|Dan McCullough (from left) of Team M25, Rick Presbrey and Darin Weeks of the Cape Cod Five pose for a photo at HAC’s main office.
In Bourne, Maura Dankert occasionally runs into children who once lived in shelter at The Village at Cataumet where she has been organizing birthday parties for them over the past six years. “One little girl calls me, ‘the birthday lady,’” Dankert laughed. “I’ve been called so many things and that is the best.”
To be associated with the charitable work you do to help others is one of life’s greatest satisfactions. And on Thursday, April 9, HAC will recognize the work of “the birthday lady” and several others on Cape Cod who have devoted themselves to addressing the region’s housing issues as part of its 41st Annual Meeting & Volunteer Recognition.
“I always look forward to the annual meeting,” HAC CEO Rick Presbrey said. “It is a celebration of what we have achieved in the past year and, in this case, the past 41 years… And it’s always nice to give out awards to recognize people for the work they do with housing on Cape Cod and the Islands.”
Dankert will join Sandwich’s Darin Weeks, a mortgage loan officer from Cape Cod Five, as HAC’s Volunteers of the Year. “I feel completely honored and wasn’t expecting this,” Dankert said. “I feel like I don’t do enough and I feel like I can do more, and we can do more.”
What she has done is provide families at The Village at Cataumet with a sense of normalcy by providing them with cake, ice cream, juice boxes, wrapped presents and a craft as a way to celebrate a child’s birthday. “I feel like they have so many stressors that if I can provide a happy time for an hour and a half where the family is engaged and there are lots of smiles, it’s the least I can do,” she said.
Weeks’ contributions to HAC have been felt for over a decade. He has taught classes at HAC’s first-time homebuyer workshops, serving as an expert for clients who may not know what to expect when purchasing a home on Cape Cod. “There’s no better feeling than helping someone get their first home,” Weeks said.
The Hyannis Main Street Business Improvement District (BID) has been selected as the 2014 Business Partner of the Year. The organization has been instrumental in the creation and implementation of the Day Center at NOAH.
|Matt Pitta (left) of WXTK will once again serve as the MC for this year's annual meeting.
Elizabeth Wurfbain, executive director of the BID, was pleased with the relationship that has developed between HAC, her organization and several other community groups in pushing the day center program forward. “We all are a part of this change and I think if we want to see the change, we have to be the change,” she said, stressing that improving what goes on at NOAH is a priority for the BID. “The ability to help treat the homeless is bigger than you can imagine… It is really important not just to Hyannis, but all of Cape Cod.”
Perhaps no organization does more to help the homeless than Team M25 and next month that nonprofit will be recognized with the Human Services Partner Award. Formed seven years ago, M25 is currently run by Dan McCullough and Maureen Carser who care for the Cape’s homeless living outdoors by providing them with the necessary goods – socks, coats, boots, gloves, tents and food – and services they need to survive.
The Rewards of Helping the Homeless
The work has been immensely gratifying for McCullough, who is a columnist for the Cape Cod Times, a medical ethicist for Cape Cod Hospital and a philosophy and religion professor at Cape Cod Community College. “I’ve gotten a lot more from these people than they’ve taken from me,” he said. “I know - this is not just a Hallmark card - how blessed and fortunate I am. A lot of people pay thousands of dollars to psychiatrists to be convinced things are not as bad as they are. I get that for free every day by working with my people.”
The 2014 Presbrey Public Service Award is going to Brewster’s Paul Ruchinskas, who recently retired as the Cape Cod Commission’s affordable housing specialist.
He and his wife of 42 years, Loretta, moved to Cape Cod in 2001. “Literally going over the bridge and being near or around the water has a soothing effect on the soul,” he said. “I’ve always regarded the Cape as a very, very special place.”
His work with the commission played a role in helping the Cape to retain that character as he administered and managed the county’s HOME Program, utilizing federal and state funds to support affordable development in the region. “I’m proud of the fact the Barnstable County HOME Consortium helped create 1,300 affordable units in the region over its history,” he said. “And I’m most pleased to have played a very small role in helping to make that happen.”
Ruchinskas has been a strong proponent of affordable housing because, “it is a character, quality-of-the-Cape kind of issue. Something every decent society should do is make sure housing is available for folks who live there and work there.”
