|Ron Winner (left) of Shepley Wood Products talks to HAC's Deanna Bussiere as she slices bread in the kitchen of the NOAH Shelter.
On the final day of March a light snow fell on Hyannis, proof that Mother Nature was not going out like a lamb this month.
It was the type of bitter spring day that would keep most inside and at one point Ron Winner of Craigville Beach, contemplated doing just that after he had completed his shift at Shepley Wood Products where he is an outside sales representative.
But he did not. Instead he left work and headed to the NOAH Shelter in Hyannis, where he helped Julie Wake, HAC’s director of communications and development, and Deanna Bussiere, HAC’s event and resource development coordinator, cook and serve lasagna to 55 men and women who are homeless.
Adorned in a Boston Red Sox shirt – it was the first day of their 162-game season – Winner clearly could have been elsewhere, but he chose to volunteer a little more than an hour of his time feeding those less fortunate. “I do it because one day I could be here,” he said.
Later that night he went home to his wife Wendy and considered how fortunate his life has been.
Donating his time in such a way – over the past eight years he has served meals on a monthly basis to those in similar situations at CHAMP Homes in Hyannis – plays a vital role in his life.
And he viewed his March experience at HAC’s NOAH Shelter in the same vein. “I think it is valuable period because you get to learn about what life is all about and you are grateful for what you have,” he said. “And you realize there are people out there that need a little help.”
Greg Bar, the manager at NOAH, said volunteers like Winner are not an option, but a necessity at the shelter. “Every meal, every dinner is served by a volunteer group or an individual,” he said.
During Winner’s first foray in serving meals at the shelter he encountered one Harwich woman who was dropping off Klondike Bars for NOAH clients that evening. She has volunteered at NOAH feeding the homeless for the past 23 years. “I feel blessed to do it,” she said. “The sad thing is you see a lot of the same people here year after year.”
Benefits of Continuous Volunteerism
Bar lauded volunteers such as these and the positive impact they are having on the community. “It is one thing to get sentimental around Thanksgiving and give a donation. It is another thing to do it month after month, year after year,” he said. “I think there is a deep desire to want to help people on a deeper and more effective level and these people get it. When you do this on a long-term basis there is something on the inside that is fulfilled.”
Volunteer groups are asked to cook or bring in prepared meals and then serve them to NOAH clients. Bar said he has one recommendation for those who want to volunteer at NOAH: “Think about what kind of meal you would like to eat.”
Favorites for clients tend to be pork roast, steak, a chef salad with chicken and fresh vegetables.
And the shelter is always in need of food donations, particularly milk, eggs, butter and drinks.
Typically NOAH will see an uptick in volunteerism during the holidays - November and December – with a decrease as the weather gets warmer. “The fact is people eat the same in the summer as they do in the winter,” Bar said.
While he is always looking for more volunteers, Bar can be assured that he will have at least one extra hand helping out throughout the year. Winner has plans to volunteer again, on a more regular basis, at the NOAH Shelter. “I love giving back,” Winner said. “I don’t have a lot to give money wise, but I can serve. And I think a lot of people need to realize they can help out that way.”
As the owner and executive chef of The Naked Oyster Bistro and Raw Bar in Hyannis, Florence Lowell knows a thing or two about kitchens.
So when the Main Street Business Improvement District (BID) helped make the NOAH Day Center a reality in May, Lowell decided to use her expertise to help the shelter the best way she knows how – in the kitchen. “Elizabeth Wurfbain of BID put out an email saying the shelter needed help,” Lowell said. “I deal with kitchens all day long. That’s what I do so it is something I could easily take on which would benefit everybody.”
Lowell visited NOAH the week after the day center opened its doors to clients and was impressed with what she found. “I think they have a pretty nice facility when it comes to the kitchen,” she said.
Still, she saw room for some minor improvements. When NOAH director Greg Bar expressed interest in offering a Sunday breakfast Lowell bought the shelter a griddle.
Beyond that, Lowell is planning on putting a team together to spend a day and organize the kitchen so people can access food and ingredients better. “I think what they immediately need is to get a few things organized with labels so everybody can find things right away,” she said.
