|Dental hygienist Emma Lawson inside the family room at The Village at Cataumet.
Living in a homeless shelter can be overwhelming, often forcing one to overlook the minor and major aspects of life while concentrating on the necessity of finding permanent housing.
This is why dental hygienist Emma Lawson of Scituate, has made it a priority to bring her expertise to shelters like The Village at Cataumet so clients do not neglect something as important as the health of their teeth. “They have so much on their plate right now they are trying to deal with,” Lawson said in March, when she made her third trip to the shelter since last fall “They are looking for jobs and trying to make ends meet. By bringing this service to them, they won’t have to take time off of work to go to the dentist.”
Lawson, who has over 25 years of experience working in private practice, expanded her base of knowledge about a year and a half ago when she became a public health dental hygienist.
It was at that same time she started her own company, Visiting Dental Hygiene Associates, allowing her the freedom to ply her trade two days a week at off-site locations which range from senior centers to homeless shelters that include Carolina Hill in Marshfield, Pilgrims Hope in Kingston as well as HAC’s Carriage House in North Falmouth, and The Village at Cataumet.
Because it is a mobile operation, Lawson has to bring her own portable dental chair, compressor and the various tools of her craft – picks, mirrors and eye magnifiers – that allow her to provide shelter clients with a dental cleaning that includes fluoride treatment, an oral cancer exam and periodontal screening.
In March, she was scheduled to meet with seven HAC clients, starting with Ashley Lewis who admittedly, “has not had very good experience with dentists” in the past.
Still, she expressed gratitude that Lawson was there.“This is awesome of her to do this,” Lewis said.
Lawson views her role not only as a hygienist, but as an educator. For example, with patients who may be pregnant, she said, “they may be unaware of the relationship between having gum disease causing preterm labor.”
She works with parents, showing them how to brush and care for their children’s teeth, providing them helpful tips like this: “children up to the age of four should not be given regular toothpaste,” she said, explaining that it can lead to permanent discoloration on their adult teeth.
While Lawson receives payment through each client’s dental insurance, there have been times when some have not had any medical coverage. Lawson has treated them anyway, understanding that this type of service is vital to their health.
“It is a lot of work, but I find it very rewarding,” she said. “The patients I see are so appreciative of the service I have given them. I walk away feeling like I have made a difference. It is a rewarding feeling at the end of the day.”
|The Waystacks brave heavy rains during last year’s Bob Murray Housing with Love Walk.
Last summer, Bernadette and Richard Waystack walked one end of the Cape to the other, over the course of seven days, enduring everything from blisters, sore muscles and even stress fractures, all to raise awareness about the housing issues facing the region.
So when asked to participate in the Bob Murray Housing with Love Walk again, the Waystacks didn’t hesitate, emphatically saying yes. Why? “Homelessness has not gone away,” Bernadette said. “My husband, who was the past president of The Family Pantry of Cape Cod in Harwich, once coined the phrase that, ‘Hunger doesn’t take a vacation on Cape Cod.’ Guess what? Homelessness doesn’t either.”
This July, the Harwich couple will be walking in the annual event on behalf of HAC, raising funds for the nonprofit’s services which includes its four homeless shelters, homelessness prevention programs, affordable housing development and housing education workshops.
The pair’s motivation goes beyond simple charitableness. They have a personal connection to the type of work HAC is doing because they have witnessed the impacts homelessness has had on a family member. That is why, when Richard ended up with stress fractures during last year’s walk, he refused to give up.
“You know it’s uncomfortable and hard, but you’re only doing it for one day and every night you get to go home to a nice, safe and secure home,” said Bernadette, who is an art teacher at Monomoy Regional High School. “I thought about the people in my hometown and across the Cape where that isn’t the case. Some of them aren’t going home to a house. Some are out in the streets or in the woods. Some have a home, but it’s not stable and they’re not sure how long they’ll have it.”
So next month the Waystacks will lace up their sneakers, taking small steps to help make Cape Cod a better place for all to live. They realize they will not solve the problem on their own. Instead their ultimate goal is progress.
“I think it’s a greater sense of wanting to make a difference,” Bernadette said. “You can’t fix it all, but if everyone does a little something, we’re going to make a change.”
