Janet Hawkes, director of the Hugh Doyle Resource Center, at Dunkin Donuts in Newburyport.

NEWBURYPORT — People in need in Newburyport are one step closer to getting help because of a woman named Janet Hawkes.

Hawkes is the executive director of the Hugh Doyle Resource Center, an organization started in 2006 to act as a centralized hub for individuals and families needing financial help and support during times of crisis.

"My passion has always been to help the underdog. I love to be able to empower people," said Hawkes, 46, an upbeat, gregarious leader who serves as the starting point for people seeking guidance.

The group is named after Hugh Doyle, a local attorney who died about a year after he and Hawkes began informally making home visits to needy people as part of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul at Immaculate Conception Church. "He was a very classy, wonderful, giving man," Hawkes said.

Initially run through the Pettengill House, a social services agency in Salisbury, the center in 2008 became an independent nonprofit. Hawkes is its only salaried employee and spends 20 hours a week meeting with clients and arranging services such as rental assistance, electric bills, car repairs, meals, clothing, tutoring, medical equipment and job counseling.

"We can get them the help they need, whatever it may be. Because of this amazing network, there's no way to fail," Hawkes said.

Last year, the center helped more than 150 families, more than double in previous years, she said. In order to organize the community's needs, Hawkes and other Hugh Doyle board members formed a Community Collaborative. The group is comprised of representatives from local service agencies and religious groups who meet monthly at the Hope Church on Hale Street to communicate specific community needs and to pool resources.

"It's a networking support group of all of these agencies to share information. It's so powerful," she said.

In order to "level the playing field," Hawkes meets with clients to find out their needs at a neutral location such as Dunkin' Donuts. Then using her connections and a resource guide published by Pennies For Poverty: 2 Cents 4 Change, she is able to refer people to organizations that can help.

One of her proudest accomplishments is helping to form a tenants council for the 42 families at Kelleher Park, a subsidized housing community on Storey Avenue. With the support of the Hugh Doyle Resource Center, families living there are advocating for a sanitary garbage service and a safe playground.

Later this year, Hawkes will hand over the helm of the organization to a new leader. Board member Ingrid Cyros will serve as interim director for Hawkes, who in August is embarking on a new adventure with her family and moving to Boulder, Colo., for a year.

"She's provided such a positive and contagious energy and I hope to continue to do that," said Cyros, a member of Old South Church who is studying to earn a master's degree in divinity. "I see it as an exciting time and exciting work that's never completely static."

Hawkes and her family have lived in Newburyport for more than 10 years, coming here from San Francisco where Hawkes coordinated a similar effort for the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. She and her husband, Andy, have two children, 10 and 13.

With a master's degree in education, Hawkes has always been involved with her children's schools and even has experience running her own preschool and camps starting from when she was a teenager in South Salem, N.Y., where she was born and raised.

Marianne Katavolos met Hawkes about eight years ago at a Newburyport playground where their children were playing. The two became friends and started a local grass-roots preschool and summer camp for their own kids and their friends.

"I've seen firsthand the wonderful outcome of her helping someone. It's remarkable. She goes above and beyond," Katavolos said. "Knowing her for a long time, it's something that's innate. She's done this her whole life."

Regardless of where Hawkes lives, it's clear her community is important to her. Asked if she might start an initiative similar to Hugh Doyle's in Boulder, she said, "It's an incredible model."

Her friend Katavolos added, "The community will feel a loss ... but she would never let (the center) fall through the cracks."

The Community Collaborative meets the first Wednesday of the month at 12:30 p.m. at Hope Community Church, 11 Hale St., Newburyport. Visit www.hughdoyle.org for more information.

Did you know?

Janet Hawkes was president of the Parents Alliance at River Valley Charter School in Newburyport for two years.

As a teenager in New York, Hawkes ran a day camp with her sister and earned half the money needed to attend college at University of Delaware.

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