She also noticed the large freezer needs shelving, another project she has on her to-do list at NOAH.
And Lowell hopes to serve as a connection between her restaurant’s vendors and NOAH as a way to provide fruits and vegetables to shelter clients.
Volunteering has always been important to Lowell, who is from the Bordeaux region of France, first making stops in Houston and Austin, Texas before arriving on Cape Cod a little more than eight years ago. “In Houston I worked for the women’s shelters there,” she said. “We would make sure we spent at least one day a month cooking for people.”
Lowell has maintained her charitable giving on the Cape, where she is actively involved in fundraisers for Cape Abilities Farm in West Dennis, as well as Spaulding Rehab, where her husband Dr. David Lowell is the chief medical officer.
She views her recent work at NOAH as another way to give back to the community. “Everybody is talking about the homeless situation in Hyannis. It is a constant thing I hear,” Lowell said. “So I want to provide a better environment to entice people to stay at the shelter during the day.”
Blisters, sore legs and aching muscles are all part of the bumps and bruises that come with the Bob Murray Housing with Love Walk. But that is nothing compared to what the Reverend John Rice of South Yarmouth, a retired Episcopalian priest, is undergoing through as he walks portions of each section of the seven-day event.
The 73-year-old Rice has been diagnosed with prostate cancer and recently underwent his final radiation treatment. That has not stopped him from walking a short distance each day on behalf of HAC.
This marks his 10th year participating in the walk which was created 22 years ago by Bob Murray as a way to bring awareness to Cape Cod’s housing issues. Of the walks he has participated in Rice has completed the entire course, from Provincetown to Falmouth, six times.
Despite his medical issues, he said, he felt a need to walk this year both as a way to honor Bob Murray, who passed away in September, and because of what the event means. “Shelter is the very basic need of human beings everywhere,” he said, noting that it also has a personal relevance to him because his mother was the recipient of federal funding to ensure she had a roof over her head during the last years of her life in Tennessee.
True celebrities exude a certain swagger. That is certainly the case with Lynn Mason-Small and Rana Murphy who both shrugged off any notion of nervousness when asked about their upcoming participation as HAC’s celebrity walkers for the 22nd Annual Bob Murray Housing with Love Walk.
“I’m not sure I need to train,” laughed a confident Mason-Small, the senior vice president of Rogers & Gray Insurance in Dennis.
It was a similar response from Murphy, the senior vice president of Eastern Bank, who termed herself an “exercise fiend,” with a marathon and several half-marathons, 10Ks and 5Ks under her belt.
Though the pair have never participated in the annual walk before, they were excited to do so on behalf of those who are unable to this year. People can support Mason-Small, who will walk on Wednesday afternoon, and Murphy, who will do so on Thursday morning, by making a donation to HAC via this link in their name.
Mason-Small noted that despite her being a novice to the walk, Rogers & Gray has long been a supporter of not only the event, but HAC as well. “Our CEO Chuck Robinson does a lot of volunteer work with HAC and we feel the need to support this because we firmly believe in it,” she said. “And certainly with Bob Murray’s passing this is the least we can do to support his housing efforts on Cape Cod.”
“What a great way to give back to the community and keep Bob Murray’s contributions to housing on Cape Cod alive,” Murphy added. “The walk not only gives back to HAC, but to all the housing agencies across the Cape.”
As for her status as a “celebrity walker” Murphy downplayed such talk and stressed she is not letting the fame go to her head. “I don’t consider myself a celebrity in any sense,” she said. “I’ve lived in this community for 25 years and as someone who has sat on a lot of boards I feel like you can not live in a community and not give back to it. I think that is how we make our community better and stronger every day. It is all of our responsibilities to give back and give back in the way you want.”
Mason-Small shared those sentiments and was humble enough to not consider herself a celebrity either. “That might be a little bit of an overstatement,” she said, though she did say for those interested she would be willing to take photos with them – perhaps even a selfie - while she walks. “I don’t know about autographs though,” she laughed. “Actually, I’m just excited to do my part.”
|Patty Murray (left) walks with Dakota Mousseau and Ben deRuyter on Route 6A in Truro during the first day of the 22nd Annual Bob Murray Housing with Love Walk.
