Karen Townsend never thought she would find another role as fulfilling and meaningful as the 35 years she spent at the head of the class teaching high school English in New York. The East Dennis resident loved her students and they loved her. Years later, she is still in touch with many of them.
Almost six years ago, though, Townsend came across another role which has proved equally significant. A friend who worked at WE CAN asked her to help with organizing some data. WE CAN, which is based in Harwich Port—and stands for Women’s Empowerment through Cape Area Networking—is dedicated to empowering local women through mentoring, networking, and providing information and support. Townsend asked to volunteer with WE CAN, and the more time she spent at the center the more she connected with the organization’s mission and staff, and the women who seek out their programs.
“Everyone, whether it’s a staff person, a volunteer, or an attorney providing legal consults, is on the same page [at WE CAN],” Townsend says. “No one’s ego is reflected; the sole focus is on the women who walk through the door.”
As a volunteer, Townsend says she has found a role that brings her as much joy and fulfillment as teaching. She is involved in multiple facets of the organization, from helping out in the office to participating in the Pathmakers mentoring program. When she talks about her involvement, her passion for the work WE CAN does is apparent. She doesn’t use words like “the organization” or “they,” but rather “we”—and that’s because she’s invested in the mission and in everyone involved.
Townsend is just one of the many Cape and Islanders who give of their time and talents as volunteers for local charities, schools, churches, and other organizations—and often get back a lot more in return.
When individuals volunteer, it’s not just the organizations that benefit; a 2013 study by UnitedHealth Group, a Minnesota-based health care company that offers a variety of products and services, found that 76 percent of people who volunteered felt healthier, and 94 percent of people who volunteered in the last year say the effort improves their mood. When someone volunteers, they are offering one of life’s most important assets: time. Finding an organization that shares one’s values and connects people with similar passions and interests is one way to ensure that time and energy is well spent. Fortunately, the Cape and Islands have a wide variety of nonprofit and charitable organizations, each doing specific work to make the region a better place.
Giving and getting: It’s a two-way street
At the Martha’s Vineyard Boys & Girls Club, volunteers help the club operate and provide affordable after-school programming for more than 100 children on a daily basis. The volunteers range in age from high school students to retirees. “Whether it’s working the grill at an event, helping out with a sports team or with homework, or serving on the board of directors, each volunteer knows they are having a direct impact on local kids,” says Jessie Damroth, the club’s executive director.
The beauty of volunteering is it doesn’t require special skills or experience; all it takes is a willingness to share of one’s time and passion. Andi Genser, executive director of WE CAN, puts it like this: “It’s a two-way street,” she says. “It has to feel like it works for you—and that you’re helping the organization in their work.” When someone is invested in the work, Genser says they are sure to get more out of the experience. “Most volunteers tell us that they feel they get more than they give,” she says.
New experiences, new friends
Liz Flynn, a resident of Yarmouth Port and a longtime employee at Cape Cod Life Publications, has put her passion for animals to good use as a volunteer at the Cape Cod MSPCA Animal Shelter in Centerville. Arriving on the Cape from New York City about a decade ago, Flynn wanted to find a good use for her spare time. She has found that—and more—with the MSPCA. Volunteering at the shelter, she drives animals to vet appointments, helps with fundraising efforts, cleans cages, and frequently fosters animals as they await their “forever family.”
“The staff is small, and they rely on volunteers,” Flynn says of the Route 28 facility, which is currently undergoing an expansion. “I’ve learned so much about how a shelter is run and the work that goes into finding each animal a good home. I get emotional when I hear one of the animals has been adopted. It’s really rewarding work.”
At home, Flynn and her husband, Roy, have an 8-year-old Chihuahua, Paco, who they fostered and then adopted after he was surrendered at the MSPCA. They also have four cats: Teddy, Tasha, Danny Boy, and Elvis.
A past winner of the MSPCA’s Volunteer of the Year award, Flynn says volunteering has also introduced her to a whole new group of friends who share her love of animals. “It’s opened up a new social life for my husband and me.”
