Memorial Church helping those who help others

On The Rise Participant “Alex” stands across the street from the day shelter she has relied on for more than 20 years for help and guidance

Jeffrey Blackwell/Memorial Church Communications

3 min read

At the corner of Broadway and Inman streets in Cambridge is a white, three-story Victorian house with black shutters and a red door. The house is the home of On The Rise, an organization that advocates for and provides daytime services to unhoused women and transgendered/non-binary people in the Boston area.

For Alex, who asked that her last name not be disclosed, On The Rise is a lifesaver. Twenty years ago, when she was on the streets, a teenager dealing with childhood trauma and chronic homelessness, the organization gave her a base to anchor her chaotic life, a place to breathe, a place to regroup.

“I’m 18, I’m estranged from my abusive mother and any family. I’m being tossed around. And when I go to these foster homes, they’re dreadful,” said Alex, who is now in her 40s. “So, I would run to Harvard Square, hang out with my friends and stay out of trouble.”

Luckily, it was one of those friends who brought her to On The Rise in 1999. The introduction changed her life, possibly saved her life, and began a long-term relationship of support and sanctuary for her when she needed it most.

“I was a kid, I didn’t really know what I needed,” said Alex. “When I started that relationship with On The Rise, it was like, ‘I need a shower, I need something to eat. It was what I needed, a place to breathe, to rest my feet, to be in an environment where I can only speak to myself, where it was female-centric, where I didn’t have the invisible or have the overt burdens of having to deal with men on the street.”

On The Rise is one of hundreds of local non-profit organizations to receive funding and support from the Grants Committee of the Memorial Church, a group of Harvard students, church congregants, and staff that solicits grant applications from local nonprofits, reviews requests, and each spring awards dozens of small, but critical grants, to charitable organizations and programs.

In the past three decades, the church has distributed more than $1.2 million to applicants seeking financial support for small projects and specific needs. With an annual budget between $50,000 and $65,000, raised through the weekly offering and donations, the church has helped fund meal programs for unhoused people in Cambridge, initiated programs that provide counseling for children and families, and sustained efforts to help support low-income, immigrant and underserved people and families in the Boston area.

“The basic task of any Christian community is to try to love its neighbors, and the Grants Committee is one of the most effective and special ways the Memorial Church does that,” said the Rev. Matthew Ichihashi Potts, Plummer Professor of Christian Morals in the Faculty of Divinity, and Pusey Minister in the Memorial Church. “The Grants Committee represents the best of who we are as a congregation.”