“Those who bring sunshine to the lives of others cannot keep it from themselves.” ~J.M. Barrie
Cape Cod and our surrounding region is home to many nonprofits and organizations whose focus ranges from children to the elderly, veterans and those in need of health care assistance, animals in need and ecological spaces. From the broad swath of services, we found eleven diverse and inspiring groups whose stories and missions touched our hearts.
AHA! in downtown New Bedford hosts a free arts & culture event on the second Thursday night of every month. The Barnstable Land Trust encourages people to help preserve our natural spaces, ranging from donating, to becoming a member, to bestowing property. Big Brothers Big Sisters lends a guiding hand to the youth of Cape Cod through mentorship. The Cape Cod Children’s Museum in Mashpee provides the space for children to do what they do best: exercise their curiosity and independent playfulness. Colorful Kidz brings a professional designer’s eye to one of the most important spaces for a child in need—their bedroom. The Happy Hope Factory, located in Pocasset, packs Happy Hope Bags for children in hospitals, shelters, hospice and clinics. Heritage Museum & Gardens provides interactive ecological and historical education for visitors of all ages. The JFK Museum on Main Street in Hyannis focuses on local history and shedding light on the civil responsibilities each of us has. Plymouth Helping Hands for Animals financially assists pets and their owners along with shelters and rescue organizations in need of aid. Sierra Delta on Nantucket connects veterans with companion and emotional support dogs, while offering training and education. Tommy’s Place in Falmouth provides once-in-a-lifetime Cape Cod vacations to extended families managing childhood cancer diagnoses.
We hope that this holiday season, you will take note of the sunshine in your life and find the opportunity to help it shine on others.
Photos provided by various organizations.
AHA! New Bedford (Art – History – Architecture)
Text by Julie Craven Wagner
Just like the exclamation that is uttered in response to a good idea, AHA! The New Bedford Art – History – Architecture (AHA!) event that is presented free to the public every 2nd Tuesday of each month serves a purpose other cultural organizations simply can’t do. The nonprofit organization that brings together traditional retail, restaurants, professionals like architects, designers and educators, as well as artists and musicians, transforms the landscape of New Bedford for one highly anticipated day, each month of the year. Focused in the historic district of New Bedford, with its cobblestone streets and old-world architecture, AHA! events are a mash-up of a street festival, an artisan fair, a music festival and a gallery crawl.
Lee Heald, director of the organization for the last 14 years, says that the collaborative nature of the events is what lies at the core, as well as the success of the events that have been consistently presented for over 20 years. During the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, a morphed version of the Thursday night festivals quickly became VAHA!—a virtual presentation of various offerings that continued for over a year. Now as the public has emerged, the monthly destination is accomplishing two distinct, yet important functions: people are able to return to socialized celebration in a variety of open-air and outdoor options; and local businesses are benefiting from the organized efforts that drive eager attendees to their front door.
As other festivals and events emerge across the New Bedford landscape, they all take a page from the success AHA! has built and often collaborate when appropriate. The energy and vibe that permeates the charming and vibrant area of New Bedford each Thursday is a reminder that together we can achieve success as well as a bit of fun on the way.
Learn more at ahanewbedford.org.
Barnstable Land Trust: Trusting in Nature
Text by Chris White
The relationship between Massachusetts and land conservation is celebrated and significant; the transcendentalists found God in nature, and Henry David Thoreau discovered himself at Walden Pond. Charles Eliot established the first American land trust in 1891 when he founded the Trustees of Reservations and preserved Virginia Wood in Stoneham. The concept of land trusts took 90 years to widely catch on, however, because for most of the 20th century, according to Professor Richard Brewer, author of the book Conservancy: The Land Trust Movement in America, “Federal, state, and local governments did a fairly satisfactory job of land conservation. This progressive era came to a halt in 1981.” In response, the land trust “movement” began in earnest in the early 1980’s. One such organization is the Barnstable Land Trust, founded in 1983.
