Housing Assistance Corporation Blog

HAC's 41st Annual Meeting Honors Housing Efforts on Cape Cod

Posted by Chris Kazarian on Wed, May 27, 2015 @ 10:16 AM
DSC 7765 resized 600HAC 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.

DSC 7455 resized 600Dan 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.”

DSC 7755 resized 600HAC'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).”

Tags: Annual Meeting, HAC, TEAM M25, Maura Dankert, Rick Presbrey, Birthday Wishes, Dan McCullough, Paul Ruchinskas, Hyannis BID

HAC's 41st Annual Meeting Recognizes Housing Efforts on Cape Cod

Posted by Chris Kazarian on Wed, Apr 01, 2015 @ 10:58 AM
DSC 0256 resized 600Dan 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.

DSC 0367 resized 600Matt 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. 

Tags: TEAM M25, Maura Dankert, Rick Presbrey, NOAH Shelter, Birthday Wishes, Dan McCullough, Paul Ruchinskas, Darin Weeks, Cape Cod Five

Winter's Impact on Cape Cod's Homeless

Posted by Chris Kazarian on Wed, Feb 11, 2015 @ 10:17 AM

 DSC 7575 resized 600

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.

Tags: Homeless, snow, NOAH, Dan McCullough, Greg Bar, winter, M25