases threatening the loss of a job.  Tragically, many are forced to send a sick child to school to save their income or their job. These are the same individuals who earn the least amount and struggle to provide the basic needs for themselves and their families.”

Because of the preventive and public health concerns having sick days helps with, many hospitals and many health centers are supporting Question 4. This includes Partners Health Care (which includes North Shore Medical Center and Union Hospital), Boston Medical Center, MGH, Brigham, Children’s Hospital, Beth Israel Deaconess, Tufts Medical Center, the Steward system that includes the Carney and St. Elizabeth’s. Also health centers locally approve the measure, like North Shore Community Health Centers in Peabody, Salem, Gloucester and Lynn Community Health Center.

Yes on 4 WomanUnions like MA AFL-CIO, Carpenters, SEIU, UNITE HERE, Teachers, MNA, North Shore Labor Council, IUE/CWA Local 201 are all supporting Question 4 as is Massachusetts Senior Action Council.  Community groups like Essex County Community Organization (ECCO) and Neighbor to Neighbor support it too.

The Alliance for Business Leadership, which includes 180 business executives such as Phil Edmundson, the head of the large insurance company William Gallagher Associates, supports Question 4.  If a person works for a large company like Walmart, McDonald’s or TJ Maxx and gets no sick days, when they are sick they lose pay for those days. If they got paid sick time, they’d spend that money back in our economy which helps maintain and create jobs.

It was not easy to put Question 4 on the ballot.  The Raise UP Massachusetts Coalition of community, religious, and labor groups collected over 150,000 signatures to qualify it for the ballot.  We had over 6,000 volunteers collecting signatures in front of supermarkets, at church services, and shopping centers. The measure had been before the Legislature for eight years and only when they indicated they would vote on it did we file the signatures to put it on the ballot.

We urge you to vote YES on Question 4 for Earned Sick Time on November 4.

Lew Finfer is a Dorchester resident, Director of the Dorchester-based Massachusetts Communities Action Network, and Co-Chair of Raise UP Massachusetts

Building Hope

Build Hope. That’s what we do.

Peabody Internat Fest 2014 008 CROPPED

Here to help.

NSCAP builds hope by being advocates. We are a voice for people living at or near the poverty line. We help them navigate complicated bureaucracies. We help them obtain assistance, whether it is directly through us and one of our programs or by explaining how to get assistance from another organization.

NSCAP builds hope through social justice. It isn’t enough to help people find a way to make it through the month and be able to pay the rent and keep the lights on. We work to change systems. For instance, we helped collect signatures to petition to increase the state minimum wage. We are encouraging people to vote Yes on Ballot Question 4, which will provide for earned sick time so people will not lose their jobs if they or their child is sick.

NSCAP builds hope by simply being compassionate. The employees are in this line of work because they care deeply about other human beings and they want to do something. They understand the difficulties that others face and they want to make it easier for the neighbor to make it through the day.


One of our clients donates his art to our annual auction.

NSCAP builds hope through empowerment.

  • We help the people who walk through our doors by giving them the tools they need to help themselves.
  • We teach English to recent immigrants.
  • We help people budget their funds so they can pay the utility bills.
  • We help elders get dressed in the morning and go with them while they run errands.

NSCAP builds hope by being positive. We are an optimistic bunch. Even those people that we help who seem to have the most problems are capable of contributing in some way. We have had clients organize fund raisers at their church on our behalf. We have had clients come back and volunteer with us. We have clients who make beautiful artwork that we hang on our walls. We have clients who make a $2 donation because “there is someone else who needs help like I did.”


Giving back.

50 Years of Taking Action

North Shore Community Action Programs was incorporated in 1965. We were part of a groundswell of change in the United States. As part of President Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty, Community Action Agencies were formed through the Economic Opportunity Act in 1964. Community Action Agencies focus on helping low-income households achieve self-sufficiency. Common programs are Fuel Assistance (LIHEAP), Weatherization (WAP) and Head Start.

Lyndon B Johnson

President Lyndon B. Johnson

NSCAP was formed out of that War on Poverty 50 years ago and I’ve been reflecting on what that means today. We are planning events through the year to mark our 50th Anniversary. I plan on writing a few blogs about the subject. Fifty years is a big deal for us at NSCAP and for the United States, too. But there is one thing that sticks in my mind and that is the phrase itself: War on Poverty.