To attend this year's Annual Meeting & Volunteer Recognition, please click this link. The event takes place next Thursday, April 9 at 5 pm the Cape Codder Resort & Spa at 1225 Iyannough Road in Hyannis.
My father never thought work should be fun.
Growing up we lived on a three-acre lot in an area that was making the transition from farmland to suburbia. My father loved to landscape and garden. Consequently, every year he would increase the size of the area that had grass, ornamental trees and gardens, both vegetable and flower. Around each tree or shrub was a circular border that was free of grass and weeds and was edged and trimmed.
In the summer, when I was growing up, I was expected to cut the grass and trim these areas on all four sides of the house. I may be exaggerating, but it would take me mornings and afternoons, four days a week to get the job done.
When my father got home from work, I remember him checking out what I had accomplished for the day and always finding fault. I quickly learned to hate cutting the grass, a dislike that has stayed with me until this day. I also began to realize that my father didn’t enjoy his work.
My lesson was cemented: I wouldn’t work at something I didn’t enjoy and if work isn’t fun make it fun, somehow. I think I have at least partly - and hopefully, mostly - achieved that goal at HAC. I know that I love the work I do. There is very little criticism or punishment. I have tried to treat people that way and our board has almost always treated me that way.
People here are given a lot of independence, within sometimes very limiting regulations. The “bosses” understand that we all make mistakes and we usually experience enough regret that further admonishment from a boss is almost always unnecessary. We have had “bad” bosses here and I think in every case they are now gone.
We also try to be understanding and even tolerant of our clients’ struggles. We don’t condone criticism and negativity towards our clients with very few exceptions. We also are nice and not competitive with each other and are willing to take the blame and share the credit. And everyone knows that my very favorite thing is helping each client resolve their crisis. That feeling, and the caring we exhibit, is contagious. Why should someone care about our clients if I don’t?
I am about to go into a meeting about succession planning. Four members of the senior management team are 65 or older. All four intend to retire within the next two years. They have a total combined experience at HAC of well over 100 years!
In some cases, people will move up and into some of those positions and people will join the agency to fill their jobs. In other cases, new people will come in from the outside. So my question is: how do we maintain the culture of fun, non-competitiveness and caring for the clients? It doesn’t happen everywhere.
Each quarter HAC teams up with a local business and holds a drive for basic home goods for clients making the transition from shelter to permanent housing.
Currently, the folks at Sullivan & Sullivan Auctioneers of Sandwich, will be collecting a variety of new household items (towels, silverware, canned goods, paper goods, blankets, cleaning supplies, toiletries, gift cards, hats, gloves, winter coats) that will be placed into Welcome Home Gift Baskets for our clients. The drive runs from March through Friday, April 3.
Those wanting to take part in the gift basket drive and give our clients a fresh start in their new homes can do so by bringing donations to:
Sullivan & Sullivan Auctioneers, LLC
148 Route 6A
Sandwich, MA 02563
Monday through Friday, 9 am to 4 pm
In December, The Young Professionals Network, a subcommittee of the Cape Cod & Islands Association of Realtors, organized the inaugural drive as a way to show our shelter clients how much the community cares and wants them to succeed once they transition out of shelter.
To learn how your organization can get involved or for additional information contact Julie Wake at 508-771-5400 or jwake@HAConCapeCod.org
Do you subscribe to The Boston Globe? If so, you can help HAC receive free ad space in one of the region’s top newspapers.
It’s simple: all you have to do is visit www.bostonglobe.com/GRANT and fill out the easy-to-follow form, listing Housing Assistance Corporation as your designated nonprofit of choice. The deadline for submissions is April 30.
This is the second year that the Boston Globe has conducted the GRANT (Globe Readers and Nonprofits Together) program, allowing organizations like HAC to share its message and raise awareness of its programs and services with the newspaper’s sizeable readership.
Last year over 400 New England charities earned free ad space in The Boston Globe with hundreds more receiving a free directory listing on the GRANT website. Help us add HAC to this list!
|Scott and Lynn Durante with their children Hailey (from left), Anthony, Charlotte, Elizabeth and Jeweleann in their Cotuit home.
How does one celebrate becoming a first-time homeowner?