In the 22 years that the Bob Murray Housing with Love Walk has been held Harwich’s Patty Murray never once participated in the event.
That ended yesterday when Murray, whose father started the walk in 1993 to bring awareness to the Cape’s housing issues, donned her sneakers and walked over 13 miles from Provincetown to Wellfleet. “It’s kind of bittersweet,” a tearful Patty Murray said, before noting that the fact the walk is continuing would mean a lot to her father who passed away in September at the age of 73.
“I know my dad was really worried about his legacy and whether this would continue,” she said. “He would be really happy to know it is.”
Though her father was not there physically, she was positive he was there spiritually. “I’ll be using his legs,” she said.
And so it went during the kick off to the annual walk, which began with a short service at The Church of Saint Mary of the Harbor. Before, during and after the church service many had the event’s founder on their mind.
“Bob Murray,” a trio of walkers shouted enthusiastically (instead of the typical “Cheese!”) as they posed for a photo in front of Provincetown Harbor.
And a pair of bronzed sneakers Bob Murray had wore in previous walks served as a symbol of why people were participating in this year’s event. David Willard, the director of community relations at Cape Cod Five, was the first to carry the sneakers – which came in a clear plastic bag – on his back at the start of the walk.
“I work at Cape Cod Five and we’ve been so close to Bob in all his professional endeavors,” Willard said. “And I’ve been so close to him and [his wife] Judy personally. It feels good I can be a part of it in this way. He is still in our hearts.”
Willard eventually passed the shoes onto Richard Waystack, president of the Family Pantry of Cape Cod, on Route 6A in Truro. Waystack, who is walking the entire 96.3 miles from Provincetown to Falmouth with his wife Bernadette for the Harwich Ecumenical Council for the Homeless, proceeded to carry the sneakers the remainder of the day before passing them off this morning to Vicki Hatch in South Wellfleet.
|Richard Waystack (left) takes Bob Murray's sneakers from Cape Cod Five's David Willard.
In 2012, the last year Murray took part in the walk, Waystack pushed him 19 miles in a wheelchair. “That was a great day, an awesome day,” Waystack said. “Bob was a good friend and my mentor.”
And yesterday the nearly two dozen used him as inspiration to affect greater change on Cape Cod. “I know he is here talking to us all,” his daughter said.
Read more about this year's Bob Murray Housing with Love Walk by clicking this link.
|Bob Murray (left) hands out water during the Bob Murray Housing with Love Walk in 2012.
Though the late Bob Murray was unable to participate in last year’s annual Housing with Love Walk he started 22 years ago, he fervently followed the progress of those who walked from one end of the Cape to the other in an effort to meet the housing needs in the region.
“Every day I’d take a photograph of the walk and send it to him,” said Thomas Lacey, executive director of the Falmouth Housing Authority. “His reaction would vary depending on the day. Sometimes he would well up with tears of happiness. A lot of times he would comment on how he wished he was there. I think if we could have pushed him through the walk he would have done it.”
That is what the event – it was officially changed to the Bob Murray Housing with Love Walk in 2012 – meant to the longtime advocate of affordable housing on Cape Cod.
Its purpose was twofold: raise awareness of the housing issues in the region and raise funds to provide residents with safe, secure housing to allow them the opportunity to enjoy this corner of the state.
For medical reasons Murray did not take part in the annual event last year. This year’s walk will carry even more weight – it will be the first held since his death at the age of 73 last September.
The challenge of organizing this year’s event, which normally fell squarely on Murray’s shoulders, has been spread among a committee of volunteers. “Bob did it all by himself,” said Linda Clark, director of the Falmouth Housing Corporation. “We were a little taken aback when we began to understand the magnitude of the work involved for the walk to take place.”
That work has included everything from managing publicity to signing up walkers to creating a new brochure providing information on the walk. One of HAC’s roles this year is shuttling walkers along the route and providing a support van for participants.
New this year is the route which, while still going from Provincetown to Falmouth, will be modified to ensure the safety of walkers.
A total of 11 housing agencies, including HAC, benefit from the walk which begins on Monday, July 14 at St. Mary’s Church and ends on Sunday, July 20 at Liam Maguire’s Irish Pub & Restaurant in Falmouth.
