BELMONT — As a social worker, Susan Varnum knows that there are support services available for people in need, but that they don’t always cover the specific need that might be holding a family back. That’s why she started Winni Womenade a year ago, to be the source of support for local families when no other agency would help.
The “Womenade” model was first formed in Washington, D.C. It’s a simple model – a group of female friends host events to raise money, which is then used to assist neighbors with critical needs that otherwise wouldn’t be met. Although that first group began less than 20 years ago, the model has spread throughout the country, including several in New Hampshire.
Varnum, a Belmont resident, occasionally referred clients to a Womenade organization serving the Concord area. When a client in the Winnisquam region needed help, though, she found that there wasn’t an existing agency that would help – so she decided to start one.
Winni Womenade kicked off with a paint-night event last April, and the organization has since raised and distributed $5,000 to the communities of Belmont, Northfield, Tilton and Sanbornton.
People in need don’t apply directly to Womenade. Instead, the organization relies on requests from “validators,” professionals who work with the individuals in need. Those validators could be social workers, doctors or school nurses who are trying to help a local family through a difficult time. That way, the anonymity and dignity of the recipients is protected, while the vetting of need is handled by the validator.
While Winni Womenade doesn’t know the names of the people it has helped in its first year, the range of circumstances shows the need for such an organization. Womenade has helped pay for medication for a child whose parent lost their job, new tires for a single mother, house cleaning for a person undergoing chemotherapy, and for a few sets of grandparents who found themselves unexpectedly caring for their grandchildren.
Varnum said the most unusual request they funded was for a person with a rare medical diagnosis to travel to a conference, where there was a chance to learn more about the disease and to feel support from others with the same illness.
Jennifer McAlister, a social worker for the Shaker Regional School District, was one of the validators who was able to get help for a local family though Winni Womenade. A member of the family had lost a job, and that loss of income had created a financial spiral. The family was taking steps to return to a place of financial stability, but there was one bill in particular that they didn’t have a way to cover. McAlister applied, and the bill was paid within days.
“If Winni Womenade hadn’t been able to pay that particular bill, they would not have been able to continue receiving service from that company. It’s a service that was instrumental in helping them to get things back together,” McAlister said. “It’s such a great resource to have for people in the community because there’s nothing else like them in the community. This family was so grateful, they never thought that they were going to be able to pay that bill, it was just hanging over their head.”
Varnum said that although the organization started small its first year, she feels it was a success.
“It’s been great, we’ve accomplished what we sought after,” she said.
Year two will start off the same way, with a paint night to be held from 6-8 p.m. on May 2 at Belmont Elementary School. The school’s art teacher, Katie Van Cura – it turns out that she’s good with adults, too – will instruct. Every penny from the raffle, refreshments and the $25 entry fee will go to meet needs in the community, as Winni Womenade has no paid staff and overhead costs are covered by board members.
Varnum said she would like to add a few more people to the board. “We have a very strong core of board members, but we want more opportunities to grow our cause,” she said.
And, as more service providers learn about Winni Womenade, she would like to find more ways to raise money for people in crisis.
“We want to do more community fundraisers, something that community members can attend," she said. "We want them to be fun and we want to grow our board. We want to do as much good as possible.”