Grassroots volunteer program helping neighbors in need

Grassroots volunteer program helping neighbors in need

Julio Betancur, a Pawtucket native and resident of New York Avenue in Cumberland, has started an initiative to help his Monastery Heights neighbors and says he is hoping it spreads to other neighborhoods. (Breeze photos by Ethan Shorey)

CUMBERLAND – Julio Betancur is ready to help any of his neighbors in need.

Betancur, who lives on New York Avenue in Cumberland, has started Neighbor to Neighbor, a local volunteer group for residents in the Bear Hill Road/Hines Road area who need assistance.

Volunteer residents can assist with small, light-duty tasks such as cleaning up after storms, clearing snow from walkways, moving light furniture, mowing lawns, and running errands to the grocery store, pharmacy, and more.

“For the longest time, I’ve been helping people,” Betancur, who was born in Colombia and grew up in Pawtucket, told The Breeze.

His primary focus is to help residents who are elderly, sick, or who live alone, but he’s happy to assist anyone in need, he said.

Betancur, who’s lived in his home for more than 22 years, said he’s been helping his neighbors for a few years but noticed an increased need during the COVID-19 pandemic with more people, especially elderly individuals, afraid to leave their houses.

“I volunteered for some of them,” he said, by offering to buy them groceries and whatever other tasks they needed done.

Over the years, he’s seen the neighborhood transform from older people to younger people and back to older people. “People are aging. They need help,” he said.

One neighbor, for example, calls him up every so often and asks him to pick up a few boxes of clothing to drop off at a Providence shelter.

While neighbors can reach out to him directly, he said some of them might not want to ask for help. He’s been asking neighbors if they know anyone who needs assistance and then reaching out himself.

He’s also recruited a few younger neighbors to help him. “We’re pretty much grassroots,” he said, servicing the streets around their homes. “We’re not trying to be everything to everyone.”

The more volunteers, the merrier, he said. “You can’t have too much help.”

Michael Howarth, who lives on Alaska Street, is one of the neighbors who has agreed to volunteer to help Betancur.

Howarth, who moved to Cumberland with his wife and kids a little more than a year ago, said it was in getting to know his neighbors that he met Betancur who asked him if he’d be interested in helping.

“I like the idea of helping people who are isolated, who may not have loved ones who are close to them or even in the state,” Howarth said, adding that he hopes his children will also get involved in helping others.

When his family moved to the neighborhood, he said, their intention was to stay for at least 20 years if not the rest of their lives. “The program is an extension of our investment in the community,” he said.

Betancur said he absolutely encourages others to launch a similar program on their own streets or in their neighborhoods. “Look out for others, people who live alone (or are) elderly or sick,” he said. “Some people may be too shy to ask for help.”

Another neighborhood initiative Betancur said he likes to do is go around and clean up the neighborhood every other week, noting that after trash day sometimes items fall off the trucks and don’t get picked up. He also likes to keep the brook that goes by his house clean, he said.

Betancur said he loves his area of town. “It’s probably the best neighborhood in Cumberland,” he said. “We look out for each other’s properties and watch the neighborhood.”

To volunteer or for assistance, call Betancur at 401-365-8359.

Michael Howarth, pictured here with daughter Elizabeth and dog Willow at their Alaska Street home in Cumberland, has joined Julio Betancur’s initiative to help their Monastery Heights neighbors.


Thank you Mr. Betancur! You are an inspiration and an awesome person. Our community is better off with you, Mr. Howarth, and other people like you in it.