RI Radio Host Shares Experience with Good Neighbor Energy Fund

By Jennifer Bray

Twenty years ago, Phil Marlowe was working his dream job as a radio host for station WWRX in Rhode Island.

It was an exciting time. His wife was pregnant, and they had just bought a new used Volvo. As he and his wife were happily planning for their future family, life took a turn for the worse.

“I was let go from WWRX when a new management team came in,” said Marlowe. “I wound up out of work, my wife was pregnant, and we were going into the holidays – that period was pretty scary,” he said.

According to Phil, they were in a rough patch. They received a gift from their church. The Warwick Central Baptist Church provided them a turkey with all of the fixings for Thanksgiving. But they still had to heat their home.

That’s when Phil applied to the Good Neighbor Energy Fund.

“I had to apply, no one wants to go through that and feel alone,” Marlowe said.  “This is really a safety net for people.”

The Good Neighbor Energy Fund (GNEF) is available to any Rhode Islander who, because of financial difficulty, needs assistance paying a current energy expense and meets eligibility guidelines.

Administered by the United Way of Rhode Island, the fund is supported by donations coming from the general public, local community organizations and businesses, like long-time sponsor National Grid.

Since 1986, the Fund has helped 46,000 Rhode Island households stay warm by raising over $14.6 million. The fundraising goal for the 2019-20 “Warm Thy Neighbor” campaign is $350,000.

Sponsoring electric, gas, and oil companies support their customers’ generosity through various giving programs

For Phil and his wife, they were given assistance by the GNEF and that meant enough oil to heat their home through that cold winter.

“The gift of the GNEF allowed us to worry about one less thing,” said Marlowe.  “Every bill at that time seemed too much to pay on my wife’s salary and so the couple of hundred dollars we got seemed like a Godsend,” he said.

While the winter has been relatively mild this year, the GNEF has still helped 220 families in Rhode Island since November.

National Grid’s Marisa Albanese, who serves on the GNEF steering committee, recently did an interview with Marlowe on his show on radio station WCTK-FM. She said the warmer weather has let the fund build up a cushion of $80,000. “We have a good donor base and we are always looking to take care of people who need us,” Albanese said. She has worked on the GNEF committee for more than 20 years, as have several others from National Grid.

The GNEF is one-time only grant and the amount given varies, based on individual circumstances. According to Albanese, they find when people apply for the GNEF grant, they are often connected to other social services that can provide help in different sectors.

“We know that particularly our elderly population doesn’t like to ask for help, but they can be connected to 211 confidentially.” Dialing 211 helps direct callers to services for, among others, the elderly, the disabled, those who do not speak English, those with a personal crisis, those with limited reading skills, and those who are new to their communities.

“Every penny of the GNEF goes back to the Rhode Island community and the United Way makes sure the money goes out to those that need it as quickly as possible,” said Albanese.

For Marlowe and his wife, that help from GNEF made a big difference when they needed  it most.

“The gift of the GNEF allowed us to worry about one less thing,” said Marlowe.  “Every bill at that time seemed too much to pay on my wife’s salary and so the couple of hundred dollars we got seemed like a Godsend,” he said.

He and his wife have donated to GNEF to help other families in need. Marlowe also shares his story on his radio program for WCTK.

“Hopefully, my story can show people that there is a safety net for folks whose situation has taken a dramatic turn,” Marlowe said.  “Folks need to know the Fund is there with the resources to help people when something impacts them financially.”