By GAIL LOWE
WAKEFIELD — Remember the widows.
In the Epistle of James in the New Testament, this is what Christians are commanded to do. And for the most part — Christian or not — family members, friends and neighbors look after them.
But as Wakefield and other towns and cities observe Memorial Day, it is important to know that there is a subset of widows often overlooked. These are the widows of men who have lost their lives defending our nation and it is Alicia Reddin’s mission to see that they are not forgotten.
To Reddin, the primary Veterans Services Officer for Wakefield and Saugus who spoke at Tuesday’s Wakefield Rotary Club meeting, military widows represent a large, underserved population.
“Wakefield truly cares about veterans and their families,” Reddin said. “But many widows don’t know about the benefits that are available to them and they’re hard to find so getting the information to them is a challenge.”
She said that some widows drop in at the McCarthy Senior Center on Converse Street but more meeting places in a central location would be the ideal for disseminating the information so badly needed.
Currently, Reddin is at the Senior Center Tuesdays through Thursdays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Over the course of a day, she meets with people in their 30s all the way up to their 90s to talk about benefits. She only wishes more widows would stop in to learn about what is available. (Reddin also said she would be at the Hart’s Hill Road apartment complex on June 2 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.)
In her outreach to widows, Reddin has placed notices in local newspapers, spoken at Rotary Clubs, used social media and reached out to local politicians but there is more work to be done and she will not be satisfied until she speaks to every widow in the community. To continue her outreach efforts, a program about benefits for veterans’ widows will be broadcast in the near future from the WCAT studio on Hemlock Road.
Widows are not the only population to be underserved. There are the veterans themselves. Many are returning from active military duty only to find that they jobs they left behind have been filled or eliminated. Many have college degrees and they end up taking jobs at coffee shops to earn a paycheck.
“It’s not enough to make ends meet,” said Reddin. “The cost of food and housing is always rising, making it hard to make rent payments and grocery shop.”
Some veterans are placed on a housing list but the wait can be up to five years and families are given preference.
According to state guidelines, the poverty line for a single person is set at $1,962 per month and $2,806 for a couple.
Reddin said that help with paying out-of-pocket medical expenses is something her office can do.
“We reimburse approximately $500 for expenses like co-pays, doctor appointments and medical equipment from money that filters from cities and towns. We’re reimbursed by the state.” She added that the program is unique in Massachusetts and that it has been in existence since World War I.
As was reported in Thursday’s Daily Item, Reddin says she is so committed to helping veterans that she is now pursuing her Ph.D. in Adult Learning and Development at Lesley University where she earned her undergraduate degree in Human Development. She also holds a master’s degree in Curriculum and Instruction from Northeastern University. Reddin also served in the U.S. Navy and was stationed in Japan and Guam. When she went into the Naval Reserves, she worked with Chief Keith Jermyn in Hingham.
“Chief Jermyn brought me in as an intern and I loved the work,” she said. “We worked closely together and I would help people with the GI bill, college applications and all the ins and outs of higher eduction.”
As she attends Wakefield’s Memorial Day parade, scheduled for 1 p.m. Monday in front of the Galvin Middle School, Reddin will be thinking about all veterans who have given their lives for their country.
“Wakefield is a unique community, one that is very dedicated to serving its veterans. I would highly encourage any veteran in the community, old young, spouse or widow, to contact us.
“I love working with veterans. They’re so grateful to have someone to sit down with and they can share war stories with. They appreciation someone go ‘gets it.’”
This morning, Reddin spoke at the annual Memorial Day assembly at Wakefield Memorial High school. Later today, at 4 p.m., she will be at Forest Glade Cemetery on Lowell Street helping to place flags on every veteran’s gravesite.
Contact Reddin at 781-246-6377 or e-mail [email protected].