Helping Hands & Caring Hearts

Cape Cod Life  /  November/December 2023 /

Writer: Wes Cipolla

Helping Hands & Caring Hearts


Cape Cod Life  /  November/December 2023 /

Writer: Wes Cipolla

Local organizations meet the needs of others through innovative and dedicated hard work. 

No doubt about it, the Cape and Islands are a tightly knit community. Along with that connected spirit comes a natural need and understanding of the connective fabric that brings us all together. With that acknowledgment comes a responsibility to do what we can for others within our collective society. The organizations profiled in the following pages are just a drop in the bucket of the countless nonprofits across the region that put the needs and benefits of others way ahead of themselves. Please enjoy getting to know these benevolent neighbors and perhaps see how you can be part of the bigger solution for all of us. 

Profiles by Wes Cipolla unless otherwise noted

Pedal to the Metal

Matt Pitta, director of communications for the Davenport Companies of South Yarmouth, got to participate in a Seaside Le Mans charity go-kart race even before he worked for the company that organizes them. 

Back when he was a news reporter on Cape Cod, he drove in the “media race” for local journalists covering the actual race, held annually at Mashpee Commons. That was the first and last time he ever got behind the wheel of a go-kart.

“My old teammates still blame me for losing,” Pitta jokes. “I got a penalty on one of my laps that they said cost us the race. We still had fun.” 

Since 2001, the four-hour race has raised $9 million for the Cape Cod Foundation, which then gives the money to the beneficiaries chosen for that year. This year’s race raised $250,000 for the Alzheimer’s Family Support Center, Cape Cod Healthcare, the Cape Cod Tech Foundation, the Penikese Island School and Sharing Kindness

“This is a unique one-of-a-kind fundraiser where people can suit up and get behind the wheel of a cool F1-style kart,” Pitta explains. “Because the race is made up of teams, and each person is responsible for part of the race, it creates a nice camaraderie that makes it a really fun event.” 

The idea for the race was first sparked in 2001, when the Davenport Companies management team held a team-building exercise at a go-karting facility in Braintree. 

“They were chatting about what an amazing time they had,” Pitta says, “and the conversation steered toward how they could capture that energy and enthusiasm to help Cape Cod nonprofits, and from
there the idea of the Seaside Le Mans was born.”

Some companies purchase sponsorships and create racing teams made up of their employees, while others create teams out of local first responders. 

“It’s a great way to support our local public safety personnel on Cape Cod,” Pitta says. “In fact, the Mashpee Police Department has had several winning teams in the past.” 

The Davenport Companies completely covers the administrative and operating cost of the race each year. 

“The event continues to grow in popularity every year,” Pitta notes. “We have spectators who make sure they attend each year and bring the whole family down to a day for fun.” 

Meaningful Mentors

“Cape Cod is not an easy place to do business,” says Mark Lowenstein, a volunteer mentor with SCORE Cape Cod and the Islands

For starters, the large population of retirees creates a small labor pool. For those of working age, there are few affordable housing options. The Cape’s tourism-based economy creates a glut of customers during the summer, but far fewer to sustain a business in the winter months. 

That’s where mentors like Lowenstein come in. With SCORE, Lowenstein uses his experience in the technology industry to mentor entrepreneurs looking to start, grow or exit a business. Founded in 1964, SCORE is active in all 50 states and is a partner of the U.S. Small Business Association

“I want to give back because I believe in the American Dream,” Lowenstein shares, “and I want people to own their own businesses so they can control their destiny.” 

Lowenstein worked for computer and software companies in the Boston area, and was a business professor at small colleges in Boston and Vermont. After that, he retired to Cape Cod, but he didn’t want to sit back and do nothing. He wanted to help business owners navigate the challenges of working on the Cape. 

His desire to help businesses became even stronger during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“The pandemic was a difficult time for many businesses,” Lowenstein reflects. “People were trying to avoid crowds and cut down on spending in general.” 

