WAIM brings essential services to the community

By Melanie Savage - Staff Writer
Region - posted Mon., Mar. 4, 2013
Mansfield resident Mary Weinland (left) and Columbia resident Shirley Shepard met through volunteering at WAIM, and currently serve together on the organization's Board of Directors. Photos by Melanie Savage.
Mansfield resident Mary Weinland (left) and Columbia resident Shirley Shepard met through volunteering at WAIM, and currently serve together on the organization's Board of Directors. Photos by Melanie Savage.

Maggie Massicotte said she came to the Windham area from New York City in 1999. “My sister introduced me to WAIM [Windham Area Interfaith Ministry],” she said. Over the years, the organization has helped Massicotte in a number of different ways, including providing her with furniture, a television and appliances for her first apartment. “They even, at one point, helped me with a car,” she said. “The beautiful thing about it was, when I finally got a job, the car became available.”

Due to some health-related issues, Massicotte is no longer able to work. But she still volunteers nearly every day of the week at WAIM. On a recent Wednesday morning, she was helping to sort items in the pantry - a stockpile of bed linens, small appliances, dishes, pots and pans and other essential household items. “WAIM has helped me out so much, in so many different ways,” said Massicotte.

Another volunteer came over with a hat for her to try on. “This is like a family here,” said Massicotte. “We look out for each other. That’s a precious thing to get some help when you’ve never had any before. This place has been such a blessing for me.”

As Massicotte talked, a pair of developmentally-disabled young men helped to stock the shelves. “We have people that come from all over,” said Massicotte. The organization draws approximately 20 to 25 volunteers daily, according to WAIM Director Victoria Nimirowski. Volunteers come from a number of different communities. Some are simply people looking for an opportunity to help out. Some are former clients, looking to give back. The organization draws volunteers from the Next Step program - women who have recently been released from York Correctional Institution. There are church groups, and volunteers who are fulfilling court-ordered community service requirements. “It really runs the gamut,” said Nimirowski.

Daisy Battle was referred to WAIM by Easter Seals, as part of a work-related retraining program. Battle was assigned to the clothes closet at WAIM, where she has been helping to coordinate volunteers and spending time sorting, organizing and hanging clothing. Battle was formerly employed by the public school system as a kitchen worker, but was laid off due to budget cuts. “Everybody’s very good to me here,” said Battle. “I love it.” Battle hopes to gain some computer skills in addition to organizational and supervisory experience, and eventually gain employment in an office setting.

“Our charge is to train them in some new skill areas,” said Nimirowski.

Started in 1984 in the basement of a local church, WAIM has grown to involve 40 faith communities from 12 different towns. “Since then, we’ve grown to an organization that, along with clothing, provides furniture, appliances, linens, career clothing and emergency financial assistance to over 8,000 people each year from Windham and 12 surrounding towns,” according to the WAIM website.

The agency also provides emergency financial assistance to approximately 1,000 people annually, according to Nimirowski, for rental assistance or other needs. A recent donation allowed the agency to set up a special fund for residents affected by tropical storm Sandy. “We’re what’s called an agency of last resort,” said Nimirowski.

WAIM provides emergency heating assistance, and manages a thriving community garden at Lauter Park in Willimantic. A newer program, called Partners in Independence, seeks to provide adult mentoring “to assist individuals and their families in reaching economic security,” according to a flier. WAIM provides furniture, appliances and other household goods to families and individuals in need. There is a clothes closet, and a special career clothes closet that supplies clothing for funerals, job interviews, court appearances, weddings and other special family events.

Columbia resident Shirley Shepard, a volunteer in the pantry and the clothes closet for more than 11 years, is currently a member of the WAIM Board of Directors. “When I was teaching, I used to drop things off at WAIM,” said Shepard. “I would always say that someday I’d like to work here.”

“Shirley has always had a special interest in and concern for the homeless,” said Nimirowski, adding that Shepard would set aside tents and sleeping bags for those forced to eke out an existence outside. “It was very heartwarming, when people would come in to get a candle,” said Shepard. Knowing that the candle might be the only source of light and heat for a homeless individual, Shepard always felt inclined to offer more than one. “They’d say, ‘No, keep them for somebody else who needs them,’” said Shepard. “You meet some really beautiful people here.”

While WAIM has a huge variety of volunteer opportunities available, Nimirowski said that currently, there is a particular need for help with publicity, desktop publishing, graphic arts and maintenance. Contact Nimirowski at 860-456-7270 ext. 11, or director@waimct.org. For more information see WAIM’s website at waimct.org.

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