Friends in need
The old Carole King song got it right - friends are great to have, especially when times get tough. "When you're down and troubled, and you need a helping hand...," the song starts. Sometimes the most valuable thing a friend can do is stay in the background, taking care of some of the responsibilities that can be so burdensome when we are facing loss, illness, or other hardships.
This is what the board members of You've Got a Friend (YGAF) believe. Taking its name from that Carole King hit, the small Island organization maintains a low profile while going about the important business of helping Islanders who have suffered devastating blows manage funds that have been donated in their behalf. Services range from making certain the monies are in a non-profit account for paying bills, reimbursing beneficiaries for expenditures, and many other bookkeeping and administrative procedures. The group makes sure that funds are dispensed only for their intended purposes, such as educational expenses or medical bills.
After more than ten years of assisting some 20 local individuals and families, YGAF now needs a friendly hand itself. The group will hold a chicken dinner fundraiser with dancing to the music of Johnny Hoy at the P.A. Club in Oak Bluffs this Friday night. Members hope to raise $4,000 to pay for tax accounting services for the funds they are managing.
Ted Camman of Aquinnah and Abigail Higgins of West Tisbury, both founding members of the organization, emphasized that the benefit's goal is to make sure that donated funds stay intact for the beneficiaries rather than being used for administrative or accounting purposes.
It all began in 1997 when Betsy Fisher of West Tisbury was diagnosed with leukemia and could not afford a potentially life-saving bone marrow transplant.
"I had a very strong reaction," recalls Ms. Higgins. "This bone marrow transplant was going to be out of the question because they didn't have any insurance. I thought, 'she's just going to have to die. It seems so wrong that this disease is just going to take its course.'"
Working with a sense of urgency, Ms. Higgins, Mr. Camman, the late Attorney Ed Coogan, Carol Brush, Arnie Fischer Jr., and others organized a fundraiser, enlisting James Taylor, who was glad to perform a benefit concert for a neighbor. Ms. Higgins wrote that after the successful concert, which "fell together so perfectly, it seemed a shame to let this become a one-time phenomenon. Thus, You've Got a Friend, a non-profit 501 (c)(3) corporation was formed."
Although YGAF sponsored that first concert, the group does not usually get involved in fundraising activities. Instead it offers its services to anyone who plans to raise money for Islanders in crisis.
Other board members include attorney George Brush and Richard Leonard of the Martha's Vineyard Savings Bank. Longtime member Susan Madeiras unfortunately became a beneficiary herself after the death of her husband, Richard.
Ms. Higgins observed that although YGAF helps a few people, it can only respond to "a narrow slice" of Island needs. "But if everybody took a narrow slice, fewer people would be overwhelmed."
Although the organization maintains low visibility it wants to make sure that Islanders get the message that in times of crisis, "You've Got a Friend."
You've Got a Friend benefit dinner and dance, Friday, Jan. 11, from 5 to 8 pm, at the Portuguese-American Club, Vineyard Ave., Oak Bluffs. Tickets are $25 for dinner and the dance; $5 for children under 12 for dinner only; $25 per couple or $15 per person for the dance only.
For more information on YGAF, contact George Brush at 508-693-7733, or Abigail Higgins at 508-693-2355.