After he and his wife closed on their new home in Cotuit - but before they moved in at the end of October - Scott Durante did so by sitting quietly on the front steps of that house, thinking about how his life was about to soon change for the better. “It was an amazing feeling to know a lot of our hard work was actually paying off,” he said.
A little more than a month later, as the holiday season began, Scott went shopping for a Christmas tree to put in that home. Of course, he purchased the biggest one he could find for his living room. “It was too dang big for the room,” he laughed. “But it was my first year as a homeowner so I decided we’ll have a huge tree. It was great, especially having them [our kids] wake up and be in their own home on Christmas. My oldest daughter is almost 16 and never had a home of her own until now.”
Until a few months ago, Scott, his wife Lynn and their five children Elizabeth, 15; Jeweleann, 13; Hailey, 11; Anthony, 7; and Charlotte, 2, had only rented homes in Centerville, never knowing the satisfaction and pride that comes with being a homeowner.
That changed two years ago when the Durantes were informed by their landlord that he was intending to sell their rental.
So the couple visited Gael Kelleher, HAC’s director of real estate, asking her for guidance. Kelleher suggested they may qualify for a USDA loan which helps low-income families become homeowners.
Since then Scott and Lynn took the requisite classes through HAC’s Housing Consumer Education Center (HCEC) to help rebuild their credit and prepare them for becoming first-time homebuyers.
“The thing that’s so good with them is they followed all the rules,” said Kelleher. “They took the class. They fixed their credit. They did everything a first-time homebuyer should do.”
HAC Provided Much-Needed Help
Scott, who works full-time as a tow truck driver, had similar praise for the work HAC did in helping his family which has gone through some difficult times over the years.
In 2007, the Durantes had to move out of their home and into his mother’s house in West Barnstable after he lost his job. “HAC has been great,” Scott said. “When we were down and out a couple of times, my wife called you. At one point we were referred to a shelter, but we didn’t take it.”
The family’s problems did not end there. Five years ago, he and his wife noticed their son was having physical difficulties – eye fluttering, pausing when he walked – so they took him to a neurologist. Anthony underwent an MRI, discovering that he had an arteriovenous malformation (AVM) in his brain, requiring surgery.
“It was very scary being told your son is going to have brain surgery to save his life,” Scott said.
Today, Anthony is a healthy vibrant boy though he requires therapy to address his physical and sensory needs. “He is very smart, but you have to kind of keep him engaged,” Scott said. To that end, the Durante’s home in Cotuit has been a blessing. A room with a hot tub has since been transformed into a recreational space for Anthony.
“It was good to get our own home so we could build a room for his needs,” Scott said.
The house, a small saltbox with three bedrooms, a finished basement and a wooded lot, has also been a much-needed gift for the entire family which includes pugs Bella and Brutus. Thanks to the home, the Durantes have been able to save more than $400 a month in their mortgage compared to what they paid in rent.
Perhaps the best part for the Durantes is the freedom they have since gained. “You don’t have to call the landlord and ask him what color paint is acceptable or if you can put up a shelf,” Scott said. “You don’t have to ask the landlord to replace the stove or refrigerator. We have the freedom to do whatever we want, to a point, and don’t have to answer to anybody else.”
|Falmouth's Betty Bailey (from left), Robert McIntire, Nancy Ledger and Tanya White at a meal they prepared and served at The Village at Cataumet in December.
Webster’s Dictionary may have its own definition of dedication, but at HAC it’s exemplified in volunteers like Dr. Robert McIntire of Falmouth.
Over the past decade, Dr. McIntire and several other members of the John Wesley United Methodist Church in Falmouth, have devoted one night every month to cooking meals for clients at The Village at Cataumet.
“It is nice to reach out and be able to meet these folks and hopefully bring a smile to their face,” said Nancy Ledger of Falmouth. “It means a lot to us and hopefully it means a lot to them.”
In December, Ledger joined Dr. McIntire, Tanya White and Betty Bailey, all of Falmouth, in making a meal of chicken with gravy, mashed potatoes, corn and apple crisp for shelter clients. Because it was the week before Christmas, the group also gave each client a small gift package that included candies and a Walmart gift card.
As Dr. McIntire handed out the packages, one client responded, “This is wonderful. Thank you very much. I appreciate it.”
