I live on a dead end street that is a little over a mile long. Last month I was asked to canvas the neighborhood for a political candidate who is the son of an old friend. The orientation was on a Saturday morning and shortly after noon we all departed to our various neighborhoods. I was looking forward to it being over.
I started with my neighbor across the street to practice my technique. Three hours later I arrived back at my house, hot and tired and very glad to get off my feet. There was then a cookout at the candidate’s house which gave us all a chance to report back and share experiences.
Going door to door I didn’t have a single unpleasant experience. Some people were standoffish at first, but almost everyone was friendly once I said that I also lived on the street. Most were not home and I left a note for each of them.
Even though I had only met two or three of my neighbors prior to that day we shared something in common - living on the same street - that broke the ice and created a degree of immediate trust. Even though we had never met our proximity to one another had created a sense of community in a way that had never occurred to me. And maybe some appreciated that I was participating in helping make democracy work even if they didn’t always support my candidate.
In thinking about this experience I realized that we create a sense of community in almost endless ways: having gone to the same school, raising kids, a brand of car, the same hairdresser, politics, travel… the list goes on and on. The mistrust that naturally exists between strangers almost evaporates as soon as you discover something in common. Although for me it was a long time ago, that is the essence of dating.
After my day of canvassing I am left with a need to meet and get to know many of my neighbors; this is a desire I did not have before. And it is all based on the fact that I know something that we all have in common.
There is a lot of suspicion and mistrust in America today. I am tuned in to the news and see the arguments we have in public discourse about so many things that challenge the points of view and motives of others. Trust is an important part of a society, a family, an office, a team and a community.
It has been a 40-year effort to get the Cape Cod community to trust us and the work we do at HAC and I think we have mostly succeeded. We try to be as trustworthy as we possibly can and to treat others - our clients, our supporters, businesses we work with - with forthrightness and mutual trust. If we expect them to trust us then they expect us to trust them. Until proven otherwise we do and we are the better for it.
In order to create the garden at Angel House, staff needed compost and top soil. That material was donated to the shelter by Country Garden in Hyannis.
“It was very generous for them to do and an important thing for the garden,” said master gardener Mike Almonte, who helped oversee the project with the assistance of Angel House clients.
Next year the shelter will not need any such donation as Angel House has begun its own composting program thanks to Almonte’s help. “We cleaned out their composter and now they’re taking their vegetable scraps from the kitchen and recycling it,” he said. “Now that we’ve got them composting there will be less waste going to the landfills that we can put to use for their vegetable garden.”
Learn more about the Angel House garden by clicking here.
And help to make sure programs like these continue by supporting Angel House. You can make a donation by clicking here. Your donation helps HAC treat formerly homeless women, recovering from substance abuse, and their children staying at the shelter.
Plant a seed. Water it. And eventually that seed will turn into something beautiful.
That is exactly what 33-year-old Kristy, a client at Angel House, discovered this summer when she helped to take a barren stretch of land on the shelter’s property and transformed it into a garden complete with tomatoes, zucchini, squash, green beans, cucumber, parsley, iceberg lettuce, red hot peppers and basil.
“I absolutely love it,” Kristy said. “I loved watching it grow.”
Guiding her along the way was Mike Almonte of Yarmouth Port, a master gardener that Angel House staff found through the Cape Cod Cooperative Extension and who oversaw the project, assisting with everything from soil prep to the actual planting of the vegetables.
Kristy, who is from Western Massachusetts, arrived at Angel House a little over a year ago, pregnant with her daughter Lillian, now 11 months old. “So this is my home,” Kristy said. “This here is my family.”
That “family” has taught Kristy the skills necessary to being a parent as well as the tools to overcome the emotional scars of substance abuse. As of September she had been sober for 18 months.
But Angel House gave her something more. It gave her purpose; nearly every day starting in the spring she spent time outdoors, sometimes just her, alone with some gardening tools.
“When I started, there wasn’t even grass here,” Kristy said proudly. “We dug it up with some shovels, put some compost on here,” and planted some seeds and vegetables.
The end result is something she could never have imagined. Angel House now has a thriving garden, one that nourishes clients who use the vegetables in their daily meals.
“It has absolutely brought down our food budget,” Angel House family clinician Martha Woods said.
