Raised by a single-mother on a housekeeper’s salary, Wilson Kennedy, CFE, MBA knows what it’s like to rely on assistance programs for basic needs like food and water.

“Everything we could qualify for – Food Stamps, Section 8 Housing, Medicare, you name it – we did,” remembers Wilson. “And because those programs helped me and my family, I want to help others.”

As the lead for the City of San Diego Help to Others San Diego (H2O SD) Program, Wilson is doing just that. He is one of the key players in the City’s Public Utilities Department heading the new program that aims to help low-income San Diegans keep water flowing in their homes.

We recently spoke to Wilson to learn more about H2O SD, the value it provides San Diegans and its long-term sustainability.

Interview with H2O SD Program Manager Wilson Kennedy

TSDF: Wilson, can you provide a general overview of the H2O SD Program?

Wilson Kennedy: The H2O SD Program launched June 30. It will help San Diegans pay their water bills by providing low-income residents with up to a $100 credit once per year throughout the next three fiscal years.

After researching 21 national agencies that provide similar programs, the City found that 3 to 4 percent of customers typically enroll in water assistance programs, which would be between 7,500 and 10,000 people in San Diego.

For the first three years of this program, we have committed to helping a minimum of 500 families. Our ultimate goal is to make sure that San Diegans are not left without drinking water.

TSDF: How can San Diegans apply for this program?

WK: We’ve partnered with 2-1-1 San Diego to qualify eligible households for assistance with their water bills. If you qualify for the SDGE CARE Program, you will probably qualify for H2O SD, too. To see if you do, call 2-1-1 San Diego by dialing 2-1-1.

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TSDF: How is the program funded?

WK: Without our partnership with The San Diego Foundation and 2-1-1 San Diego, we wouldn’t even have this program. Because we are a government-run entity, the only way we can fund this program is through tax-deductible, private donations. By setting up a non-endowment fund with The San Diego Foundation, we made that possible.

We received initial donations from Service Line Warranties of America and Qualcomm totaling $160,000, which really jump started the program and expedited the timeline.

I’m very passionate about this program, and I wanted to put my money where my mouth was, so I was the first person to donate by giving $500. My daughter, who is a senior in high school and doesn’t have a job, donated $20 online from money she earned from getting good grades.

So, we all can do it. For example, City employees have already donated more than $2,000 since the program was unanimously approved by City Council.

If 15,000 San Diegans gave just $10, that’s $150,000. That would help approximately 1,500 families, and that would be a good start for our program.

TSDF: How can San Diegans get involved?

WK: We need more donations from people, philanthropists and companies to keep this program going into the future. Like I said, this program is funded through private donations only. Tax deductible donations can be made on The San Diego Foundation website.

Another way people can help spread awareness is by getting involved in the #H2OSDChallenge by either donating $10 to the program or posting a video of yourself doing a circuit of at least three exercises as you drink hydrating tap water. Folks are getting a kick out of my mom, who is almost 75, accepting and conquering our challenge.

To learn more about H2O SD, visit sandiego.gov/H2Osd.

Support H2O SD Today

Name the H2O SD Mascot

H2O San Diego Mascot

This photo represents a conceptual mascot that is yet to be finalized. Photo Credit: GRAPHICSBYDRE.com.

What do you think the Public Utilities mascot should be named?

The City is accepting name recommendations for the H2O SD mascot. Get together with the kids in your family and share your recommendations in the comments below!