Historical maps on the website of Barnstable Land Trust clearly illustrate the need that led to its conception. In 1951, before the construction of the Mid-Cape Highway, most of Barnstable, including its seven villages, was forested with development contained to the coasts. Then, according to the BLT website, “The Cape was a target of rampant development” in the 1970’s and 80’s. Since 1983, the BLT has worked to conserve and reclaim lands for nature. The group has protected over 11,000 acres, including such popular locations as Eagle Pond and Lowell Park. Going forward, BLT has identified 2,500 more acres that are “critical for protection—for open space, water quality, recreation, and habitat.”
Barnstable Land Trust encourages people to help preserve our natural spaces and offers a number of ways to do so, ranging from donating to becoming a member to gifting actual property. For many families who love the land and their homes in the area, the Barnstable Land Trust provides the chance to ensure that future generations may enjoy some of the same beauty and experiences that have made these places so meaningful on personal levels. To the flora and fauna of these natural places, of course, the conservation efforts of the BLT go far beyond sentiment and nostalgia; to these residents, the work of Barnstable Land Trust means absolutely everything.
To learn more visit blt.org.
Big Brothers Big Sisters
Text by Mary Stanley
There is no greater feeling than knowing you have made a difference in the life of a child, and that is precisely the reason why JR Mell, Regional Director for Cape & Islands Big Brothers/Big Sisters, is so passionate about his organization. “This is the most rewarding volunteer opportunity there is. What better feeling is there than knowing you make such an amazing difference in a kid’s life just by being there,” he says.
Mell became a big brother ten years ago and while his “little” is now in his 20s, he still maintains a relationship with him.
He said the need for mentors—especially male mentors—is great right now.
“I have never seen anything like this before where the need for mentors is rivaling our need for funding. The emotional and social loss over the past two years has impacted boys much more significantly than girls, and we have a long list of boys waiting for their big brothers,” says Mell.
“The longer these boys wait for their big brother, the worse the outcome is for the community,” he added.
One of the biggest misconceptions potential mentors may have, he says, is that there is a time commitment. “It only takes 2 to 4 hours every two weeks to devote to a little brother but those few hours will have the most far-reaching and significant impact,” he says.
And the cost to be a big brother is nominal. “I try to focus our entire mentoring program around activities that are little to no cost,” Mell says. Spending time with a little brother can be as simple as going to a park or going for a bike ride.
Typically, he says, men are attracted to three types of things: something they can fix; something that involves humor; and something that presents a clear solution. “Being a Big Brother meets all three of those criteria,” Mell explains.
“If you can show up twice a month, meet a kid where he’s at and have some fun, I promise you will get back so much more than you give.”
Learn more at www.CapeBigs.org.
Cape Cod Children’s Museum: Play Together
Text by Christina Galt
In 1990, The Cape Cod Children’s Museum was founded by a group of local moms with the goal of creating a safe space for children on the Cape to learn, play and have fun. Since its humble beginning in the Falmouth Mall, The Cape Cod Children’s Museum has called Mashpee home for the last 20 years and become the largest (and only) museum on the Cape dedicated entirely to children–welcoming over 50,000 guests and members annually.
The museum is open to the public, with a $12 admission fee per person. “We think our memberships are the best deal,” shares Executive Director Lisa Bates. The majority of their memberships are for four people, with two different main membership offers. They offer a year round membership, along with a September to June membership which is geared towards local families who take a break during the summer rush.
Bates announced that this year, the museum has a brand new exhibit as well as new membership called the “Sea Star” membership. This membership is for children under one, the “non walkers.” The Sea Star membership is essentially “bought” by the baby, allowing them to bring whomever they want with them to the museum– they’re the star. “We thought it would be the most flexible way to allow, grandparents, aunts, uncles, parents or nannies to bring them in for the day.”
Bates notes, “We have finally gotten to a place where we can use our admission and memberships to fund most of our operational expenses. It wasn’t always like that in the past, but now we can use grants and other donations to build bigger and better exhibits and add new programming.” The museum offers membership admission with discounts for military families, families receiving benefits, children in foster care, and more. Scholarships are also available for Cape Cod families in need.