Having a chance to meet and interact with those staying at the shelter, Dr. McIntire said, has been the most rewarding aspect of his time spent volunteering at HAC. While all are grateful for the help they are given, he said, “It is pretty tough for small families having to live in a small hotel room, especially when you have two adults and two children. It’s not a holiday.”
“It is difficult,” said Brianne Gonzalez, who has been at the shelter with one of her two children since the middle of October. “I would probably say living so close to other people is the most difficult thing. And having to share things; you normally would have your own kitchen.”
“I’d rather have my own place,” said Richelle Green, a client who lives with her boyfriend Perikles (Perry) Karakostas. The two will be having a baby boy, due in April.
As the couple enjoyed the December meal cooked by relative strangers, Perry praised the group’s generosity. “They are saints,” he said. “It is so good to see nice people with everything that is going on in the world.”
This meal represented one of the few gifts he would receive this season. “Being in the situation we are in, it is hard to focus on the holidays,” he admitted.
It is why, Ledger said, the best part of their volunteer work is when the shelter’s clients are finally able to have a place to call home. “It is always sad to see young families who are homeless. It is tragic, especially at this time of year,” she said. “That is why you are so happy when you come here and they are gone because they have gone on to their own place.”
| A sampling of the family portraits that Sandwich’s Beth Muhlebach shot and eventually gave to HAC’s shelter clients in December.
It is safe to say that for most clients, their time living in shelter is one they would like to forget. For it is here that they are at their lowest, looking for a way to rebuild their lives, move on and find a place to call their own.
But for one day in November, Sandwich’s Beth Muhlebach gave 14 families – five at Carriage House in North Falmouth and nine at The Village at Cataumet – a lasting keepsake to remember their time in shelter.
Muhlebach, who makes her living as a clinical research consultant, spends her spare time practicing photography. “I like capturing the interaction between people most,” she said. “And I like capturing the emotional moments in those interactions.”
Often those interactions involve her husband Stephan and their children Ella, 6, and Henry, 5.
Muhlebach expanded her list of subjects to include HAC clients after being introduced to the nonprofit through her friendship with Julie Wake, director of communications and development.
Last fall while the two were at Taste and See at Oyster Harbors Club, an event that raises money for HAC’s homeless programs, Muhlebach began thinking of a way to use her talents to give shelter clients a meaningful gift for the holidays. “I thought for a long time that people who are homeless, especially those with children, are not thinking about capturing this part of their lives,” she said. “They don’t want pictures to remember this time, but for these kids this is their childhood and it is as special as any others.”
So a month later, Muhlebach found herself spending nearly five hours capturing posed and more candid moments of families living in HAC’s shelters.
She arrived at The Village at Cataumet first where mothers were busy doing their hair, preparing for the shoot. “It was really neat to see that what they thought I was doing was as special as I thought it was,” she said. “They were appreciative and excited to have pictures taken of their kids and with them.”
The day was particularly significant for one of the mothers as it was the first time she had ever had a photo taken with her son. “It was sort of amazing to think there were no other pictures of them together,” Muhlebach said.
Over the course of the next three weeks, Muhlebach became even more familiar with the families as she pored through the photos she took, selecting her favorites and then going through the process of editing them.
In the second week of December, Muhlebach returned to Carriage House and The Village of Cataumet, giving each client a framed 8x10 photo, a framed 5x7 photo, several 4x6 prints as well as wallet-sized ones they could give to family members.
“The pictures came out beautiful,” said Marilia Freire, who had her photos taken with her one-year-old son Adrian at The Village at Cataumet. “I was so happy she did this because I wanted to do a Christmas picture with him. I really appreciate it.”
For Muhlebach, the reactions from clients were particularly rewarding. “A lot of them cried when they saw pictures of themselves with their children,” she said.
The best part was the bonds she witnessed - and captured on camera - between parents and their children in shelter. “When I told people I was going to the shelters, they said, ‘Oh that is going to be so sad,’” Muhlebach said. “It wasn’t sad at all. It was exactly the opposite of that. Because of HAC and these shelters, the kids have a place where they can live and be comfortable. It seems like a good environment for them to be in. They smile and are as happy as any other kids. You can see they are truly happy, genuinely sweet little kids and their parents love them and care for them a lot.”
|Beth Muhlebach with her children Ella and Henry.
