Homeowner resources: Nonprofit helps College Park widow heat her home

With Georgia finally experiencing winter-like temperatures in mid-January, Thelma Baker, 72, was thankful to have a heated home.

The New Orleans native evacuated to Atlanta with her husband in 2005 when Hurricane Katrina hit. Although her home was in a neighborhood above sea level and didn’t experience as much the damage as properties in the Lower Ninth Ward, they decided to make a fresh start in Atlanta. The couple sold their New Orleans home and settled in College Park in 2007.

They bought a 2,958-square-foot home with four bedrooms, two-and-a-half bathrooms and modern kitchen appliances that were luxuries to Baker and her husband, who grew up in poverty in New Orleans.

But when her grandson, son and husband all passed away unexpectedly in the last three years, she was left alone and struggling financially with only her small Social Security income. Baker, who suffers from arthritis, high blood pressure and had a stroke four years ago, couldn’t pay her heating bill toward the end of 2015 and was without heat for 14 days.

A neighbor told her heating assistance funds were available through community agencies. Baker called the Fulton Atlanta Community Action Authority, which connected her with the nonprofit Heating Energy Assistance Team, or H.E.A.T. (www.heatga.org, 678-406-0212). H.E.A.T. provides one-time assistance to qualifying households that have received a disconnection notice or need their heat turned back on.

“When I got it turned on, I was like a child with a new toy,” Baker said.

Janet Joseph, executive director for H.E.A.T., said the organization partners with the Georgia Division of Family and Children Services to distribute funds throughout the state, although the majority of recipients apply for assistance by calling the H.E.A.T. office.

H.E.A.T. was created by Atlanta Gas Light Co. in 1983 and became a separate nonprofit in 2000. It is now funded through private donations from Georgia citizens, organizations and companies, including Atlanta Gas Light’s parent AGL Resources and other energy corporations. In 2015, H.E.A.T. distributed $567,000 to families in need and about 21 percent of H.E.A.T’s 1,642 household recipients had an elderly person living in the home.

“It did wonders for me,” Baker said. “I really appreciate it.”

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