“We recently introduced another fundraising piece, a business membership. A business can buy a membership here and use it for their employees, themselves, or clients. When a business buys a membership, we are able to provide a scholarship to another family that can’t afford to come to the museum; we call it a ‘BOGO’–you buy one and it gives one,” says Bates. “It’s a way for businesses on Cape Cod to help themselves, while also helping a local family in need.” Which coincides with the museum’s philosophy, “Play is the right of all children.”
Bates shares, “Our mission is ‘play together.’ What we strive for is families stopping and taking the time to enjoy each other. The kids are learning, having fun and playing while having the full attention of whomever brought them to the museum. That’s a big piece for us and for them to meet other children and play together– which we can do now.” She emphasizes, “I think it is the most important part. Sometimes people will say ‘we’re just a play space,’ which makes us laugh because that is a child’s job, and by playing they learn–we have thousands of opportunities for them to do that here. We are very proud of what we have accomplished so far and we are excited for what the future holds for the Cape Cod Children’s Museum.”
Text by Julie Craven Wagner
After 25 years of transforming personal spaces for her clients in the greater Boston area, interior designer Caren Berry felt very strongly that she needed to give back to those who were less fortunate than herself, or her clients. “I have been so lucky to do what I do, for such lovely clients who trusted me to create imaginative, comfortable spaces in their homes,” Berry shares. “Achieving that success made me acutely aware of the reality many people who are dealing with day-to-day struggles have to live with. If I could help someone, particularly children, find some joy in their personal space, a place they could escape the difficulties of their life, I knew I could have a positive impact.” For Berry, she has learned there are fewer more personal spaces in the home than one’s bedroom, and in July 2021, she finally opened the doors of Colorful Kidz, a nonprofit which aims to provide a cosmetic makeover of a child’s bedroom.
“It started with a young girl who had just endured one in a long line of surgeries associated with Spina bifida,” Berry explains as she recounts the day she approached the mother and young girl who became her first beneficiary on a beach in Cotuit. In the following weeks, as Berry worked through her process of asking the child what they liked and what they needed, a transformed bedroom where medical supplies were discreetly stowed in new storage solutions, avoiding distraction or discomfort when friends came by to visit. A new quiet space was established where the young girl and her tutor could focus on tasks at hand. Other children who are in transition for a variety of reasons—domestic insecurity, fire destruction or other upheaval—are casually interviewed by Berry (not altogether a different approach she has used for decades as she uncovered her interior design clients’ preferences) to discover where their passions lie. “It is important that I make a connection with the kids to understand what makes them happy,” she shares, as she describes the inevitable reactions and glee that punctuate the final reveal.
The organization relies on community donations of furniture, fixtures, accessories, and a retail shop where furniture transformed by Berry with paint and panache is sold to generate much-needed funds. “We are also developing relationships with seniors who volunteer their talents for sewing or refinishing furniture; all tasks they can accomplish in their own home,” Berry says. Her business model relies heavily on a very grass-roots approach to connecting needs with resources; for example, Berry indicates that a utility trailer would greatly help with the pick-up and delivery she often accomplishes on her own.
To learn more visit colorfulkidz.org.
Happy Hope Factory
Text by Kathy Blackwell
The Happy Hope Factory, a local nonprofit formed in 2011, began as the childhood dream of Founder and CEO Emi Burke, to bring hope and smiles to children worldwide. As mother of a child frequently in the hospital, Emi observed countless children languishing from their beds, and the vision for The Happy Hope Factory was born. Today, it has expanded to a multi-faceted organization where Happy Hope Bags are assembled and delivered to over 600,000 children in all 50 US states, the District of Columbia, and 16 additional countries.
Based in Pocasset, The Happy Hope Factory is a combined headquarters and event space, offering a state-of-the-art printing office, Happy Hope store, conference center and shipping/receiving services. From here, event supplies are sent directly to companies and individuals packing Happy Hope Bags in any location. These beautifully crafted bags contain creative activities and basic care items that are hospital approved and carefully chosen to entertain while serving a dual purpose. For example, the pinwheels and bubbles are packed in most bags to bring joy while also helping children who are practicing breathing exercises. Beginning with children in hospitals, Happy Hope Bags now reach Ronald McDonald houses, shelters, clinics, emergency rooms, hospice and palliative care, as well as anywhere else a child needs hope and a smile.
