LAWRENCE — When Katti Matias’ apartment on East Haverhill Street went up in flames 12 years ago, she felt alone and forgotten because no one offered help to her and her children who were all under the age of six.
Things were different in 2012 when the two-story house she lived in on Lafayette Street was destroyed in a fire a few days before Christmas.
This time, Wayne Hayes and Juan “Manny” Gonzalez of Heal Lawrence approached Matias and asked what she needed. After renting an apartment on Andover Street, volunteers through Heal Lawrence donated living sets, bedding, television sets, linens and clothing.
“It restored my faith in humanity,” Matias said, holding back the tears. “I was just getting over from the last fire, so their help was a blessing for me. It felt like when a child is hurt and crying and his mother comes to comfort him.”
This is the mission of Heal Lawrence: to help those who need it most, but that is not how it started out. The group formed in 2011 as an offshoot of a political group that sought to unseat Mayor William Lantigua during three unsuccessful recall efforts.
While they believed recalling Lantigua was best for the city, the group realized that to truly heal Lawrence they had to bring people together. Under the leadership of Mount Verson Neighborhood Association President Wayne Hayes and veteran Lawrence Firefighter Juan “Manny” Gonzalez, Heal Lawrence has a new goal of unifying Anglos and Hispanics, to be a clearinghouse of information, increase membership in the city’s neighborhood groups, and host drives to help out those who need it most in the city. Hayes said the group is now a nonprofit organization, not a political action committee.
“To me, Heal Lawrence means a fresh start,” said Gonzalez, who moved to Lawrence as a teenager. “People always see such a dark cloud over the city, but healing is what we need to make things get better.”