Circle of Hope

By Al Reese.

As a CPA, it’s an unavoidable hazard of the trade to often be asked to “volunteer” for the position that few seem to want: Treasurer.  I’ve been the Treasurer of several not-for-profits in the past, have served on the Finance Committee for the town I live in (Canton, MA), and currently serve as Trustee and Treasurer of my condo association.  Among them, it’s perhaps my most recent Treasurer’s position that has been the most meaningful to me.

About two years ago, Peter Donovan came to me asking for help.  Peter is a former boss and mentor, someone who was an active supporter and instrumental in advancing my corporate career.  He had recently joined the Board of Circle of Hope, Inc. (COH), a not-for-profit based in Needham Massachusetts.  COH (circleofhopeonline.org) works with more than 20 service organizations in the Boston area to help the most vulnerable members of the community by donating new and gently used clothing and other personal necessities.  Over the past three years, the organization has gathered, packaged, and delivered nearly $2 MM of items through the efforts of 70 volunteers.    

Much to his chagrin, Peter had been tapped as the COH Treasurer.  He knew that he needed more technical firepower than he was able to provide, so he asked if I’d be willing to help them with a project to select a new accounting firm.  Given his past support of me, I couldn’t say no, so in quick succession, I was appointed the Board as – you guessed it – Treasurer.

To be perfectly honest, I wasn’t very enthusiastic about the appointment at first.  Although I’m sympathetic to the plight of the homeless in Boston (which has one of the highest rates of family homelessness in the nation), I had no personal history of engagement on the issue and felt like a “poseur” among other members of the Board who had been dedicated to supporting the organization – and its cause – for years.  Being barely solvent and with only one part-time staff member and a minimally compensated (but highly passionate) Executive Director, COH was also an organization in need of vast amounts of support, and I wasn’t sure I had the time or energy to do the requisite heavy lifting. 

As I became more familiar with COH, I began to change my tune.  A turning point for me was my visit to the Southampton Street Men’s Shelter.  You may not recognize the name of the facility, but you may recall the crisis that preceded it: the emergency closing of the Long Island homeless shelter.  With less than 24 hours notice, the bridge connecting the shelter to Quincy was deemed unsafe and permanently closed.  The City of Boston had to scramble to find substitute housing for the 400 homeless whom were suddenly displaced.  They ultimately converted a former Boston Transportation Department sign shop into a homeless shelter, which is now a bustling facility that houses and feeds over 350 homeless men every night.  What literally left me speechless was not only seeing the bunk beds lined up check to jowl, but experiencing the astounding selflessness and dedication of the staff.   Some of them had been homeless themselves and had dedicated their lives and careers to giving back.  Others had been assaulted while carrying out their duties.

The second flashpoint for me was our annual fundraiser.  Like many others, I have a natural aversion to asking people for money.  It’s something I’ve always been uncomfortable with.  As I struggled to make the calls and generate the emails necessary to raise my share of the funds, I settled on an unspoken mantra: Show me more a more worthwhile cause or organization, and I’ll write a check of my own to support it.  Once I let my newfound conviction take hold, I was much less reluctant to ask for the donations we so clearly needed and deserved and was truly surprised by the results.  I still don’t like to fund raise, but now have little compunction about asking for money for a cause that I absolutely believe is worthy of support.

I guess the moral of the story is to respond to those organizations and people in need to the best of your current ability, despite whatever reservations you may have.  You just don’t know how you’ll react until you fully roll up your sleeves.