HAC'S 2015 Celebrity Walkers
Bernadette and Richard Waystack
Reverend John Rice
Reverend Dr. John Terry
The Cooperative Bank of Cape Cod
To support HAC's Celebrity Walkers or donate to the walk, click this link. To learn more about the Annual Bob Murray Housing with Love Walk, click here.
Do you have a rental property that is vacant, or will be in the near future? Did you know HAC provides a free rental listing service?
Available rentals are posted to our website, free of charge, at a property owner’s request. The listing can be downloaded by prospective tenants who will contact you directly. Click this link to learn more about the rental property listings.
There is a serious lack of year-round rentals right now! If you have any availability, please contact Liz Belcher at lbelcher@HAConCapeCod.org or call 508-771-5400, ext. 210.
In life’s journey, each person tackles obstacles in their own, individualized way. “Some will walk at a different pace. Some may skip for a while. Some may run. And some may walk backwards,” Lin Rohr said, inside HAC’s Hyannis offices on 460 West Main Street.
Rohr found herself here in the middle of March, a few days shy of spring, as she reflected upon her short time as the new director of Angel House. The goal at the Hyannis shelter is to support mothers as they take the necessary steps toward overcoming the difficulties placed in their path.
She arrived at Angel House in January, roughly a month after she moved to Cape Cod from Madison, Wisconsin, where she had been living with her husband Scott Ritchie. The pair relocated from the Midwest after Ritchie, a clinical psychologist, landed a job with Allied Health Providers in West Barnstable.
A native of Los Angeles, Rohr received her bachelor of arts in religion in 1982 from Whitworth University in Spokane, Washington. Five years later she added a masters of divinity from Princeton University, to her name. That is when she embarked on a 25-year career as a minister for the Presbyterian Church (USA) before spending five years as a spiritual counselor and professional life coach.
While her position at Angel House represents a career change, Rohr’s work experiences have given her a familiarity with the types of people found at Angel House – those who are homeless and overcoming addiction – making her transition to HAC relatively seamless.
Treating Clients with Dignity and Respect
“I’ve worked with the homeless and those in recovery through my parish work and pastoral counseling,” she said, noting that her previous roles have taught her to “approach them with dignity and respect.” She has brought that same approach to those she interacts with on a daily basis at the shelter.
Through trauma-informed care, Rohr explained that the ultimate goal at Angel House is to ensure that both mothers and their children have the treatment and support they need as part of their recovery. “What we seek to do is walk with them and hold up for them their own goals: to live clean and sober,” Rohr said.
Rohr understands that the housing Angel House provides is integral to client success. “If people don’t have housing and they’re in recovery, then the challenges are twice as much,” she said.
And she realizes that staff also plays a vital role in the equation. That is why she takes it upon herself to visit the shelter’s play space at least three times a week. There she plays, swaddles and cuddles with children, some of whom were born addicted to drugs. “In my own way, I say a prayer or wish for the child that their mom will continue on their courageous walk,” she said. “What the moms are doing will impact the little ones’ lives in so many ways… It will end the cycle of homelessness and addiction and all the associated traumas. These women are being so courageous to say, ‘I want that cycle to stop.’ Many of them had it with their own parents and now they are saying they want it to be different for me and my children.”
Rohr, who has two children of her own – Stephanie, 24, and Josh, 26, as well as a stepson Tyler, 27 – knows firsthand the importance of a parent. So she delights when she sees clients take that extra step, like going to college, because it ultimately benefits the next generation. “It really touches me because it might make a difference and their child won’t struggle in the same way,” she said.
It is all part of the difficult journey that Rohr and her Angel House colleagues are helping clients make, each at their own pace.
|Local leaders come together to discuss present and future housing issues on Cape Cod and the Islands at the SmarterCape Summit. HAC CEO Rick Presbrey participated in a panel discussion about how those in the public, private and nonprofit sectors can work to solve the region’s lack of affordable housing.
If there was a book written about the current housing situation on Cape Cod, a good title might be “The Housing Crisis.”
That is exactly the phrase several presenters used during the 5th Annual SmarterCape Summit held at the Cape Cod Resort & Conference Center in May. This year’s topic focused on housing.
“If you care about the Cape’s future, if you’re concerned how young people on Cape Cod can afford to live here… if you’re concerned housing options are too limited on Cape Cod,” said Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce Chief Executive Officer Wendy Northcross, “then this summit is for you.”