He noticed that restaurants without outdoor seating were devastated, but contractors and other home service industries did well. With people spending so much of their time at home, there was high demand for home remodeling and other services to make homes more comfortable. 

SCORE mentors provide resources and education to business owners, including webinars and in-person workshops. Lowenstein has mentored on Cape Cod for 12 years, serving over 1,500 clients. He enjoys meeting interesting people through mentoring, and seeing his clients’ work pay off as their businesses take off. Along with mentoring for-profit companies, he also helps nonprofits on the Cape with strategic planning and board development.  

Digging In

When the COVID-19 pandemic left grocery store shelves in Falmouth empty, it reinforced a belief inherent to Farming Falmouth’s mission—there was a need for a strong local food system and it was time to rethink where the community’s food comes from. 

Costa is the vice president of Farming Falmouth, a nonprofit which was founded in 2019 to promote local and sustainable agriculture in the town. 

“Our vision began to take shape some seven years ago,” Costa says, “at a time when farmland was rapidly being lost to development.” 

Farming Falmouth founders were part of a large working group that gathered to advise the town of Falmouth and hold a charrette to survey public preferences. It became clear Falmouth locals wanted a town-owned farm with diverse produce that was grown for all seasons with environmentally-friendly practices. As a result, The Town of Falmouth purchased the locally beloved 34-acre Andrews Farm, one of the last large farms left on Cape Cod.  

“Once fertile soils have been covered in concrete,” Costa explains, “they are lost forever. Even small parcels of land are precious, and provide opportunities for new farmers to grow more food in innovative ways that are better for the health of our community and the environment.” 

The Andrews Farm is now leased to Geoff Andrews, Tony’s son. “Geoff generously leased space to Farming Falmouth for 3 community projects there: a community garden, a community orchard, and a service garden where food is grown for donation to the Falmouth Service Center,” Costa explains. This season, Jeny Christian, Farming Falmouth’s President and the driving force behind the service garden project, worked tirelessly to provide 1,000 pounds of fresh produce to the Falmouth Service Center food pantry. “We plan to quadruple our yield next year when the full field comes into production,” Costa says. 

Farming Falmouth has supported the establishment of 2 community gardens in East Falmouth and are now building a third, on Peterson Farm, to open in 2024.  

Volunteers also practice gleaning, collecting crops left behind on farmers’ fields after the harvest is over. Over the last four years, the volunteers gleaned 10,000 pounds of produce, which otherwise would have gone to waste, for the food pantry. The gleaning takes place at the bountiful Pariah Dog Farm in Teaticket, thanks to the involvement of owner Matt Churchill. Farming Falmouth also runs Growing Together, an educational program that teaches farming and gardening skills. 

Farming Falmouth is a member of the Compact of Cape Cod Conservation Trusts, a group of 32 trusts which preserve land and water on the Cape. With helpful advice from the group, Farming Falmouth is preparing to purchase its own first parcel of farmland, which they will place in a conservation restriction, and farm. 

“The need to preserve farmland is more pressing than ever,” Costa shares. 

More than Books

The Osterville Village Library started 150 years ago, in the dining room of a woman named Mrs. Thankful Ames. The library got its own building in 1882, thanks to the efforts of William Lloyd Garrison Jr., son of the famous abolitionist. The new library had over 1,000 books. Now, it has over 100,000—and amenities beyond Ames and Garrison’s wildest dreams. 

“We have a multitude of exciting offerings,” shares Osterville Village Library Executive Director Cyndy Cotton. 

The library offers virtual reality experiences which take library visitors to the top of Mount Everest, the wreck of the Titanic, the surface of the Moon and the International Space Station. The library also has a 3D printer, a 20-piece big band orchestra, over 7,000 video classes, ESL classes, board game social groups and educational kits for children—just to name a few. 

“OVL offers a wide range of books and information,” Cotton says, “and we all have the freedom to choose what we borrow for reading.” 