And it has given Kristy not only a new skill – “I never gardened in my life before,” she admitted – but the knowledge that she can make a meaningful impact in her life.
Almonte hoped that Kristy, and others at Angel House, can take gardening with them once they leave the shelter. “It is something they did with their own two hands. I think it is great therapy,” he said. “They can keep a tiny garden with them wherever they go – put a tomato in one plant and a cucumber in another - and get tremendous enjoyment from that.”
“I think growing a garden is a metaphor for recovery,” said Angel House case manager Darby Moynagh. “If you plant a seed it will grow into a vegetable. And as a woman she is having her own growth. The most important thing this gave Kristy is the confidence that she can be successful.”
|Jan Nelson presents Adrienne Gonsalves with a mock-up of the check she received in August as reward for her completion of the Family Self-Sufficiency program.
Like most people Adrienne Gonsalves has long-wanted to have a home to call her own. In March, she took a major step toward attaining that goal when she graduated from HAC’s Family Self-Sufficiency (FSS) program which provides financial incentives for those receiving federal and state assistance to increase their salaries.
After four years in the program, Gonsalves earned just over $18,000 that included her own savings along with money provided to her by the government.
In May, the 36-year-old Gonsalves, whose daughter Torienne attends Barnstable High School, was featured in a HACbeat article that detailed how her completion of the FSS program was about to make her dream of homeownership become a reality.
Gonsalves returned to HAC in August to claim an additional reward for her hard work, a $5,000 check from the Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development that went towards her down payment and closing costs for a home in Cotuit she purchased later that month.
“It is so exciting,” said Gonsalves, unable to hide her smile.
When asked about the place she would be moving into shortly, she said, “I love it. It will be home to me. It looks like a little dollhouse. It is so cute.”
Gonsalves worked with Gael Kelleher in HAC’s real estate division to find the home.
And she was the beneficiary of a new state program that provides an additional $5,000 to those who complete the FSS program and are purchasing their first home. She represents the first client that Jan Nelson, the administrator for HAC’s FSS program, has worked with who has taken advantage of this benefit.
She is also only the second client in the past seven years that Nelson has overseen FSS to ever purchase a home.
“Just to see the strides Adrienne has made is incredible,” Nelson said, highlighting the power behind the FSS program. “I think people are so in awe that somebody cares for them enough to give them this money.”
And as the one who serves as the bearer of that good news, Nelson could not be happier. “I really do have the best job,” she said.
|Harry Petersen at his home in South Yarmouth.
“Without their help I don’t know if I could do this,” Harry Petersen said as eight total strangers landscaped his yard, painted trim on his house and tiled his bathroom shower on a seasonably warm Saturday morning in mid-September.
These days the affable 72-year-old South Yarmouth resident, who had worked in automobile and truck sales in Connecticut, does not move around like he once used to. Seated on a strolling walker with one hand clutching a cane, Petersen admitted that he suffers from spinal stenosis.
To the layman that means, “I have constant pain in my back all the time,” he said. “I can’t do this type of work anymore.”
Petersen, who has called Cape Cod home for the past 21 years, was not unlike the 10 other Yarmouth residents who were the recipients of this year’s Big Fix. All elderly, most can no longer do the minor tasks that go into owning a home.
As HAC CEO Frederic (Rick) B. Presbrey noted earlier in the day during a welcoming reception at the Mattacheese Middle School, people like Petersen were initially who the nonprofit was trying to help when it started the Big Fix in 2010. “The original idea for this came out of our knowledge of the senior community on Cape Cod,” he told the 223 volunteers from throughout Cape Cod who showed up for the day of service. “We have a lot of seniors who live in their homes. They’re getting older and they don’t have the capacity to get a lot of little things done.”
So that first year HAC took the Big Fix to Barnstable where it helped make minor improvements to 22 homes. It has since been to Sandwich, Dennis and Mashpee before coming to Yarmouth this year. And while seniors were the initial focus HAC has added veterans and the disabled to the list of people it helps through the program.
|Donald and Elaine Lang, joined by their dog Mango, stand outside their South Yarmouth home with their Big Fix team.
These are people like World War II veteran Donald Lang and his wife Elaine of South Yarmouth, who saw the trim on their home and picket fence painted and their flower beds mulched. The work could not have come at a better time for the couple who have been struck by hardship this year, having lost a daughter, Donna, in July, and their cat, Orbit, shortly thereafter.