Her comments kicked off what was decidedly a bleak picture of the Cape’s housing issues. During an interactive survey, 92 percent of the more than 160 people in attendance responded that they believed Cape Cod has a housing problem.
Perhaps the most disturbing trend – the exodus of those between the ages of 25 to 44 from the region - was offered by Barry Bluestone of Truro, founding director of Northeastern University’s Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy.
The center was commissioned by the Cape Cod Young Professionals (CCYP) to assess the region’s outflow of what Bluestone dubbed “the core of the new labor force.” From 2000 to 2010, that demographic declined by 27 percent on Cape Cod, compared to 12.5 percent in the state and 3.4 percent nationally.
“Now here’s where things get real scary,” Bluestone told the audience, as he showed that precipitous decline continuing. It’s predicted that the Cape could lose over 20,000 people in the next 20 years. “We see a very large percentage of this is due to outmigration,” Bluestone said, noting that the majority will be the younger demographic, those under 45, that are already leaving the peninsula.
“So the real question is: how do we keep young people who are already here?” he asked. “And is it possible that we can even get some young people to come here?”
He offered some suggestions to addressing the problem including advocating for better job opportunities, reducing barriers to economic development and creating more affordable housing, including millennial villages that cater to the types of people that Cape Cod is losing.
|Northeastern University's Barry Bluestone talks about Cape Cod's housing challenges.
The region, he said, could also take a page from the economic success Chelsea has shown, creating the most jobs of all communities in the state over a 13-year period since the turn of the century.
What’s Chelsea’s secret? Marketing.
“It turns out the single factor that correlated more highly than any other with the growth in establishment, growth in business, and growth in a community was how well they did their economic development marketing,” Bluestone said.
Sitting on a panel with regional leaders and business people, HAC CEO Rick Presbrey talked about the discrepancy between housing costs on Cape Cod, which have gone up, and income, which has remained stagnant. “What it does is it drives people off the Cape because the wages are too low,” he said.
Presbrey urged action to make sure that Cape Cod can be “the place we want it to be.”
Panelist Paul Niedzwiecki, executive director of the Cape Cod Commission, said part of the solution is growth. “We need to grow,” he said. “When communities stop growing, they start dying.”
He emphasized the need to find the proper locations to site affordable housing and create incentives for developers to build these types of projects the Cape sorely needs.
Governor Charles Baker, the summit’s keynote speaker, talked about ways his administration can help.
He listed three aspects of any successful affordable housing project: permitting, labor and land. “The cost of those three elements determines the price of a project,” he said. Reducing one of those can help communities, “start to build housing people can afford to live in.”
The Commonwealth has an abundance of undeveloped land which Governor Baker said could be used to address the state’s housing issues.
Governor Baker also lamented the permitting hurdles involved with commercial and residential development, which add significant costs to a project. He promised to tackle this issue by working with officials in local government to assist the state in coming up with a more streamlined, efficient process.
In terms of providing more dollars for affordable housing projects, he said the state was at least one fiscal year away, based upon the $750 million deficit his office inherited for this fiscal year and $1.8 billion deficit for next fiscal year. “You can’t make strategic investments in anything if you don’t get your fiscal house in order,” he said, to applause.
|Governor Charles Baker addresses the audience at the SmarterCape Summit.
The one question Governor Baker did not have an answer to was how the Cape can address the loss of its young people. “This kid issue is a tough one,” he said, following a long pause. “I do think this issue involves a lot of things… Number one, it’s year-round employment which is something that I know is an issue down here.
“The unemployment rate for kids coming out of college these days is well above 25 percent,” he continued. “You can’t be picky if you’re a kid. You need to go where the opportunity is which is what my [oldest] son did. And you have to think that all those Baby Boomers that are in front of you are not going to retire any time soon so it’s a very different labor market then the one I entered when I got out of school.”
Homelessness is a serious issue, but finding ways to combat it can be enjoyable.
That’s exactly DYECH’s (Dennis-Yarmouth Ecumenical Council for the Homeless) approach to the issue on Cape Cod. Over the next two months, the organization will be holding fundraisers for HAC’s Project Prevention program that keeps people off the streets and in their homes. We are confident you’ll find these events will be pleasing to your stomach and pleasing to your ears while ultimately filling your heart with the satisfaction that you helped your neighbors in need.