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the library distributed over 3,000 books and a weekly newsletter which contained up-to-date information about the virus, as well as places to find food and other resources. When libraries reopened in July 2020, the Osterville Village Library was the only one on the Cape that was open seven days a week. 

For its pandemic-era work, including its vaccine appointment program, the library received a citation from the Massachusetts State Legislature and an Institute for Nonprofit Practices Changemaker Award. The Library Journal designated the library as a Star Library in 2021. 

The library receives some funding from the town of Osterville, but most of its $700,000 annual budget comes from private donations and fundraising events. 

“We have built a model for a library that our community has embraced and is supporting,” Cotton says.  

Paws-itive Vibes

“Calm, easy-going temperament.” 

“Highly social with people.” 

“Good manners.” 

“Gets along with other dogs.” 

These, along with a certificate from a registered pet therapy organization, are the skills that pooches need to become certified therapy dogs for Dogs On Call. Dogs On Call is a program of Cape Cod Healthcare which provides puppy love to patients, their families and staff members at Cape Cod Hospital and Falmouth Hospital

“Our therapy dogs provide a calming distraction and an immediate mood-booster to not only our patients, but to the staff as well,” says Leah Hyman, creator and coordinator of Dogs On Call. 

According to the Dogs On Call website, the presence of therapy dogs improves patient recovery, reduces stress and pain, and makes being in the hospital more tolerable. 

The dogs have recently begun visiting the Cape Cod Hospital Behavioral Health Unit, and Hyman quoted one patient there as saying: “I couldn’t even make my bed this morning, but now, I feel I can do anything!” 

Some nurses, Hyman says, coordinate their schedules so that they work on the days that the dogs come to visit. “I can say with certainty that the stress levels of not only the doctors,” Hyman says, “but also the nurses and social workers and all staff, are immediately lower when they see our dogs, and their moods are greatly improved.”

Through her friendship with Cape Cod Healthcare benefactor Marjorie McGraw, Hyman pitched the idea for Dogs On Call to Cape Cod Healthcare CEO Michael Lauf. Hyman had previously participated in a therapy dog program at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York. Lauf liked the idea, and Dogs On Call was officially launched in 2019. The program had to take a hiatus during the pandemic, but was relaunched in February 2023. 

Dogs On Call is currently made up of 15 teams—15 dogs and their owners/handlers trained in animal assisted therapy. The dogs are big and small, young and old, representing every breed from Newfoundlands (which Hyman called “gentle giants”) to long-haired Dachshunds to Golden Retrievers. 

Some day, Hyman shares, she would like rescue dogs to get involved in the program. In the meantime, she assured readers that more therapy dogs are on the way.  

The Gift of Giving

In the popular imagination, Martha’s Vineyard is synonymous with luxurious mansions and wealthy vacationers. Beneath that glamorous exterior, however, are many residents who work multiple jobs and still struggle to make ends meet. Due to the exorbitant cost of living on the island, and the lack of job opportunities in the winter months, these families often cannot afford Christmas presents for their children. 

In 1938, Vineyard Haven resident Addie Crist decided to do something about it. With her friends, she knitted six red stockings filled with food, clothing and toys for children in need. Last year, the Red Stocking Fund, a nonprofit based on Crist’s act of generosity, provided holiday cheer for 308 children. 

“We want every child to have the opportunity to have a magical Christmas,” says Red Stocking Fund co-chair Sandy Joyce. “It is very gratifying, fulfilling and rewarding. We always say that as volunteers, we get much more than we give.” 

Joyce has volunteered with the Red Stocking Fund for 15 years. Co-chair Susie Wallo, who has volunteered with the nonprofit since the 1980s, describes herself and Joyce as “two peas in a pod.” 

“It’s been a wonderful partnership,” Joyce adds. 

Each holiday season, a “small army” of volunteers each receive an anonymous list containing the clothing needs of a child. These volunteers then go out and shop for the clothes. Wallo started out as one of these “shoppers,” then became the treasurer and finally co-chair. 