As one might expect, many local organizations have come to rely on the work volunteers like Flynn and others put in—and most count on them to help carry out their mission. “Volunteers are the lifeblood of our organization,” says Genser of WE CAN. “We’re blessed as an organization to have men and women of all ages and special talents give of their time. I can honestly say we could not do what we do without our 300 volunteers.”
Genser adds that she feels Cape Cod is a special place when it comes to individuals who are giving and willing to share of their time and talents. “The Cape is an amazing community with a volunteer spirit,” she says. “There’s a feeling that people want to get involved and want to make a difference.”
Nancy White is a freelance writer from Hull, and the proud owner of Duncan,
an 8-year-old Westie.
Many hands make light work
Here are some Cape & Islands organizations that could use a few good volunteers
AIDS Support Group of Cape Cod, Provincetown, Hyannis & falmouth
With offices in Provincetown, Hyannis, and Falmouth the AIDS Support group of Cape Cod has a mission of fostering health, independence, and dignity for individuals living with HIV/AIDS by providing care, support, and housing. Volunteers are needed to answer phones, help with mass mailings, deliver lunches, assemble and deliver monthly food boxes, help with events, and other tasks. For more information, contact Barry Cook at 508-487-9445, or send an email to email@example.com.
Animal Rescue League, Brewster
The Animal Rescue League of Boston has locations in Boston, Dedham, and Brewster. Volunteers are needed for various tasks, including helping with office needs, taking care of the animals, writing, fundraising, and more. Additional help is needed for feeding the animals, talking with potential pet owners in the adoption center, cleaning kennels, and marketing. The shelter is at 3981 Main Street, Brewster. For more information, call 508-255-1030, or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cape Cod Children’s Museum, Mashpee
Volunteers at the Cape Cod Children’s Museum, 577 Great Neck Road South in Mashpee, help run crafts and activities, help run events, fundraise, answer phones and handle other office-related activities, and promote the museum in the community. For more information, send an email to Holly Dayton at email@example.com, or call 508-539-8788.
Elder Services of Cape Cod and the Islands
Elder Services of Cape Cod and the Islands needs volunteers to help with various tasks including delivering meals on wheels to local seniors. The agency has offices on Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard, and in South Dennis. On Nantucket, needs include setting up and serving meals at the island’s Saltmarsh Senior Center. For more information on the agency’s Nantucket efforts, call Mark Budaj at (508) 228-4647. To learn more about the agency, visit escci.org.
Housing Assistance Corporation Cape Cod
Housing Assistance Corporation (HAC) believes all Cape Codders should have safe, stable, and decent housing. The organization runs four homeless shelters, a homelessness prevention program, and a Housing Consumer Education Center; helps individuals apply for rental subsidies, energy audits, and weatherization programs; and builds affordable housing. Volunteers are needed to help with basic shelter tasks, playtime, transportation, clerical support, events like the Big Fix, and fundraisers like the Shelter Cape Cod Telethon. The organization’s main office is at 460 West Main Street, Hyannis. For more information, call 508-771-5400, or email Mary Everett-Patriquin at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Long Pasture Wildlife Sanctuary, Barnstable
Mass Audubon’s Long Pasture Wildlife Sanctuary needs volunteers for property/ecological management to help keep the visitors center looking good. Additional tasks include assisting at events, public outreach, fundraising, and leading programs. Volunteer opportunities and other needs change, but information is updated regularly at massaudubon.org/longpasture.com. For more information, contact Arlene Sliwoski at 508-362–7475 or via email at email@example.com.
Martha’s Vineyard Boys & Girls Club, Edgartown
The Martha’s Vineyard Boys & Girls Club, a charter of the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, needs volunteers to coach and referee basketball, help students with their homework, help out with events and fundraisers, provide maintenance work, and work in the facility’s second-hand store. To learn more, call 508-627-3303, or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. The club is at 44 Robinson Road in Edgartown.
Wellfleet Public Library, Wellfleet
At the Wellfleet Public Library, 55 West Main Street, volunteers are needed to help shelve books, repair books, provide support for various library programs, handle maintenance work, care for the library’s plants, and more. Learn more at wellfleetlibrary.org.
This information was compiled by Emily McMahon.