“Please just come in”: Spotlighting Waltham’s Welcome Home
With over 100 volunteers and counting, Welcome Home — a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping families gather the items they need to live comfortably — continues to grow in size and scope.
Editor’s note—Reporting for this story was originally completed in the fall 2022 semester for a JOUR 89A class project titled “Smells Like Zine Spirit.”
Since moving to their new location on Washington Street in West Newton, Welcome Home — a local nonprofit that outfits families experiencing hardship with basic household items they need to live with dignity — has served approximately 300 clients each month, providing them with household items and basic necessities to turn their living spaces into homes.
Welcome Home was created by Newton resident Julie Plaut Mahoney in 2016 when she was working as the Volunteer Coordinator for an organization called Newton at Home. Newton at Home works to keep older people in the Newton area in their homes instead of assisted living and provides them with essential services — yard work, shoveling, or anything else they may struggle with as older adults — to support them so they remain in their communities.
In the process of working with Newton at Home, Plaut Mahoney observed a pattern of downsizing as residents grew older. In the process, many residents began throwing out home-related items, as they no longer had space for them. Plaut Mahoney called her good friend Mindy Peckler to talk about this issue.
“There’s so much,” Peckler recalled telling Plaut Mahoney about the no-longer-needed items, in an interview last fall. “And people in Newton are so generous, nobody's looking to sell, they want to give it away. She [Plaut Mahoney] said, ‘You and I need to find a way to get this into the hands of the right people.’”
And thus, Welcome Home was born. Today, there are over 100 volunteers who help out in all aspects of the nonprofit and that number is steadily growing.
Gathering items from the people getting rid of them was easy enough. The real struggle, Plaut Mahoney and Peckler found, was how to get the word out to community members who might need the items. Peckler explained that the pair went to the quarterly social work meeting at the Waltham Jewish Family and Children’s Services office and gave their pitch to an audience of 75 social workers. “Afterwards somebody raised their hand and said, ‘So what kind of documentation does my client need?’ And we looked at each other and we were like ‘none," Peckler said. "We really hadn't discussed it, but we decided [on] no documentation at the moment.”
While at first it wasn’t a planned-out decision, Peckler explained that it became an intentional choice moving forward so the process could be stream-lined for all their clients. “So for our clients, they don't have to live here, they don't have to be a citizen … And some people walk in and they start taking papers out of their bags, and we're like, ‘No, no, no. You don't need to do anything. Please just come in,’” Peckler said. She added that this “is what sets us apart from other organizations.”
Since then, Welcome Home has gained hundreds of clients and has a full waiting list. “Right now we have about a three month waiting list of people, which is really horrible because if somebody needs a comforter, they need it tonight — they don't need it in 12 weeks,” Peckler said.
Nonetheless, Peckler and all the other volunteers are still happy about the work they are doing currently, and they all look forward to being able to serve more clients with their new, larger space. However, Peckler added that despite the optimism, “The truth is, as hard as we work, you know, we're never going to solve the problem, the social issue of poverty. But we feel like every day we do our part. And so, every day we get a little closer.”
Peckler described the organization’s philosophy about their clients, saying, “We want our clients to be treated with dignity and respect. That is our number one goal. When somebody leaves here, they should feel like they just went shopping and were able to get things to make their house a home.” With their client base growing, they serve clients from what they call the “backwards C.” Looking at a map, their clients come from places as north as Lawrence and Lowell, as west as Worcester, and all the way to the South Shore of Massachusetts. With 85% of clients discovering the organization through word of mouth according to Peckler, Welcome Home is making a big impact on not just the Newton area, but communities all across Massachusetts.
Plaut Mahoney is the only full-time worker for Welcome Home, and the rest of the operation rests on the shoulders of the many volunteers who help out in all aspects of the nonprofit.Peckler described one volunteer who takes small appliance donations home, fixes them up, and returns them to be given away. Other volunteers will take home buckets of silverware and match up sets, or fold hundreds of sets of sheets and pack them neatly together. Another volunteer helped gather data on the clients that Welcome Home serves. According to Peckler, these volunteers treat Welcome Home as seriously as another job for them, and Welcome Home gives them all the resources they need to best serve the community. “You know, as much as we serve our clients, we also really serve our volunteers. Every month we have a speaker series, it's on Zoom, and we have a short meeting about what's going on at Welcome Home, and then we bring in a guest so that we are all educated on different topics that might touch Welcome Home.”
Welcome Home experienced a volunteer boom over the pandemic. ”We kept going,” Peckler said in regards to when COVID-19 first hit Massachusetts. “More people were looking for things to do, and a lot of the volunteer programs at other places were closing. So those volunteers were also looking for things to do, and we had plenty of things to do that they could do at home.”
Furthermore, donations also increased during the pandemic. “People also were cleaning out their houses at that time because they had nothing else to do. It was really fortuitous that people were home wanting to do good, which really, it says so much about our community.”
In May 2022, Welcome Home received the 2022 Green Newton Nonprofit Leadership Award from the city of Newton, acknowledging their strides to be environmentally friendly and a leader in nonprofit environmental protection in the community. As Peckler described, “It is not our philosophy to buy new goods. We repurpose everything … And we're very discerning about what we take … We inspect everything. If there's a stain on a sheet, it goes in fabric recycling, or to an animal shelter. The only things that actually come in our doors are things that we are going to then give to our clients. So everything else finds a home.” Welcome Home participates in fabric recycling, metal recycling, and a variety of partnerships to get items that they don’t necessarily need to places where they will be appreciated.
One of the companies Welcome Home partners with is called Grad Bag, which aids first-generation college students in outfitting their dorm rooms. Welcome Home will save twin XL sheets, clip fans, anything that may be needed for a dorm room, and give it to Grad Bag. Peckler explained how big of a difference it could make in the community if even a small portion of items discarded by college students — everything from sheets, pillows, and beds to dishes, silverware, and small appliances — are donated to Welcome Home: “By donating your things when you're done with them, you're affording somebody else those same luxuries that you've had. And you're doing it in a way that treats them with respect.”