The Red Stocking Fund does not purchase toys with its own funds, but receives toys donated by the public. 90 cents of every dollar made by the nonprofit goes toward the purchase of clothing.  

Rising to the Challenge

When she was a legal aid attorney, Katie Wibby gained experience helping low-income families secure housing and public benefits. However, as time went on, she wanted to help those in her own backyard. 

Wibby is now the CEO of the Lower Cape Outreach Council (LCOC) which, since its incorporation in 1984, has provided emergency assistance to families living in Brewster, Chatham, Eastham, Harwich, Orleans, Provincetown, Truro and Wellfleet. This assistance has resulted in millions of dollars being allocated to families in the form of food, financial assistance, clothing and toys for children. 

“As an Orleans resident,” Wibby says, “I am privileged to have an opportunity to serve the community where I live and raise my family. Being able to support my friends and neighbors through the Lower Cape Outreach Council’s programming and mission is truly rewarding.” 

While root causes of poverty are similar across the state of Massachusetts, Wibby explains that, “Additional challenges on Cape are the rural nature of the Lower and Outer Cape and the seasonal tourist industry. We are far away from resources such as hospitals and airports, but also lack adequate public transportation and basic necessities are more expensive. Additionally, as seasonal homes are becoming more prevalent, several towns report that nearly 50% of the housing stock is seasonal housing. The average home price is out of reach for local families.” 

The Lower Cape Outreach Council helps residents pay for electricity, heat, rent, mortgage, insurance, medical care and transportation needs. It also provides loans to small businesses in the area. 

The council started as an offshoot of the Eastham Food Pantry, established in the town’s Methodist church during the 1970s. LCOC co-founder Lynn Nyman later helped establish food pantries in the Methodist churches of Wellfleet and Orleans. The LCOC now has nine food pantries, and distributes free meals every Thanksgiving. 

“Today,” Wibby explains, “the agency remains a major provider of food for residents of the Lower and
Outer Cape.”  

From Stranded to Safety

Cape Cod is a great place to go to the beach, unless you’re a dolphin. The Cape’s hooked shape, sloping sand flats and changing tides are dangerous for them. An average of seventy live dolphins strand on Cape beaches each year—more than anywhere else in the world. 

The International Fund for Animal Welfare’s (IFAW) Marine Mammal Rescue and Research program, based in Yarmouthport, has rescued nearly 7,000 marine mammals since 1998. IFAW staff and over 150 volunteers are responsible for protecting dolphins on 700 miles of Cape coastline. When strandings occur, IFAW’s veterinarians and biologists respond quickly to assess the health of the dolphin. If the animal is deemed healthy enough for immediate release, it is taken to a custom-built Mobile Dolphin Rescue Clinic, nicknamed Moby, and treated for stranding related injuries. After that, it is transported to a safe location and released into deep water. For some dolphins more options are needed.

 “Some animals require additional diagnostics, treatments and sometimes additional recovery time that can only be provided at a dedicated facility,” says Stacey Hedman, IFAW director of communications for global programs. In August, the program opened an innovative short-term rehabilitation facility for stranded dolphins. There, dolphins suffering from the stress and shock of stranding now receive intensive 24/7 care for up to four days, allowing for enhanced diagnostics and treatments to increase the chance of survival after release. 

 “This will allow us to provide larger care to a larger number of animals,” Hedman explains, “particularly because we’re located in a global hotspot for strandings.”

 The facility is currently only able to treat one patient at a time but plans to expand in the future.

“Our initial anticipated reach is to initially help 12 patients a year,” Hedman states.

 IFAW has consistently been on the cutting edge of stranded dolphin rescue. For many years, being stranded alone on the beach was considered a death sentence for dolphins.  It was commonly believed that dolphins, highly social animals, could never rejoin their pod (group) after being stranded, so lone dolphins should be euthanized. In 2010 IFAW challenged these beliefs by using innovative satellite tags to prove that lone stranded healthy dolphins could return to the safety of a pod once released.