“We were just so sad this summer and then this happened,” said 87-year-old Elaine, who has been married to her husband for 68 years.
The couple’s wedding anniversary was in August, but Elaine said, “we were too sad to celebrate because our daughter died in July.”
So the Big Fix brought them more than just home repairs. It brought them happiness.
“It isn’t easy getting old,” said 90-year-old Phyllis Van Lare, who watched volunteers remove brush from her yard. To show her thanks she baked them chocolate chip and molasses cookies.
|Phyllis Van Lare was so appreciative of the help she baked chocolate chip and molasses cookies for volunteers.
Even without the sweet treats, volunteers would have been more than willing to do the work. Most, like twins Grace and Olivia Kilroy, sophomores at Barnstable High School, did so altruistically; they were volunteering in memory of their grandmother Elizabeth Warren, a former HAC board member and longtime supporter of the agency, who passed away in May.
There were HAC board members like Rana Murphy, HAC employees like Nancy Davison, teams from AmeriCorps Cape Cod and families like the O’Brien’s of Bourne, who all showed up out of the goodness of their hearts.
“This is a great event because you are able to help people,” said Lawrence O’Brien, as he was surrounded by his children Savannah, 16, Benjamin, 15, and Jackson, 14.
And that may be the most important part of the Big Fix which was summed up by Yarmouth Recreation Director Patricia Armstrong in addressing the volunteers. “Remember that someday this could be you that needs a helping hand,” she said. “And remember how it felt to be able to give to someone in need and relish that thought. And enjoy what you’re doing because there aren’t a lot of people fulfilling their Saturday morning the way you are.”
Next year the Big Fix will take place on Saturday, September 12 in the town of Bourne. Click here for more information.
Nearly 225 volunteers took part in this year’s Big Fix in Yarmouth, each with their own reason for helping complete strangers on a seasonably warm Saturday in September.
These included eight children from Boy Scout Troop 36 in Mashpee (the site of last year’s Big Fix), a former client of the NOAH Shelter, a handful of town officials from Yarmouth and more than two dozen members of AmeriCorps Cape Cod.
Here is a snapshot of a few other volunteers who made our 5th Annual Big Fix one of the most successful yet.
As owner of the West Yarmouth landscaping company Gail’s Gardens, Benson was a perfect fit for the Big Fix where she spent a few hours helping to improve Donald and Elaine Lang’s South Yarmouth yard.
Though this was her first time volunteering for the event, she has participated in similar events in Central Massachusetts. Her experience this year was so rewarding that she promised the Lang’s she would return, free of charge, to ensure their yard was well maintained.
The award for volunteer who traveled the farthest goes to Hubbard who flew in from Bremen, Georgia, to take part in the event.
Hubbard, who visits the Cape regularly, read about the Big Fix online and planned her vacation around the day of service. “I was looking for some kind of opportunity to help out with housing on Cape Cod,” she said, noting that the Big Fix is special because the results of one’s labor are both tangible and immediate.
“I thought this was enjoyable and it was so well organized,” Hubbard said. “It is just amazing what 30 people can do in two hours time.”
The Kuchar Family
“We do this every year,” Brian Kuchar said proudly as his wife Christine and their two children, Jack, 13, and Caroline, 11, introduced themselves to homeowners Donald and Elaine Lang.
“This is important for community outreach,” Brian said, before touching upon how the Big Fix has personal significance to him. “My mother she is 83 and we would hope someone would do this for her if she needed the help… It is a lot of upkeep to own a house. When we get older we may need someone to help us because it can be too much.”
“I did this just to help out our senior citizens,” said the assistant manager of the Yarmouth Port branch of the Cooperative Bank of Cape Cod.
In the process, LoSapio, a native of New Jersey who moved to Cape Cod three years ago, found a kindred spirit in homeowner Harry Petersen of South Yarmouth. Both are diehard New York Yankees and New York Jets fans.
Despite being in enemy territory the pair had a chance to celebrate their common bond before LoSapio returned to landscaping Petersen’s front yard.