The first snowstorm of 2015 was a significant one, dropping over two feet of snow on most parts of Cape Cod and shutting down schools, businesses, government and commerce for nearly two days.
While most people spent their time in the comfort of their own homes, the Cape’s homeless men and women did so wherever they could find safety. For 60 people that meant HAC’s NOAH Shelter which had a line of people waiting to get in the facility when it opened at noon on the Monday the first snowflakes started to fall. “We don’t see that usually,” shelter director Greg Bar said. “That just goes to show you whether you are rich or poor, storms get you panicky.”
In preparation for the blizzard, Bar stocked up on essentials – flashlights, first aid kits and food in the event dinners from donors did not make their way to the shelter. Blankets were stockpiled to make them accessible if the power went out. “We looked ahead to make sure we were one hundred percent self-sufficient,” he said.
With the shelter at capacity, he anticipated a small contingent would have to sleep in the foyer.
Anytime these types of extreme weather events hit the region, Bar said, it can create a mixture of tension and boredom in the shelter as cabin fever starts to set in. It is why Bar welcomed any sort of entertainment – a guest leading a group activity or discussion or a musician entertaining clients – in the future when a similar-sized storm starts to subside.
In what has been a stroke of good fortune, Bar said that the Cape’s homeless have been relatively lucky as “there have been no tragedies because of the weather. I hope that continues.”
Of course, that could always change. In advance of the January storm, there were a few homeless who were planning on remaining outside despite pleas from advocates like Bar and Dan McCullough, director of TEAM M25, a homeless outreach group on the Cape.
McCullough, who often works with the homeless who sleep in camps in the woods, said most were finding temporary shelter elsewhere, whether being put up at a local motel, couch surfing with a friend or at NOAH.
He knew of a small group that had planned to stay in the basement of an abandoned building near the Hyannis Airport. “We have done the best we can,” he said, noting that those who did stay outside were given extreme weather gear, from tents to sleeping bags to blankets to clothes, and understood the risks involved.
With 20 years of experience working with the homeless on Cape Cod, McCullough said he realizes that there are those who “have the capacity, intelligence and imagination to stay outside in weather like this. And they almost always survive if they can put up with the discomfort.”
Still, the preference for those like McCullough and Bar is that these homeless people accept help in storms like this. “There are alternatives for people,” Bar stressed.
In last month's editorial, I wrote about the detachment and confusion about returning to work after an almost two week absence over the holidays. I promised to write in this issue about a couple of things I’d like to get done this year. What follows are three somewhat-creative ideas (note that this is not a comprehensive to-do list):
First, I’d like to talk about marketing. HAC has a great director of marketing and fundraising, Julie Wake. But often Julie has to work with me on marketing issues and I am not inclined to talk about or brag about what we do which is probably not a good thing. I am also not a “process” person. By that I mean I just like to get things done.
Sometimes, though, a well-organized process is necessary to getting things accomplished.
Recently, a friend made me aware of a video that had been filmed at the Moses Brown School, a private prep school in Providence, Rhode Island. The video below shows the head of school announcing the closure of the school, due to a recent snowstorm, in song. It is worth watching.
First, the video is entertaining and well done. Second, it took a lot of work on the part of students and officials at the school. Third, it makes you like the school and want to send your kids there. In other words, it is a marketing video using the announcement of a school closing as its vehicle to carry the message.
Often, I meet people and they thank me for how HAC helped them, but few of them know what HAC does beyond what they learned from their own experience. This year we need to figure out how to get our message across to the general public and public officials on Cape Cod.
The Moses Brown video has had over 3 million viewings! It used humor, music and clever lyrics - things that we never use. Should we? What about using a fun video to announce, for example, that a housing development has been completed and there are rental units available?
A second thing I’d like to accomplish this year is to identify existing staff who want to “intern” for jobs that will become vacant due to impending retirements. People could learn new skills, develop new relationships, and see how a part of the agency they previously knew little about operates.
We then might be in a better position to select a replacement, reorganize one or more jobs and help people decide if they want to advance or change the focus of their careers. This would be part of our overall succession planning activities to replace senior staff who will be retiring in the next five years.
