EAST NEW YORK — As the winter cold sets in, Keisha Martin is determined to share the holiday cheer not just with her loved ones but with those who need it the most. That’s why the local singer-songwriter partnered with the Help Women’s Center in East New York at 116 Williams Avenue to organize a holiday party for its homeless clients.
The Help Women’s Center serves about 229 single adult women who are homeless. The shelter’s clients are women who “come from all walks of life.” Some of them are victims of domestic violence, some suffer from mental disabilities, and some of them are transgender.
“This [holiday party] will uplift the spirits of the women here that come in,” Toya Coleman, the center’s executive director, said of the event’s significance. “Maybe they are a victim of domestic violence, maybe they lost their child, just became homeless, and are feeling down. This is the season to be jolly.”
Martin, a long-time Brooklyn resident, who recently moved to affordable housing in Manhattan, has been busy preparing essentials to put on the festivities for the women under the shelter’s care this December. And when she says a party, she means the works: delicious food, live music, gifts, and a cheerfully decorated event hall.
“When we leave [the center], we want to make an impact,” Martin said. “Sometimes people feel like they’re invisible when they’re homeless. This is another reason why I’m constantly doing this because, you know, I’ve been there.”
Originally from Kingston, Jamaica, Martin migrated to the U.S. with her family when she was nine years old. When her grandmother was diagnosed with dementia four years ago, she used up her financial resources so her grandmother wouldn’t end up in an adult care facility. That’s when Martin lost her own home.
“It’s a small sacrifice for somebody who did so much for me,” said Martin, who calls her late grandmother her “shero.” Martin and her two children have fortunately regained stability in their lives since then. “She’s the reason why I do what I do.”
In 2013, Martin founded Artists Alliance For Education which partners with schools in Jamaica and the U.S. to provide supplies and workshops for low-income students. Her advocacy for children’s education and women’s welfare led her to form the non-profit group Queen For A Lifetime to support her philanthropic work. She is in the process of collecting enough funds to register as an official non-profit organization.
Now, she wants to make sure those who are still without a home this winter can have something to look forward to during the holiday, even if only for a day.
So far, Martin has received donations of prepared food from local businesses like Topaze Restaurant and Cammie’s Cupcakes, cash donations, and gifts for the shelter’s women. Live music will be provided by Martin and her music director Gary Higgins in addition to a few local reggae artists who have agreed to volunteer their time.
Despite the outpouring of support from the community, the event is still short of its donation goals.
“My biggest thing right now is to… walk in that building and have 200 gifts for these women,” Martin said. “I want to give something to each woman to let them know that, yes, this is a holiday, we care. You have a community of people that care about your existence no matter what it is that you’re going through.”
Martin has collected 70 gifts thus far.
Those interested in donating practical gifts, like beauty products or winter attire, or would like to volunteer for the women’s shelter holiday party, you can reach Keisha Martin directly by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or through her mobile phone at (646) 377-4081.
Money donations can be made through a money order or a check to Help USA for Help Women’s Center Brooklyn, which can be mailed or dropped off at the organization’s head office at 115 E 13th Street in Manhattan.
Donors for the holiday party are encouraged to stop by the center at 116 Williams Avenue during the event held from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. on December 16. It’s all about human interaction, Martin said, and a little bit goes a long way.
“I want [donors] to be able to give their own gift away because it’s an experience,” Martin said. “The feeling you get when you exchange and give up yourself unselfishly without any expectations of anything in return, it is an amazing feeling.”