This represented the first time the HAC board member had volunteered for the Big Fix and outside of recipient Michael King’s home in South Yarmouth, she was busy clearing brush. “This is one of the most important events for HAC and as a board member I wanted to see what it is all about,” she said.
She was impressed with the number of volunteers who came out to help those like Mr. King, 68, a former school teacher who admitted it would be difficult for him to physically do the work or financially be able to pay someone to do it for him.
Twice he has fallen in his own house, leading to hip surgery about a year ago. “I appreciate the people coming to do this,” Mr. King said while sitting in a chair in the living room which had just received new carpeting, the result of the Big Fix.
Over the past three years the Big Fix has become a family affair for the O’Brien’s. This year dad Lawrence was joined by his children Savannah, 16, a student at Cape Cod Community College, Benjamin, 15, a sophomore at Upper Cape Cod Regional Technical School and Jackson, 14, a freshman at Upper Cape Tech.
“This is a great event because you are able to help people,” said Lawrence, who accepted the Big Fix hammer on behalf of the town of Bourne from Mary Ann Gray, a member of the Yarmouth Rotary Club.
“I love coming here and meeting people,” Savannah said. “Everyone is so appreciative to receive help.”
Want to support Housing Assistance Corporation (HAC) while enjoying a delicious meal at the same time?
This month you can thanks to generosity of Not Your Average Joe's. Located at the Cape Cod Mall, the popular Hyannis restaurant will be donating 15 percent of all purchases made every Tuesday during the month of October to HAC.
So clear your schedules for tonight and the next three Tuesdays (October 14; October 21; and October 28) and gather your friends or bring your family for an enjoyable meal that will not only satisfy your appetite, but will make a positive impact on your neighbors here on Cape Cod.
All you need to do is print out the flyer below and present it to your server.
“This is absolutely critical to us,” said Paul Hebert, executive director of CHAMP Homes, said when asked about the importance of Friday’s Taste and See event at Oyster Harbors Club.
The dinner, now in its 13th year, allows attendees the chance to sample an eclectic offering of food from around Cape Cod as 24 local restaurants provide samples of their tastiest dishes.
The highlight of the night, HAC CEO Rick Presbrey said, is the Give a Bed, Create a Dream auction in which attendees purchase the cost of sheltering a homeless person for a night. “It always feels good to see that people would pay for a stranger to spend a night at a homeless shelter,” he said.
Beyond that, he said, the evening is an enjoyable one. “The food is especially good, there are always a lot of people and the venue is beautiful,” he said. “It is always nice to see the community coming together to help people less fortunate than themselves.”
The event was started by Father Mark R. Hession, the former pastor at Our Lady of Victory Parish in Centerville who has since moved on to Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church in Seekonk.
Funds raised go to benefit HAC’s NOAH Shelter, CHAMP Homes in Hyannis, and the Pilot House in Hyannis. Last year’s Give a Bed auction raised roughly $50,000 for these three organizations’ shelter efforts. “Clearly, there is a homeless crisis on the Cape,” Father Hession said. “You don’t really think about it being a problem on the Cape, but there is that invisible community and they are real people who are looking for a way to move on and out of shelter care and have their dignity restored.”
While this year’s Taste and See is sold out people can still support the event by making a Give a Bed donation that will ensure the Cape's homeless have a safe place to stay at night by clicking this link.
| Is it safe? Noah cautiously touches a live horseshoe crab held by science instructor Kim Torres.
Officially summer did not start until June 21, but three days beforehand a group of more than a dozen parents and their children got a jump start on the hectic tourist season inside the confines of the community room at HAC’s family shelter the Village at Cataumet.
Though there was no sand or ocean water, the setting had all the signs of what summer means to many here on Cape Cod: the beach.
That was all due to a few unusual visitors – a horseshoe crab and several hermit crabs – that made their way into the HAC shelter thanks to a grant the Massachusetts Department of Early Education and Care awarded to the Bourne Early Childhood Council.
That money paid for a hands-on educational session led by Kim Torres, owner of the Chatham-based company Elements, Etc., which allowed children of all ages to get close and personal with a few lively sea creatures along with some much softer stuffed ones as well.
The most entertaining part of the hour and a half long workshop were the actual animals that Torres brought with her straight from Pleasant Bay.
The horseshoe crab was first as Torres gave some key facts about it before placing it on a small blue tarp in the center of the room where it maneuvered around the small feet of children standing over it.