It starts on Thursday, June 11, from 11 am to 8 pm, when the 99 Restaurant in West Yarmouth will donate 15 percent of your total bill to DYECH. Simply print out the voucher about and present it your server that night.
On Tuesday, June 30, the Cape Cod Conservatory Jazz Band will be playing a free concert at the St. Pius X Life Center on Barbara Street in South Yarmouth, at 7:30 pm. And on Sunday, July 5 at 2:30 pm, you can continue with the holiday spirit by attending a free patriotic concert at the St. Pius X Church.
There will be a free will offering at both concerts to raise funds for HAC’s homelessness prevention programs.
|HAC Volunteer of the Year Maura Dankert (far right) with her family, staff from The Village at Cataumet and HAC volunteer Cynthia Goldberg.
A few years ago on a cold winter day, Karen Graveline, Maureen Carser and Dan McCullough found themselves outside battling frigid temperatures, horizontal sleet and freezing rain to check on two homeless women living in a tent not far from Hyannis Harbor.
As they trudged through the brush, and ice began to form on McCullough’s beard and in his colleagues’ hair, they called out, asking the pair, “Can we come in?”
The women, recognizing the voices, zipped open their tent where McCullough, Carser and Graveline, saw them as comfortable as could be, enjoying some food and drink while listening to the radio. “They looked up at us standing out there… And one of them said to us, ‘What are you people doing out there in this weather? Are you crazy?’” McCullough said, relaying the story to those in attendance at HAC’s 41st Annual Meeting & Volunteer Recognition last month at the Cape Codder Resort & Spa in Hyannis.
As the laughter in the audience died down, McCullough acknowledged that perhaps he was not alone. “I guess if we’re doing this kind of work and we’re defining success in such unusual terms, maybe we are crazy,” he said. “But if we are then you know what, there are a lot of you in this room who are crazy too because you’re doing the same thing: HAC’s middle name.”
McCullough and Carser, members of the nonprofit TEAM M25, were celebrated for their “craziness” – others may call it a passion for helping those most vulnerable – at HAC’s annual meeting with the 2014 Human Services Partner Award.
|Dan McCullough (right) of TEAM M25 with NOAH Shelter Director Greg Bar at HAC's Annual Meeting & Volunteer Recognition.
In accepting the award, McCullough stressed that TEAM M25’s work – the organization cares for Cape Cod’s homeless that live outdoors – is driven not by success as defined by today’s society. Instead, he aligned success with another word tied to HAC’s work: assistance.
“Working with our people is not like building a boat in your backyard… where neighbors will come in and say, ‘Gee, you’ve been building that boat for 11 years. Is anything going to happen?’” he said. “It’s not that kind of thing. We’re dealing with human beings and we come from a place where we need to define our success in other ways.”
If success is indeed tied to assisting those in need, then it was visible in the award recipients at this year’s annual meeting, including those like the Hyannis Main Street Business Improvement District (BID) which was chosen as HAC’s Business/Organization Partner of the year.
The BID was instrumental in helping HAC launch the Day Center at NOAH last May as part of a community effort that included the Duffy Health Center, the Hyannis Civic Association, the Town of Barnstable and the Barnstable Police Department. “We think of Hyannis as a downtown with a heart and we want to come together and help people be happier and have a better quality of life,” said Elizabeth Wurfbain, the executive director of BID, explaining why it was so important for the community to provide the region’s homeless with a safe place to go during the day.
This year’s Volunteers of the Year recipients – mortgage loan officer Darin Weeks of Cape Cod Five Cents Savings Bank and Maura Dankert of Birthday Wishes – are also shining examples of McCullough’s definition of success.
Weeks has been teaching at HAC’s first-time homebuyer class for the past decade, helping “hundreds of families navigate the complex home buying process in purchasing homes here on the Cape,” Cheryl Kramer, manager of HAC’s Housing Consumer Education Center, said.
And once a month over the past six years, Bourne’s Dankert has been providing a little joy to children at The Village at Cataumet by throwing them birthday parties, complete with cake, ice cream, gifts and games. She has extended her monthly volunteerism to include driving families at the shelter to the local food pantry.