Murray's Presence Will Be Felt
While Murray will not be in attendance, organizers said his presence will be strongly felt over the seven-day event. His wife Judy will be in attendance at the start of the walk. And a pair of well-used sneakers that Murray once wore in the walk and have since been bronzed will be carried by one walker each day in memory of the event’s founder.
Both Lacey and Clark plan on walking the entire 96.3-mile route to honor their friend, mentor and former co-worker. “It is really important to me to honor Bob this way,” Lacey said.
In recent years Murray “started the walk off with physical challenges that were only exacerbated by it,” Lacey said, and as a result he had to occasionally be rushed to the hospital or cut short his participation due to blisters, dehydration and physical fatigue.
Suffering was something Murray wanted participants, including himself, to feel as a way to better understand the plight of those without housing or working paycheck to paycheck just to live on Cape Cod. “He wanted people to feel a little bit of the pain they felt,” Clark said, explaining that is why it is held in July, one of the hottest months of the year.
Because of how important this event was to Murray, the goal is to ensure the walk continues on as a way to preserve his legacy. “I think it would make Bob really happy to see the walk continuing, really in the same way he created it with the partnerships of all these different Cape organizations and the camaraderie it creates, especially in support of tackling the Cape’s housing issues,” Lacey said.
|Michael Hesse and his wife Shannon and their two daughters, Riley (left) and Dakota, celebrate in front of their newly purchased home in Harwich.
“I’ve always wanted to own a place, but I never thought it could happen.”
For much of his adult life that statement exemplified Michael Hesse’s attitude toward home ownership – he would never have a place he could call his own.
But that changed last year when his landlord informed Hesse he would be selling the two-family home he and his family had been living in and renting the past four years.
Up until that point Michael, his wife Shannon and their two daughters, Dakota, 10, and Riley, 5 had been the ideal tenants. They took care of the yard and maintained the house, all in exchange for a lower rent.
So when the owner put the home on the market he gave Hesse the first shot, at below market price, because “we’d been taking care of the place so well,” he said. “We’d mow the grass. Really, whatever was asked of me I’d go above and beyond.”
Already working one job at Oysters Harbor Marine in Osterville, Hesse added another to his plate – as a waiter at Stewart’s in Eastham – last year in hopes of being able to purchase the house.
Still it was not enough. “My credit wasn’t good enough,” he admitted.
That is when he discovered HAC and tapped into the Down Payment and Closing Cost Assistance Program which it administers for the Cape Cod Commission and the Barnstable County HOME Consortium. The program provides zero interest loans of anywhere from $10,000 to $20,000 for first-time homebuyers on Cape Cod with funds coming from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
The couple qualified for financial assistance, taking the requisite classes necessary to secure a $14,000 loan from the county. “I found it helpful,” Hesse said of the program. “I was looking for ways to fix my credit and what we needed to do to get a down payment.”
So this past November, the Hesse’s turned their rental into a home, fulfilling a dream they did not think was possible. “I never thought I would be able to buy a place of my own, never in my wildest dreams” the 35-year-old Hesse said.
The couple credited much of their success to Brenda Rocklage, the program administrator for HAC. She deflected such praise, calling the Hesse’s “a great role model for good tenancy… We just like to hear about great outcomes for buyers who work on keeping their credit and savings positive so they can qualify for good mortgage rates and assistance from the program if they are eligible.”
Still, Hesse said, without HAC’s assistance he and his wife would never have been able to purchase what they consider a perfect home - a 2,800-square foot house situated in the middle of Harwich’s lakes with access to the town’s bike path. “It just makes me feel, I can’t even describe it,” he said. “I feel like I finally accomplished something in my life. It is wonderful
“We found this place, loved the area and loved this house,” he continued. “We just wanted to stay here. I can see it being an intergenerational home and being passed on to our grandkids. And if our kids moved away it’d be great to have them come back and visit. What is better than that?”
|Santander Bank officials present HAC's Julie Wake (third from right) with a $1,000 large mock-up check last week. On hand to present her with the check were bank manager Mwanyota Allen (from left), tellers Schericia Barber, Gerry Bowen and Laura Lacina, bank manager Autumn Banks and bank senior vice president Brian Devaney.