Happy Hope Bags are made possible through corporate sponsorships from companies such as UPS, NBCUniversal, Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Massachusetts, among many others. The Happy Hope Factory offers companies unique and memorable team building events to pack Happy Hope Bags, as well as welcoming corporate and community partners on-site at their facility in Pocasset.
At the onset of the pandemic, Emi and her team quickly pivoted to hosting packaging events through Zoom, accommodating volunteers seeking to make a difference while working remotely. The Happy Hope Factory is currently welcoming individuals and small group volunteers who wish to provide support in-person, and is grateful for the many Cape Cod community members and organizations who take part in the joyful experience of packing bags and giving back. As Emi says, “I know each one of us has a purpose to do good, give back and share hope.”
Heritage Museums & Gardens
Text by Rachel Walman
Heritage Museum & Gardens has celebrated the landscapes and culture of the Cape Cod region for over 50 years. The sprawling acreage and gardens, interactive displays and historical exhibits inspire people of all ages to explore and learn together.
Bringing timely awareness and mindfulness about the land upon which we live, next year Heritage is opening ‘Creating Cape Cod’, an exhibit about how Cape Cod became a tourist destination, as well as ‘Treasured Trash’. These exhibits and outdoor sculptures examine the increase in tourism and human impact over the decades.
To more tangibly connect their most impressionable target audience, Heritage opened ‘Hidden Hollow’ eleven years ago, to address the need for children to relate to the world around them. “Hidden Hollow helps children feel comfortable in and connect with nature,” Anne Scott-Putney, President and CEO of the Heritage, explains. “It provides a way for independent exploration and discovery.” Based on positive family feedback, they made the leap to starting The Hundred Acre School (for Pre-K through First Grade), designed around the STEM principles featured in Hidden Hollow.
For the past two years, Heritage has collaborated with members of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe to build a wetu dwelling, develop The Three Sisters Garden and present the Mashpee Wampanoag Festival Day. “We worked with SmokeSygnals, a native-run creative agency,” Scott-Putney says. “It was wonderful to see visitors very interested in the history. It’s not just about the past, it’s about how to connect the past with the present, and to help people understand that the Tribe and its members share a common legacy as well as being a very vibrant and vital part of today’s community.”
Heritage also works with The Cape Cod Hydrangea Society to present a 10-day festival during the height of hydrangea season, as well as with the town of Sandwich and PTSA from Sandwich High School, including the STEM Academy, to produce a Halloween extravaganza. “The proceeds are split between Heritage and various groups and clubs at the high school,” Scott-Putney relates. “They all work together and provide many volunteers to help make it a successful event.”
“We’re a place that people have come back to year after year, just like they come back to Cape Cod, because things change every year at Heritage–but some things always remain the same,” muses Scott-Putney. “For a lot of people, it’s like coming home.”
For visitor and membership information, visit heritagemuseums&gardens.org.
John F. Kennedy Hyannis Museum
Text by Rachel Walman
The John F. Kennedy Hyannis Museum is nearly 30 years old, housed in the historic Town Hall, which was around when JFK and his family walked Main Street. “The mission of the Museum is to present and share all the Cape Cod stories of the Kennedy family, specifically JFK,” explains Wendy Northcross, Executive Director of the Museum. “We really try to connect people to the power of the place of Cape Cod; why this was an important place to President Kennedy, and what it meant to his family.”
An independently operated establishment, the Museum has been a hub of learning and memoriam since 1992, bringing in students and tourists alike. “We’ve done a lot of activities over the years to be really part of this downtown community, and have become one of the top five most visited places on Cape Cod. So we’re pretty proud of that,” Northcross says. “We always wanted the Museum to be part of the renaissance of Hyannis.”