Two years later, Cape Cod saw 114 dolphin strandings in less than three months, more than ever before. Out of those dolphins, IFAW managed to rescue 87 of them, a 76 percent success rate.  

Putting the Heart into Home

“We are in the grip of an unprecedented and unremitting crisis,” says Alicia Magnotta, CEO of Housing Assistance Corporation Cape Cod

Almost every day, Cape Cod families come to Housing Assistance with no place to stay, having been forced to leave their homes due to skyrocketing prices. With shelters overcrowded and rentals at one percent capacity, they have few options. Often, these families have lived and worked on the Cape
for generations. 

“The housing crisis is more serious than ever,” Magnotta says. “It is now affecting the people who are the backbone of our economy and the community we love.” 

Housing Assistance was founded in 1974, and started out by giving rental vouchers to residents in need. The nonprofit still does this, along with operating shelters for homeless families, developing and/or managing over 600 housing units on the Cape and mobilizing residents to support more affordable housing. Housing Assistance serves over 6,000 households each year, with special emphasis on families and seniors. 

The roots of Cape Cod’s current housing crisis go back to the 1980s, when towns passed zoning laws intended to protect the Cape’s historic charm and beauty. These laws often required homes to be built on plots of land at least one acre in size, keeping housing stock low. 

According to Housing Assistance, nearly 1,000 families leave the Cape each year due to how expensive housing has become. 

“The root of this crisis is demand that is driven by a summer population that fuels our seasonal economy,” Magnotta shares, “and the needs of families and individuals who are the working backbone of the Cape, and the challenge of balancing new housing development with the preservation of the Cape’s natural resources.” 

In 2022, Housing Assistance helped launch Housing to Protect Cape Cod, a coalition that educates residents on how to advocate for affordable housing and change zoning laws so that more housing can be built. The coalition, formed alongside the Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce, the Cape Cod and Islands Association of Realtors, the Home Builders and Remodelers Association of Cape Cod and Capebuilt, now has 900 members. 

“The impact we have as an organization in the lives of so many of our neighbors is what motivates us to do this work,” Magnotta says.

Building Homes and Hope

Text by Leslie Hatton

Through their fundraising efforts and initiatives over the past 35 years, Habitat for Humanity of Cape Cod has made it possible for locals to purchase their homes and make paying an affordable mortgage a reality. Habitat for Humanity of Cape Cod raises funds that help to build more economical homes through their sponsorships and events such as: Home in One Golf Tournament, Ride for Homes bike ride event, their Falmouth Road Race team, their iconic shed and kayak raffles and sales at their ReStores. ReStores, located in Falmouth and Yarmouth, sell new and used home goods, including kitchen cabinets and appliances, donated by the public, which raise much needed funds to help build homes and with the added bonus of keeping used goods out of our landfills. Habitat for Humanity of Cape Cod’s fully insured Deconstruction Team will remove unwanted kitchen cabinets and vanities and can also coordinate the removal timing with contractors. 

Wendy Cullinan, president and CEO, says, “Our supporters have made it possible for over 600 local individuals to live in Habitat Cape Cod homes. We build community by building affordable homes. Our volunteers spend hours on-site building homes and creating friendships with each other and the homeowners; this friendship and volunteerism help build a strong community.” Through Habitat Cape Cod’s homeownership program, families have the opportunity to build their own homes, attain an affordable mortgage and remain on Cape Cod to live and work.

An award-winning lead developer of energy efficient, solar equipped, affordable homes, Habitat for Humanity of Cape Cod recently completed their 180th home with upcoming builds this year in Brewster, next year in Dennis and Wellfleet and Yarmouth and Falmouth and Marstons Mills are slated for 2025. Cullinan explains, “Habitat Cape Cod homes are deed-restricted to remain affordable in perpetuity. Our work depends on the generosity of the Cape Cod community as local affiliates receive no funding from Habitat for Humanity International.” 

Wes Cipolla