Hometown Hero: Women-led nonprofit supports local communities in need

Catamount Womenaid Board members Donna Keeley, Deb Horton, Fran Miller and Laurie Bienefeld after finishing a 5K, the nonprofit's largest fundraiser of the year.

Catamount Womenaid Board members Donna Keeley, Deb Horton, Fran Miller and Laurie Bienefeld after finishing a 5K, the nonprofit's largest fundraiser of the year. Catamount Womenaid

Volunteer Emcee Tim Griffin and founder Deb Horton hand out medals to winners of their 5K last year. The race is the nonprofit's largest fundraiser of the year and is coming up in November.

Volunteer Emcee Tim Griffin and founder Deb Horton hand out medals to winners of their 5K last year. The race is the nonprofit's largest fundraiser of the year and is coming up in November. Catamount Womenaid

By JAMIE L. COSTA

Monitor staff

Published: 11-12-2023 4:41 PM

Twelve years ago, Deb Horton visited a patient in hospice who couldn’t afford a surgery for his wife.

To help the couple, their son took money from his children’s Christmas fund to pay for the $500 surgery. They were broken at the thought of their grandchildren missing out on Christmas but ran out of options.

Their circumstances reminded Horton of a women-run nonprofit she heard of that aided men, women, children, the elderly, the unhoused, and anyone in need of financial assistance. She put in a request to help the family, and soon after dropped the check off at the surgeon.

“Their grandkids didn’t miss out on Christmas and that small amount of money made such a huge impact on her,” Horton recalled.” I looked around because I’d always done volunteer work and wanted to volunteer at one near me in Deerfield but they didn’t have one, so I started one.”

The Catamount Womenaid in Deerfield is not connected to others in the area, but operates the same and collaborates with similar organizations to provide immediate financial relief to those in nearby communities. The nonprofit is primarily dependent on donations and fundraisers, like their upcoming 5K in November, which is their largest fundraising event of the year.

Over the past 10 years, the nonprofit has grown slowly and just surpassed $100,000 in donations to the community. Horton credits its success to the slow growth and its cohesive female-led board of determined, motivated women.

In one year, the nonprofit receives around 120 support requests, many of which come from school districts in the rural communities the nonprofit serves, like Deerfield, Epsom, Northwood, Pittsfield, Barnstead and Strafford.

If a child needs a new pair of winter gloves and a warm jacket or a family can’t afford school supplies, Michael Curtin, the school counselor at Pittsfield Elementary School, will dip into funds provided by Catamount Womenaid to help. The school has been involved with the nonprofit for the last three years.

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“They give us $500 a year in cash for stuff that families might need but wouldn’t be part of the school budget so it could be a new pair of sneakers or eye care,” Curtin said. “Once we deplete it all, we can submit again and they’ll top us off.”

Curtin, who is tasked with vetting families and making sure they’ve exhausted all other funding options, will put in requests directly to the nonprofit for larger items like a broken down car or an unpaid gas bill. The nonprofit will then send the payment directly to a mechanic or a gas company, often without speaking with the family.

“We tapped into them as a resource because they’re super involved in the community and they come to mind when there is a family in need,” Curtin said. “The families are humbled and I think it helps them maintain some sense of normalcy. Simple things like not having a car can snowball into other issues that are much larger and they are trying to support families to keep them at an even keel so they don’t get stuck in a bigger hole than they’re already in.”