Central to the tenets of the Museum is the broader aspect of the Kennedy legacy, especially what it can teach younger generations. “I think the opportunity that we have going forward is that whole topic of leadership,” Northcross emphasizes. “What does it take to be a leader? What inspires a leader? What supports a leader? For Kennedy, it was this place; he said it was the one place he could think and be alone, and process through the world’s problems.”
Ultimately, the Museum is dedicated to educating visitors of all ages on the value of civic engagement. “We have more stories to tell about leadership, and we also think that there’s a great amount of learning to be done on civic education,” Northcross continues. “What does it take to be a citizen in a democracy? And what are the roles and responsibilities of that? I think moving forward, we’re going to find more ways to be relevant to all generations, especially our kids, and next generations of leaders and try to be part of their story too.”
For more information visit jfkhyannismuseum.org.
Plymouth Helping Hands for Animals
Text by Christina Galt
Plymouth Helping Hands for Animals was founded in 2008, under the name Helping Hands for the Plymouth Animal Shelter, Inc., with the mission to provide veterinary care for animals at the Town Shelter beyond the Town’s budget. “After seeing that there were no funds in the town to get these animals the medical attention they needed, especially neutering and vaccinations, we knew we had to help,” shares one of the groups founding members Janet Baird. “With the money we raised we were able to get the animals in the town shelter the medical care they needed, which ultimately enabled their adoptions.”
In 2020 the organization began to grow, changing its name to Plymouth Helping Hands for Animals with a broader mission and reach. Plymouth Helping Hands for Animals is an all volunteer group, now working as a support organization, raising funds to financially assist pets and their owners along with shelters, rescue organization and other animal-related causes in need of donations, medical care, food, or supplies. “Our goal is to help the animals of the greater Plymouth area,” shares the group’s president Deb Balboni. “If there is an animal in need of medical care and it meets our criteria, we will reach out and help.”
Throughout the year, Plymouth Helping Hands for Animals plans multiple fundraising events and participates in a number of outreach opportunities. “We just had a very successful golf tournament over at Squirrel Run in Plymouth,” shares Balboni. “We had 80 golfers, a huge amount of volunteers and we raised a significant amount for the organization.”
Currently, the organization is gearing up for their annual Pies for Paws Fundraiser. For this event, Plymouth Helping Hands for Animals teams up with family owned Montilio’s Bakery out of Brockton, selling quality pies for Thanksgiving. “We charge $25 per pie and we’re hoping to break last year’s record of 300 pies sold,” says Balboni. To order a pie, you can visit Plymouth Helping Hands’ website and purchase online. The organization plans a pick up day in Plymouth on the Tuesday and Wednesday before Thanksgiving. The net proceeds from the fundraiser go directly to Plymouth Helping Hands for Animals. “If you’re not in need of a pie, you can still purchase one to be donated to a family in need. You can help so many by just buying one pie,” explains Balboni.
The organization recently joined the American Legion Food Pantry, partnering with them to create a Pet Food Pantry. “People who come to the pantry for themselves, can now also pick up food and other pet supplies for their animals,” explains Balboni. “When we started this organization so many years ago, I never imagined it would grow to what it is now,” notes Baird. “It’s amazing to see how this organization has grown over the years and the work it has accomplished.” Balboni says, “We have a big volunteer group, with 9 members on the Board of Directors and with your support, we will continue our mission to help those without a voice: the animals.”
For more information or to make a donation, visit helpinghandsforpas.org.
508-591-3190 / P.O. Box 214, Manomet, MA 02345.
Sierra Delta: Improvement, Purpose, Innovation and Community
Text by Christina Galt
Sierra Delta, the Nantucket-based nonprofit, strives to empower veterans through the love of dogs. Founder and CEO of Sierra Delta, BJ Ganem explains, “I knew from my personal experience, after I was injured in Iraq, just how much a dog can help.” The goal was to figure out a way to make things more accessible for vets. “Currently on the traditional system, only about a thousand veterans a year get help with service dogs.”
The nonprofit realized that, “Life Buddies,” companion and emotional support dogs, were just as needed and important as service dogs. “We quickly began working on ways to help more veterans get connected with dogs,” says Ganem. Sierra Delta developed two programs, their Service Dog Program through their Academy Partners and their Life Buddy Program through their platform and community.
