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Philanthropy Cape-Style

Tommy’s Place

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.”

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