The people have spoken and collectively they have chosen HAC as a local non-profit worthy of backing. That message was sent by patrons of the two Hyannis branches of Santander Bank.
Santander, which purchased Sovereign Bank last year, recently held a competition at each of its branches on Cape Cod, asking customers to vote for a charity it believed should be awarded $500 to support its programs and services.
In downtown Hyannis and on West Main Street, Hyannis, bank customers voted for HAC. Last Wednesday at the West Main Street branch bank officials presented Julie Wake, director of communications and development for HAC, with a mock-up check for $1,000 – as well as a real $1,000 check – that showed the community’s appreciation for the work being done at the non-profit.
“It is a great organization,” Brian Devaney, senior vice president for Santander, said of HAC.
Several of his fellow employees including Autumn Banks, the manager for the downtown branch, and bank teller Laura Lacina, have benefitted from HAC programs over the years.
Banks took the first time homebuyers class and took advantage of the down payment assistance program, using that as the foundation for purchasing a home in Yarmouth two years ago.
And Lacina purchased a three-bedroom condo in Marstons Mills in 2005 through a HAC housing lottery. There she raised her two children, and found a supporting environment in the condo complex. “The 30 homes there, we are more than a community. We are like a family,” she said.
Lacina serves as a beacon of hope for those currently waiting to find affordable housing on Cape Cod. She had put her name into the lottery three times prior to 2005. “It does work,” she said of the process.
|The group of Sturgis Charter Public School students who volunteered their day at HAC.
Typically graduation is a time when students are the ones receiving gifts. But at the end of May, just three days before they were to receive their high school diplomas, a contingent of 11 Sturgis Charter Public School students spent their day giving back to the community by volunteering at HAC.
The group was one of 20 that used their second-to-last day as a high school student to make a positive difference in Hyannis – some cleaned up the town's beaches and others volunteered at the Salvation Army.
The students at HAC did basic office work: helping stuff donor letters in envelopes, moving boxes and compiling informational packets for the HAC Energy department.
And in the process they learned a little bit about what HAC does from several of its employees, prompting Lynn Kelley, a history teacher at Sturgis, to remark that this type of volunteerism can be rewarding for students, especially if it’s over a prolonged period of time. “When you get committed to an organization and start working with them you really feel like you are making a difference,” she said.
The time spent at HAC, Kelley said, was also valuable as it ties into the curriculum at Sturgis. “In terms of developing their self we want them to be active and productive members of the community,” she said.
With many of the students looking forward to college some such as Bridgette Isaacs, 18, and Skylar Beauregard, 18, are considering pursuing a career in the social services.
Both revealed that they have had family members deal with substance abuse issues and were interested in becoming counselors to help those struggling with similar problems. “I think it is easy for someone who has been affected by it to be able to help others,” Skylar said. “And I’ve always enjoyed working with people.”
Twice a year for nearly 15 years the Dennis Yarmouth Ecumenical Council for the Prevention of Homelessness (DYECH) has organized a free concert providing a night of musical enjoyment for residents and tourists alike.
But that joy has extended to complete strangers – those on the verge of losing their homes – thanks to the money raised over that time. Through goodwill offerings the concert series has been brought in roughly $20,000, all of which has gone toward HAC’s Project Prevention program that aims to keep people who are struggling with their bills in their homes and off the streets.
“It is much cheaper and much more economical to keep people in their homes than trying to get them back into housing once they are kicked out of their house and are forced to stay in their car or motels,” DYECH’s acting president Steve Sozanski said.
On Tuesday, June 24 DYECH will once again do its part to ensure Cape Codders will never experience the horrors of homelessness by holding a concert featuring the Cape Cod Conservatory Jazz Ensemble. The event, which begins at 7:30 PM, will take place in the Parish Life Center at St. Pius X Church at 21 Barbara Street in South Yarmouth.
“It is actually old-fashioned type of music which older people all recognize and some of the younger people never heard before, like Count Basie, but will still enjoy,” Sozanski said. “It is really cool music.”