Full-Access Service Dogs are specifically trained to go everywhere with a veteran, even places that do not allow dogs. The Service Dog Program can train for severe PTSD, loss of limbs, vision or hearing loss and more. The program can provide emergency assistance, item retrieval such as prosthetics, rousing from night terrors, opening and closing doors, pulling wheelchairs, and daily activity assistance. Veterans that are interested in a service dog can apply in minutes through Sierra Delta’s website. Sierra Delta then works with veterans to educate them on what it means to have a service dog and gets them in contact with one of the nonprofit’s Service Dog Academies across the country. Veterans then learn and bond with their new service dog through instructor-led, focused training through one of the nonprofit’s service dog providers. After graduating, veterans and their dogs can continue with the Life Buddy Program.
Limited-Access Life Buddies are trained to a veteran’s specific needs with access anywhere dogs are welcome. The Life Buddy Program can train for basic commands, Canine Good Citizen, house and crate training and more. The program provides enhanced wellness, motivation to engage, emotional support, increased independence, and home and public assistance. For veterans who want to join the Life Buddy Program, they just have to apply. “In the Life Buddy Program, veterans can bring their own dog and we source trainers in their area to help them customize the training to their specific needs and lifestyle,” explains Ganem. If they don’t have a dog, the nonprofit encourages them to adopt. “The main goal is to connect them to a dog and through that dog to their community.” The Program even developed an app, the Life Buddy Program App, for ongoing community, care, and support. “Every veteran with a dog can use the app,” explains Ganem. “It offers games they can play with their dog, training tips, and veterans can earn points by just walking their dog and getting out of the house.”
Ganem notes, “We are trying to build a program that allows veterans to be a part of a growing community based on our love of country and dogs.” This year alone, the nonprofit has helped almost a thousand veterans get connected with a dog. “We can’t do this work without everybody’s help,” says Ganem. “We’re really just trying to bring awareness in any way we can, while expanding in a responsible, reasonable and sustainable way so veterans are getting their needs met, while also giving these dogs a forever home.”
For more information or to donate visit sierradelta.com.
Text by Mary Stanley
When Tim O’Connell donated a one-week stay at his Martha’s Vineyard home to a family with a child battling cancer, he never could have imagined the profound impact that donation would have on him and, ultimately, the New England community as a whole.
When he received a letter from the family, thanking him for his donation and expressing how much fun their son Grifyn and the rest of the family had, O’Connell knew that this was the dream vacation every family in a similar situation should experience.
He purchased the former Elm Arch Inn in Falmouth and named the home Tommy’s Place, after his friend and founder of the Falmouth Road Race, Tommy Leonard, who he said had a generous spirit and charisma that drew people in. “He grew up an orphan so this home serves as Tommy’s permanent home,” O’Connell explains. Sadly, Leonard died before the doors opened in July.
O’Connell was confident that Tommy’s Place would open, but unforeseen challenges were looming. “I was still fundraising in 2020 when COVID hit, so I had to switch gears a bit, but no way was I going to let 14 years of a dream be taken away,” he says.
He took a risk and began building, hoping that as people saw the progress, they would get excited about the project and the money would follow. He needed to “make it rain,” as they say.
“I was standing on a dirt pile looking around, and a man walked up to me, handed me an envelope and said he liked what I was doing,” he says. The envelope contained $25,000. Large donations began coming in, ironically, on rainy days.
With 11 uniquely designed bedrooms, courtesy of HGTV’s Taniya Nayak and her designer colleagues, the home has all the amenities that any family could want from a Cape Cod vacation home and so much more, including a home theater, game rooms, outdoor basketball and volleyball courts.
“I just want these families to have this one-week reprieve from all that they are dealing with and to relax, just enjoy one another and have fun,” he says.
Though the home is open and booked through the end of the year, he said, the fundraising continues. “We still need money to maintain the home and pay for utilities, etc., so that we can continue to offer these families this wonderful dream vacation experience.”
For more information visit tommysplace.org.
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