Wednesday, 23 September 2020 10:31

W.A.T.E.R Fund creates waves of healthy homes for elderly

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Low-income Houston seniors get water relief through the W.A.T.E.R. Fund, a CMC agency. Low-income Houston seniors get water relief through the W.A.T.E.R. Fund, a CMC agency.


Imagine living amid Houston’s hot and humid weather in a home with no running water. You not only don’t have safe drinking water but lack complete plumbing for a tap, shower and toilet.

How would you cope?

For one elderly couple in Houston, living in a home with no running water became a stark reality for nearly two years when plumbing problems coupled with a limited income left them unable to pay their water bill.

“I was floored,” said Bonnie Ashcroft, when she came across the couple’s information.

Ashcroft, a customer service section chief for Houston Public Works’ customer account services, reached out to the couple in hopes of getting them assistance through the city’s Water Aide to Elderly Residents Fund. Administered by the City of Houston, the W.A.T.E.R Fund provides financial assistance to low-income senior citizens in need of water and sewer service.

“We were able to get them in a good housing situation and get their water turned back on,” said Ashcroft of the W.A.T.E.R. Fund, which also participates in the city’s Combined Municipal Campaign.

The annual CMC city employee giving drive raises much-needed funds for more than 900 local and national nonprofits every October.

Like many other CMC agencies, the W.A.T.E.R. Fund relies entirely on donations to provide its essential services to the community.

Last year, generous city employees donated more than $5,000 to the W.A.T.E.R. Fund.

“It’s really amazing to see how city employees come together during the CMC,” said Jennifer Cobb, the CMC’s citywide coordinator.

“They support not only this program but hundreds of CMC agencies that support a multitude of social causes like closing education gaps, feeding families in need, sustainability movements, and health disparity issues.”

This year’s 2021 CMC’s Give & Grow theme highlights how employee donations can help grow the outreach of agencies across the city. It’s a theme Ashcroft hopes will encourage employees to donate to the W.A.T.E.R Fund and help grow its outreach amidst the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“There are a lot of programs that can help with food, rent, and electricity,” said Ashcroft, whose team manages and administers the W.A.T.E.R. Fund. “There isn’t anything else out there that can help with water service.”

Closing the gap

For Ashcroft and her team, the pandemic has widened the gap between who the W.A.T.E.R Fund is able to assist and who needs assistance.

“The need is greater,” Ashcroft said. “We’re having a lot more phone inquiries of customers asking what do we have available and what we can to do to help them.”

“If we don’t have donations, we have to turn people away,” Ashcroft said.

At the onset of the pandemic, more than 1,400 seniors were in jeopardy of having their water service disconnected.

“Through the W.A.T.E.R. Fund and some other initiatives, we’ve been able to help a lot of those customers,” Ashcroft said.

“CMC agencies are experiencing an increase of people looking for assistance,” Cobb said. “It’s imperative we rally together to meet that need.”

Ella Homes, a customer service representative for Public Works who helps Ashcroft manage the W.A.T.E.R. Fund, recalls one senior who had to make the difficult decision of paying her water bill or buying medications.

“She had previously made arrangements on a water bill to make payment,” Holmes said. “However, she was in and out of the hospital and she had surgery with cancer.”

“The W.A.T.E.R Fund came in for her because she was on a fixed income and she did need assistance paying the water bill because she was concerned about it being turned off,” Holmes said.

Sometimes, seniors unable to pay their water bill can be reluctant to reach out for help.

“A lot of the seniors are very proud and they don't want to take a handout. That's not how they were raised,” Ashcroft said. “But you know, there comes a point when sometimes there's not any other options available. They have a limited income and their income just isn't meeting essential needs.”

It’s an unfortunate situation that Margarita Saucedo believes anyone can find themselves in.

“You never know if you're going to be the person at the other end of the table that's going to be asking for assistance,” said Saucedo, a customer service representative who also works with Ashcroft and Holmes to manage the W.A.T.E.R. Fund.

“We have the opportunity, you know, with the contributions that we get from our customers and from our employees, to go ahead and make a change in a person's life,” said Saucedo of the W.A.T.E.R. Fund, which donates 100 percent of its proceeds to seniors in need of water bill assistance.

It’s a sentiment Cobb agrees with.

“CMC agencies provide some of the most basic needs to communities and causes across Houston,” Cobb said. “Without donations, they lack funding to meet those needs.”

Last year, generous city employees donated nearly $1 million to CMC agencies. Both Ashcroft and Cobb understand the challenges the pandemic presents, but they are still hopeful that employees who are able to donate will do so.

“We are all trying to find our new normal right now, but through the CMC we can help others navigate this challenging time.” Cobb said. “We can plant that seed of growth through giving.”

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