“See the long tail?” she asked.
“Yeah!” the kids screamed.
“Everyone thinks there is poison in it, but there is not,” she said, explaining that the tail is used by the horseshoe crab as a swimming mechanism.
“This is the way to hold him,” she said, with her hands on the side of the animal.
Though horseshoe crabs look “scary,” Torres said, “they are very gentle.”
And they are important to humans, currently being used as part of cancer research. “We are close to finding a cure for cancer because of their blood,” Torres said.
Torres also showcased much smaller hermit crabs which Paula Mallard, director of the Village at Cataumet, shied away from. “Those are creepy,” Mallard laughed. “I can touch the other one, but those are just creepy.”
Even some children – like Krista Hansen’s one-year-old son Noah - were initially reluctant to get too close to the animals. Eventually, Noah summoned up the courage to touch the horseshoe crab’s shell.
“That little one, he was scared during the first part of the show,” Torres said later. “It is nice to see them overcome that fear and get excited and actually learn more about science.”
Hansen, whose four-year-old son Matthew also took part in the educational workshop, was thrilled to see her kids interacting with real creatures found on Cape beaches. “I love this,” she said. “It is cool to see my kids having fun.”
At one point she even got in the act, touching the horseshoe crab after which she joked, “I want one as a pet now.”
Along with the live animals Torres had a variety of dried and stuffed animals on display including a sea star, sponges and a plush horseshoe crab. And she gave children the opportunity to color a picture of a seahorse as well as a shark.
“I think this is great,” Mallard said. “The kids are having fun and it is educational.”
The fact that children enjoyed the experience was a reward for Torres who hoped this may inspire them to explore their natural surroundings. “Most kids don’t know this is out there and that these are animals they are living with,” she said, adding that through classes like this, “they can appreciate nature and start to notice the stuff around them.”
Technically, when Derick Bussiere started working at HAC in April as a housing search specialist he was considered a new employee. But to many he was a familiar face thanks to his longtime involvement in the nonprofit as a volunteer.
The Dennis native is probably best known for his musical contributions to past HAC events. He is currently the drummer for the band Twenty Eight which has performed at the Cape Walk to End Homelessness, the Volunteer Recognition Dinner and on HAC’s 4th of July parade floats.
Along with Twenty Eight, Bussiere has lent his talents to FYI (Free Your Imagination), his father David Bussiere’s band which has also played at several HAC functions.
Derick’s connection to HAC started over 12 years ago when his mother, Deanna Bussiere, the nonprofit’s event and resource development coordinator, was hired. His first days volunteering were spent helping HAC with mailings, including folding this same newsletter he is featured in this month.
His involvement in HAC activities quickly expanded to events ranging from the NOAH Shelter Telethon to the Golf Day to End Homelessness.
His mother recalled that both Derick and her younger son Devin took part in a Fun Day for all the shelters in which children worked on arts and crafts. When the pair came home Derick told his mother that one of the boys he had been working with that day did not have a home to call his own. “I let them both know ‘You should be so grateful for what you have,’” Deanna said.
It is a lesson that Derick, who holds a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from the University of Massachusetts Boston, has kept with him to this day. His resume includes stints at the Department of Youth Services Metro Pretrial Unit and Massachusetts Mentor, where he worked with children with a host of personal issues.
Those experiences gave him an insight into how adults can find themselves in similar situations. His job at HAC is to provide not only a sense of hope to clients, but a real mechanism by which their lives can change for the better. “My job is to put a roof over somebody’s head,” he said.
He acknowledged that some cases are more difficult than others, but he has been buoyed by the successes he has had so far. That happened with one homeless woman who had been staying at the NOAH Shelter and sleeping on nearby beaches.
“She had been physically and mentally abused and had gotten kicked out of her house,” Derick said. “Just three days after she came in we were able to get her assistance and place her in a home... I gave her a call the other day and she was doing really well and had started a garden at the place. She seems to be getting back on track which is good.”
These type of stories are heartwarming to his mother who praised Derick for the compassion and empathy he has shown for HAC clients. “I’ve listened to other colleagues telling me, ‘My goodness your son is such a great addition to HAC,’” she said. “I’m so proud of his accomplishments and the man he has become today.”