Re: A secular woman asked us for help; do you have ideas?

From: Zachary B.
Sent on: Wednesday, May 7, 2014 10:56 AM
Here's a short report on our response so far to this young secular woman who was looking for some help. (For your reference, you can check that first message about this situation at

1. We know we our group is not equipped in any way yet to provide direct aid as a community organization: we don't have the structure, we don't have the coverage, we don't have the expertise, as an org. 
- We want to find out what kind of an organizational structure would allow us TO help.

2. We DID have a great deal of advice. Suggestions include:
- phone numbers for agencies
- direct contact information for social workers
- Rosie's Place, a secular-friendly shelter
- Women of Means, a UU-affiliated and widely recommended shelter/services outfit
- Sidney Borum Jr Health Center
- Karen Pepe at BMC
- Department of Transitional Assistance

3. MANY people offered material aid: a place to crash, a room in a house, rides to job interviews or clinics, a free meal, a shoulder to cry on, etc. We know that this is problematic in terms of safety: for this person in need, and for our community members. 
- We want to know what kinds of policies or systems we can use when responding to this kind of request, so we can do more with our resources and good will than recommend people in such situations to another party for assistance.

4. An observation from a social worker: "As a social worker I can tell you resources are really strained right now." 
- As a community, we want to learn about how we can provide complementary support to currently existing private and public resources. There's many hundreds of active secular group members in our area; we should leverage that if there's a way to.

5. An observation from an LGBTQ advocate: "Unfortunately, because most of the work I've done around LGBTQ matters has been faith-based with liberal Christian and Jewish groups, I don't have a lot of connections that would resound with her atheism, and that is critical in supporting her. And she's 22: That ages her out of organizations that specifically cater to youth too." 
- We should find out how accessible social support resources are for secular people in need, especially those who have been marginalized BECAUSE of their secular identify.

* * *

See if you can spot the theme in these excerpts from some of the responses to the first message I sent yesterday:

- This is a pivotal juncture....we need to face it head-on. If we asked for the mess we need to be there to clean it assist in any way possible. Safety as the main focus.
- We  don't have an established protocol for such interventions and this has the potential to escalate.
- This list is hardly what I would consider "vetted"; and this limits our ability to help directly in terms of both safety for the person in need as well as the people willing to help.
- It seems like something the Coalition of Reason ought to have the ability to handle, but CoR lacks a consistent face and presence.
- I feel useless for not be of any help to this young lady.

It seems to me there is a lot of interest in assessing the possible systems we might implement -- organizational structure, resources like a hotline, financial accommodations, liability coverage, engagement with city and nonprofit agencies, etc. -- in order to respond effectively to persons in need.

So! If you have a professional expertise (in social work, mental health, nonprofit finance, organizational planning, therapy or recovery, etc.) or just a personal commitment to helping others, please let me know if you'd like to be part of a secular mutual aid committee. There has for a long time been conversation about the value of such a thing, in whatever form: a mailing list, a message board, a dedicated phone line, a nonprofit staff, something. This latest event may help us move toward realizing this interest in some tangible form.

For my part, I'm going to talk to other area groups (starting with those in the Secular Coalition for Massachusetts) and the Boston-area Interfaith Campus Coalition and try to recruit some advice and volunteers. I'll also propose making this topic, "Options for Secular Mutual Aid", the subject of the Fall 2014 sessions of the Boston Interpath Workgroup, the result of which would be a publication on the topic early next year.

If you'd like to join the conversation, or join the committee, or help LEAD such a committee, please reply to me directly ([address removed]), and I'll make sure all of you interested in this work are in touch with one another.

All best,


_ _

Mr. Zachary W. Bos
Co-chair, Secular Coalition for Massachusetts
Massachusetts State Director, American Atheists
Charter Board Member, Sunday Assembly Boston
Immediate Past President, Boston Atheists 
Humanist Society Secular Invocator
Email:  [address removed]  
Phone:  [masked]

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