The third idea that I hope to put in place is the development of quarterly or semi-annual housing white papers for Cape Cod in which we make recommendations for what needs to be done to meet our affordable and workforce housing needs.
Ideally, we would work with other agencies to look at ideas to make things work better. For example, we might want to talk about plans with the Growth Management Department in the Town of Barnstable or the Cape Cod Commission to see how their ideas and plans can be furthered and integrated into what is going on in other towns on the Cape.
We would share ideas and plans and decide how to best accomplish them with the results shared with broader audiences. The “papers” would be just one way to bring together organizations to more effectively work together to accomplish common goals.
|Lisa and Buddy Vanderhoop with Wiley, their Weimeraner, at Owen Park Beach on Martha's Vineyard.
Imagine living in the same home for 23 years. It becomes a sanctuary – the place you not only lay your head every night, but where you find comfort, peace and make a treasure trove of memories that are impossible to put a price on.
Now imagine that being taken away from you in an instant.
That is exactly where Lisa and Buddy Vanderhoop found themselves last year. They stood at the precipice of losing the one constant in their life for nearly a quarter century. “It was the worst, most stressful time of my entire life… I thought I was having a nervous breakdown. At times I’d go from being sobbingly depressed to being numb,” Ms. Vanderhoop said. “This is where my husband grew up, where his ancestry is. If we lose this house we lose our businesses and our livelihoods.”
For Buddy, Martha’s Vineyard has always been home. It is where he was born and tied his anchor, becoming the Island’s most famous charter fishing captain with a list of celebrity clients that have included Keith Richards, Spike Lee, Michael Mann, Jim Belushi and the late-Thomas Menino. He has been featured on Chronicle, The Moth Radio Hour and the Discovery Channel.
And his wife is an accomplished artist and photographer.
Despite their success they have not been immune to life’s pitfalls. It started in 2008 when Buddy’s youngest daughter was in a car accident on Hawaii, forcing him to travel west and cancel a month’s worth of charter trips during the height of the tourist season.
The spiral downward continued when Buddy’s brother was diagnosed with terminal prostate cancer. “My husband would escort him off-island to medical appointments,” Ms. Vanderhoop said, only adding to the family’s expenses.
That was followed by costly boat repairs and eventually with Buddy being diagnosed with prostate cancer over a year and a half ago. That diagnosis meant Buddy was unable to work for three months as he went through radiation treatment. And then last spring, the 64-year-old Buddy Vanderhoop suffered a heart attack.
As they faced these personal difficulties over the past four years, the Vanderhoops struggled to make their mortgage payments. Several times they tried unsuccessfully to work with their lenders to modify their loan to reduce their monthly payments.
HAC: The Vanderhoop's Last Hope
Though the couple continued to make their payments, they were falling behind on their loan until March 2013 when it was placed into default. As the Vanderhoops continued to seek a home loan modification they were informed in February of last year that their loan holder, Ocwen, was starting the foreclosure process.
“Basically, everybody said we were going to lose our house,” Ms. Vanderhoop said.
Looking for guidance, they consulted a mortgage lawyer who directed them to HAC. With nowhere else to turn, she and her husband made the trip to Hyannis last May, meeting with HAC’s foreclosure prevention counselor Joan Maney.
“She was unlike anybody I have ever talked to. When we met with Joan she was no nonsense,” Ms. Vanderhoop said. “She was being very, very firm about what was needed. I left the office crying because I was so vulnerable anyway, but I was also crying with a smile on my face because this lady seemed like she knew what she is talking about.”
Two more times the pair would meet with Maney, filling out the necessary paperwork to be considered for a loan modification. Their efforts were successful as they were approved for a three-month temporary loan modification before it recently became permanent.
Their interest rate fell from 6.5 percent to two percent and they cut their monthly payments by nearly $1,900. “I truly believe it was because of your organization and Joan, why we ended up getting the loan modification,” Ms. Vanderhoop said.
Not every story has a happy ending like the Vanderhoops, but Maney said it is possible. What HAC provides, she said, is an understanding of “what the lender is looking for and how to best prepare an application.”
Because of that expertise, the Vanderhoops are now excitedly looking towards what life will bring. “It is such a relief,” Ms. Vanderhoop said. “I feel like we can take this energy and put it into our businesses and have a future, a real future.”