I think about the work we do here. We aren’t engaging in war-like acts at NSCAP. War does not conjure positive images. Of course the strong feeling at that time in our country was that we as a society were going to war against the root causes of poverty. It galvanized the nation. It was a call to arms. But still… 50 years later, we as a country think differently about poverty. The song War by Edwin Starr keeps running through my head, especially these lyrics:

Ohhh, war, I despise
Because it means destruction
Of innocent lives

The employees would not say that we were in a war against poverty. If pressed, they would probably say that we were taking action and empowering the people who come through our doors. We are constructive. We build up people’s lives. We help keep the heat on in the winter. We weatherize drafty homes so families’ heating bills are lower. We help families stay in their apartments when they hit a rough patch and get behind in the rent. We help ill and disabled people get connected to appropriate housing and services. We help elderly people stay in their homes with home care services.

A baby whose shirt reads: Here comes trouble. (NSCAP archives)

A baby whose shirt reads: Here comes trouble. (NSCAP archives)

Several years ago when NSCAP was redesigning its logo, we wanted to find a design that would convey the idea of action. That is how the employees think of their work. Their work is active, positive, and constructive. The employees in our Housing Pathways family shelter program are working with families to get an apartment, to increase the hours they work, and to make sure the children are in school getting a solid education. The employees in our Advocacy program are helping families pay the rent they owe and not get behind again. The employees in Fuel Assistance and Energy Conservation are helping families stay warm and on top of their heating bills. We are active partners with the families in resolving whatever issues they need help with.

When people come to our office for help, they want to do something. They want to change their lives in a positive way: secure, affordable housing to raise their children; a safe home for their elderly parents; help for a disabled brother; better work skills so they can earn a living wage. No one comes through our doors and says, “I’m here for my hand-out.” They are in crisis and are looking for the help they need to resolve the problem themselves. They come through our doors looking for an opportunity to improve their lives. We are here to help them find that opportunity.

Are these people planning how they can take action to improve their community? (NSCAP archives)

Are these people planning how they can take action to improve their community? (NSCAP archives)

So I invite you to spend some time in reflection. Are you in need of help? Is your neighbor struggling? What action will you take to help someone in need? What action will you take in your community?

Keeping Children Safe

by Laura M. MacNeil, Executive Director

Last Friday, a co-worker and I had an animated conversation with a couple who are new supporters of North Shore Community Action Programs. They were attending a fundraising event that we hosted. They were excited about the work we do and wanted to know more.

Sometimes it is hard to boil down what we do at NSCAP. We provide many services in the community: Fuel Assistance, Weatherization, Home Care for the elderly, Homelessness Prevention, and more. Where do we start? How can we explain it quickly and simply?

The conversation started when the couple asked NSCAP’s Housing Pathways Director, Holly Brauner, about the work she does. Holly gave a description of the emergency family shelter program that we offer. We provide shelter to 47 homeless families on the North Shore. We provide housing search services and stabilization services to these homeless families. That means we get them moved into their temporary apartment and their children back into school. We help the parents stay employed or help them find work. But foremost, we help them find affordable housing.

Then we started talking about the children.

Every morningCarmen's daughter, once the school age children are in school, the families come to NSCAP and work with their case manager in addressing the many issues they face in getting their lives back on track. The pre-school age children come in with their parents.

Oh the children. This is when the fun begins. The children are noisy. The children are busy. The children are beautiful. They cry. They giggle. They babble. They play. They are distracting. They are irresistible. They are perfect.

It is a treat to hold a baby while her mother fills out paperwork. The baby is alert. She is very much loved and well care for.

It is incomprehensible to think that she would be sleeping in her mother’s arms on the street if we were not fortunate enough to live in a state that recognizes the importance of providing shelter to homeless families.

It was hard to explain to the couple at the reception why there aren’t enough affordable apartments on the North Shore, or why there aren’t enough housing subsidies to help the thousands of homeless families in the state.

Sometimes it is hard to explain what we do at NSCAP. Sometimes it is enough to simply say that we keep families and children safe.