Dankert said her reward has been seeing the smiles of parents and their children as they have a few moments of normalcy amid the chaos of living in a homeless shelter. “To give them about an hour and a half of just fun time as they check their stressors at the door is just wonderful,” she said.
Having compassion for clients is something HAC CEO Rick Presbrey highlighted when recognizing employees at the agency – Michael Sweeney, Nancy Davison, Anne Williams, Dolores Barbati-Poore, Marthel Wass, Marie Johnson, Judy Van Buskirk, Lynne Perry, Alison Reid, AnnMarie Torrey, Lil Burlingame, Margaret Benaka and Ann Rebello - who have 20 or more years of service.
David Augustinho, chair of HAC’s executive board, expanded upon this sentiment in his remarks, commending staff for “their depth of knowledge and the empathy for the population they deal with.”
|HAC's Presbrey Public Service Award winner Paul Ruchinskas with his wife Loretta.
This year’s recipient of the Presbrey Public Service Award, Paul Ruchinskas of Brewster, also had kind words for the work of HAC as he has had a close relationship with the agency over the past 13 years. During that time, Ruchinskas has served as the affordable housing specialist at the Cape Cod Commission, helping it allocate federal and state funds to support affordable development in the region through the county’s HOME Program.
“Paul Ruchinskas has spent his professional life changing other people’s lives, thousands of families lives he changed for the better in the most fundamental way,” said last year’s Presbrey award winner Larry Brown as he introduced Ruchinskas. “Ask anyone who is homeless. Ask anyone who spent Christmas with their kids in a motel room. I can’t think of a more complex field having to learn and then having to learn the stuff of it and having to learn the way of it, and then to do so much good (as he has).”
At the end of March, a mother and her 19-month-old son walked into HAC’s office at 460 Main Street. Even before they reached the receptionist’s desk, the pair found themselves engrossed in a stack of books in HAC’s free library that greets visitors in the foyer.
With her child by her side, the mom grabbed five books – two featuring SpongeBob, one of Curious George, another of My Little Pony and the last titled “The Little Penguin” – that she would later bring home for her son and two other children to devour.
It was a simple scene that showed how popular HAC’s library, created by CEO Rick Presbrey in the late 90’s, has become. “It has been such a hit which is why we are often out of books,” said office manager Lynne Perry. “We can’t keep books on the shelves so we’re always in need of books for children and adults.”
Those wanting to make a donation to HAC’s free library can do so by dropping off used books at our main office at 460 West Main Street in Hyannis, Monday through Friday, from 9 am to 4:30 pm. While any book donations are welcome, HAC is currently in need of those geared towards adults.
Whenever you read a good book, somewhere in the
world a door opens to allow in more light.
During their time at HAC, Cornell students not only lent their voice to the agency’s monthly newsletter, but to its social media platform.
The group was responsible for helping HAC launch an Instagram account, adding to its current offerings on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. “We see this as a way to add a more youthful message to the work we are doing,” said Julie Wake, HAC’s director of communications and development. “The programs and services we provide have a serious bent to them, but by using Instagram we want to visually show that helping others is not only cool, but can be a lot of fun.”
To follow HAC on Instagram, click this link or search haconcapecod when on your smart phone. And make sure to use the hashtag #HAConCapeCod when posting photos or videos of our events.
|The Cornell students with children from The Village at Cataumet at the Hyannis Youth & Community Center.
By CORNELL STUDENTS
Hope is found in many different forms at HAC. It can be seen in a little boy who keeps trying to skate after falling more than 20 times. It can be found in a home reunited after overcoming mental illness or a lack of housing stability. It can be seen in the loving looks between a couple trying to make their lives better for their first child they are expecting in July. Hope can even be seen in a clean room to sleep in for a night at the NOAH shelter.
Hope, and often a second chance, is what HAC provides for the individuals it serves on a daily basis.
Being in the office for a week, our team was able to interview many staff and clients. The staff welcomed us with open arms and told stories of challenging themselves to be more successful in leading their clients towards stability. While all acknowledged that the work they do can be tiring at times, the way their faces lit up as they told stories of success and happiness showed where their motivation came from.
We came to HAC hoping to help the agency, but instead found ourselves reaping the benefits of working with such courageous staff and client population. The positivity and stories of conquering adversity, showed us that no matter where one ends up in life, there is always someone who will have their back. And that is something that should give us all hope.