WARWICK – Shortly after arriving in the United States from the Azores four decades ago, Martinha Isabel Javid saw a homeless man lying on the street – an image she could not get out of her mind through the years.
“I could not fathom that in this great land of opportunity, I would find homelessness. To me, at age 11, the idea of homelessness in America was absolutely incomprehensible,” recalls Javid.
She went on to build a successful interior design business, but while she was pursuing her American Dream she never forgot those who do not have a roof over their heads.
In 2007, she founded the MAE Organization, whose mission is to work with homeless individuals, providing them with hot meals, clothing, toiletries and other necessities as well as assistance in transitioning into apartment living.
The organization is currently providing assistance to more than 300 people per week.
Javid likes to point out that solidarity with the neediest can grow “in an instant” through humble gestures and simple acts, and anyone can make a big difference.
“I started in my kitchen, with my daughters, making sandwiches and taking them out,” she recalled. “I was the one who bought everything, didn’t get money from anyone, it was all from my finances,” recalled Javid, adding that she felt in her soul a call from the Virgin Mary to help others.
MAE, abbreviation for “Martinha’s Artistic Evocations,” spells “mother” in Portuguese. Although it was founded on a very spiritual vision, the organization is not religiously based, but it is dedicated to Mary, mother of Jesus, as she was Javid’s inspiration.
“We started to grow in an instant,” she said. “What’s needed the most is time, compassion and listening to what they have to say.”
MAE also offers many holistic programs to help individuals get stronger, become productive members of society, and assist them into transitioning from homelessness to permanent housing. These programs are well diversified, including art, music, movement, speech, agriculture, culinary arts and equine therapy.
As of January 2019, Rhode Island had an estimated 1,055 experiencing homelessness on any given day, as reported by Continuums of Care to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
There are currently about 20 MAE volunteers working in Providence, Pawtucket, Warwick, Woonsocket and Cranston, but Javid would like to expand the organization’s scope of action in the near future. She said the Covid-19 pandemic has increased relevance for the work done by organizations such as this one and the number of people seeking help has also increased.
“This year, we had to work much more, because the coronavirus changed everything for organizations like ours,” said Martinha Javid, adding that since the beginning of the pandemic, more than 400 new people have sought help from the organization.
As a result, all sorts of things had to be adapted during the pandemic, including the way the organization distributes food and clothes.
Food is no longer served at large gatherings and meals are distributed in individual containers by no more than five volunteers at each place.
Masks, gloves and hand sanitizer are also now part of the items the organization distributes. The organization also helps individuals find a place to quarantine, when needed.
In order to reach out to new individuals in need, volunteers spend quite some time on the streets.
“While we distribute food and clothes, we spend some time getting to know people, talking about what they need, why they’re on the street, and what we can do to help them,” Javid said.
“A very special bond is created” and that’s how “the work begins based on trust.”
Establishing relationships with homeless individuals is truly a process, she added.
“They are often very closed off; they do not trust anyone,” Javid said. “It takes a little time for them to know that we are there to help them, nothing more.”
Javid says she feels extremely proud of those individuals who are able to find a home and work. Some end up returning to the organization to help others who are currently facing the hardships that once haunted them.
“It’s a very beautiful thing,” she said. “I really want to start our mission in different countries. I’d really like it to be in the Portuguese community, because it’s very important to me.”
The MAE Organization is always looking for volunteers and donations to continue to provide year round services for the homeless.
For more information, contact email@example.com or visit https://www.facebook.com/pg/MAE4Life
Some material from Lusa used in this report