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Families in the juvenile court system get a lift from Newton-based One Can Help

When Newton-based juvenile court attorney Anne Bader-Martin saw her clients without the resources to pay for basic necessities, she got a group of friends together and started a nonprofit to help.

Bader-Martin has practiced juvenile law for over 25 years. Now, along with more than a dozen volunteers and staff, she runs One Can Help, a nonprofit aiming to help children and families within the Massachusetts juvenile court system.

“It’s a group of people who just want to have things happen that make a difference without a lot of hoopla,” said Debbie Levenson, a founding member. “On the ground; very no frills.”

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Based out of Newton, One Can Help operates statewide. Founded in 2006, the organization has been without office space, meeting in Bader-Martin’s kitchen or on video conferences. It started among six friends, five of whom lived in Newton. Four of the six, including Bader-Martin, are children of Holocaust survivors.

“We’re just helping children to have the resources they need to build better futures,” Bader-Martin said. “To help the children, sometimes that means you have to help the parents.”

One Can Help offers individuals up to $1,000 worth of resources; representatives in the court system such as social workers, attorneys, or probation officers can apply for goods on behalf of those in need. Because it’s an official request, the state has already vetted beneficiaries, Bader-Marin said, and can distribute resources quickly.

Sitting on the juvenile court in Framingham, Judge Margaret Fearey said she often had Bader-Martin in her courtroom. After retiring from the bench, Fearey joined the board of directors.

Feary said there are “all kinds” of immediate needs the Department of Children and Families can’t provide as quickly as necessary.

“This is a way for well-meaning people in the community to give money that they know is going to be well spent.”

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One woman who spoke with The Boston Globe said she was able to pull her family out of homelessness by placing a deposit on an apartment with aid from One Can Help. She said she recently got a certificate in medical billing and coding from a university in the region.

“We eliminate a lot of the bureaucracy,” Fearey said. “Decisions can be made in a day.”

The nonprofit’s virtual model proved ahead of its time. In March 2020, aid requests jumped 436 percent as families needed laptops for children studying online, according to a press release.

“Because we were online, we never missed an hour,” Bader-Martin said. “People applied online, we gave out the resources from an online platform, so we could continue to work statewide without setting up a whole new system.”

Laura Joyce, an attorney who uses the online portal, said she can complete the application in under six minutes for her clients.

“It’s so straightforward,” Joyce said. “One of their biggest strengths is the fact that they’ve simplified the process.”

During the winter, she said, the department of youth services provided her client only a pair of gray, rubber sandals. After an application, One Can Help provided him with new sneakers, and Joyce has used the nonprofit ever since.

“That brings them a lot of dignity,” Joyce said.

In its early days, One Can Help managed a budget of approximately $30,000, Levenson said, and now, it’s half a million. The organization recently held a fundraiser in Waltham and accepts donations online.

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“It really went from being just a group of friends just trying to find the right way to do things to having systems and policies and staff,” Levenson said. “It’s been just incredible watching a group of friends become, over time, a real organization.”

Levenson, who is a financial adviser, said being involved with One Can Help is particularly rewarding.

Levenson said the nonprofit has minimal overhead, which means most of the money donated is budgeted for families.

“Poverty holds people back from success, and it particularly impacts people of color,” Bader-Martin said. “In the courts this is how we can address it, this is one way to do it, and this is how people in Newton banded together to do it.”

The organization receives thank you notes from attorneys and beneficiaries, including young children, and Levenson said Bader-Martin reads a few to start off board meetings.

“The juvenile court has always been really busy,” Joyce said. “It feels like a necessity. I do want One Can Help to stay around long term.”

Samuele Petruccelli can be reached at newtonreport@globe.com.