10 People Who Make a Difference -Winter 2014
Nantucket, like many small towns scattered throughout New England, still holds an Annual Town Meeting each spring to decide its municipal business. Many consider it the last true form of citizen democracy left in the country, with its one-person, one-vote system of deciding issues, and overseeing the process on the island for the past 17 years has been one woman: Attorney Sarah Alger.
“Town Meeting is the legislative form of local government, and it’s serious stuff, important stuff,” said Alger, 56, whose father John, an Osterville attorney, was moderator in Barnstable for 21 years. “The public dialogue is what’s important, what separates Town Meeting from other forms of government today. I try to not get too, too involved in policy decisions. I show up and run the meeting. The most important thing is that people understand what's going on, and know what they’re voting on. Mostly I play traffic cop, I’m the facilitator,” she said.
And that she is. Throughout her nearly twodecade tenure, Alger’s Town Meetings have been marked by civility, decorum and efficiency, although it bothers her that attendance seems to drop with each ensuing year.
The job requires significant preparation, meeting with town officials and town counsel to review the items on the warrant – often more than 100, called articles – up for a vote.
She manages to fit the work in around her fulltime job as an attorney specializing in land-use issues, but it’s not the only way she’s given back to the island she moved to in 1983 with her husband Bruce Malenfant, a Steamship Authority captain. The couple have two grown daughters, one in grad school, one in college.
Alger was instrumental in helping found the Nantucket Women’s Bar Association to support and provide networking opportunities for female attorneys, and out of that rose A Safe Place, the island’s domestic violence and sexual assault prevention and advocacy organization. Over the years, she’s also served as president of the Nantucket New School and clerk of the Sconset Civic Association, and on the boards of Family and Children’s Services, the Chamber of Commerce, Maria Mitchell Association and the Nantucket Comedy Festival.
She’s become an avid cyclist, and undertaken a number of charity rides, including the grueling PanMass Challenge to benefit the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, the Best Buddies Challenge to support people with intellectual disabilities, and a ride in support of the Multiple Sclerosis Society. The past two years, she’s also shaved her head with thousands of others at the Kid’s Cancer Buzz-Off fundraiser at Gillette Stadium.
As a child in Buffalo, N.Y. and Rhode Island, Ann Dalzell knew she wanted to work with kids when she grew up. She spent her summers as a nanny, and working at townrun day camps. After college she became a pediatric occupational therapist, but it wasn’t until 1993 that she found her dream job: Nantucket kindergarten teacher.
“What other job can you do where everybody around you tells you they love you all day? I go home and tell my own kids, ‘At school, I’m a rock star’,” Dalzell, 57, said with a laugh. “I love kids, and I love this job. This is that year where so much opens up for them in terms of reading, writing and being a community of learners. It’s really neat to see where they come in, and where they leave. Everything we do, it’s teaching them to be more independent. Taking them to that place is so much fun.”
Dalzell’s enthusiasm is clearly evident in the classroom – and contagious. The walls of her brightly lit and spacious – rare for Nantucket Elementary School these days – room are covered with colorful posters, hand-lettered signs and vibrant photographs, each imparting its own lesson in its own way. Her fellow teachers, former students and parents of recent kindergarteners say she’s the perfect fit for her young charges: kind and unassuming, supremely patient, nurturing and inquisitive, constantly on the lookout for new and better ways to teach her students and better prepare them for a public-school education.
She has to be. Today’s kindergarten curriculum was the first-grade curriculum of the early 1990s, Dalzell said, and expectations are higher across the board. The introduction of technology has provided new ways to engage young minds, but Dalzell never forgets her students are still kids.
“I try to keep the balance fun and exciting. Five-year-olds shouldn’t be sitting in desks in rows. In fact, they probably shouldn’t be sitting much at all. Academics are important, but I want to create a positive learning community. I want kids to be excited about school, and do things in a fun way. When it all comes together, it’s a wonderful thing.”
When Lucile Hays and her husband Bill moved to the island in 1974, she immediately started looking for organizations to support, both personally and through her family’s Weezie Foundation, created in honor of her sister, Louise Frances Walker, fatally injured in an equestrian accident in 1959.
She discovered the Nantucket Boys Club – it wasn’t until 1990 that the name was changed nationally to Boys & Girls Clubs – which at the time was struggling mightily to make ends meet.
She got involved, and got the Weezie Foundation involved, and the club – which then had a membership of just 60 or so children – was able to stay on its feet.
She stayed involved. Over the ensuing 40 years, Hays has been a tireless champion of the organization, raising money for its programs and expansion, and often chipping in when help is needed in the office or around the Sparks Avenue building that on any given day is teaming with several hundred children. Membership today tops 350.
“They didn’t keep her around just for the money. This lady got in the trenches when it was needed to do whatever was necessary to keep it functioning and moving forward,” Bill Hays said.
The children – and their families – are what drive Hays’ commitment.
“This little club for kids, it’s desperately important,” she said. “The parents of these kids keep the island running. It would be impossible for working families to live here if it didn’t exist. And the kids learn so much. It’s not just a babysitting service. They learn to behave. They learn discipline and respect. It all starts here.”
Hays’ contributions to the community, however, are not limited to the Boys & Girls Club. The Weezie Children’s library at the Nantucket Atheneum, a birthing suite at Nantucket Cottage Hospital and the Louise F. Walker Building at the Nantucket New School have all benefited from her and the Weezie Foundation’s contributions.
In 2007, she received the Presidents Call to Service Award in recognition of the 4,000 hours of service she’d performed in her lifetime.
“This island has given us a great life for 40 years. It’s been a hell of a life. We’re totally blessed. It’s only right to do what we can to give back,” she said.
Rev. Gary Klingsporn
When the Rev. Gary Klingsporn arrived on Nantucket in 2010 to become the spiritual leader of the first Congregational Church, he was leaving a large Midwestern congregation in Minneapolis, Minn., looking for a change, and in his words, “a new adventure.”
He and his wife Debra found it, and quickly fell in love with the island, like so many do. He also rejuvenated the congregation, many of his parishioners say, injecting new life into the ministry, paying particular attention to its young families and children.
For Klingsporn, 63, it’s all about building community, both within the church and across the island as a whole. Under his leadership, the church has hired a new minister whose primary responsibility is reaching out to young families. It’s also continued to participate in community outreach programs like the Nantucket Food Pantry and Rental Assistance programs, and opened its doors to community groups, recovery organizations, an English as a Second Language group and small “house churches” of other faiths and cultures in need of a space. The church has strengthened its relationship with Theatre Workshop of Nantucket, ensuring the community-theater group that Bennett Hall will remain its performance space well into the future.
Personally, Klingsporn has taken an active role in the Community Foundation for Nantucket and the Friends of Our Island Home, volunteered on Habitat for Humanity homebuilding projects, and joined his parishioners in visiting elderly shut-ins who can no longer leave their homes.
He’d like to establish a non-denominational drop-in daycare program where stayat-home parents can leave their children for an hour or two so they can go grocery shopping, hit the gym or just enjoy a brief respite in an otherwise hectic day.
“While the spiritual care of my flock, the congregation, is and will always be my top priority, these other things are what a church ought to be here for, serving the community,” he said. “It’s the kind of work that needs to be done to improve people’s lives and circumstances.”
Each year, the Nantucket Garden Club passes out daffodil bulbs to Nantucket Elementary School students to plant in their yards and around the island.
When Mary Malavase’s kids were young, they brought home the bulbs, planted them, and entered them in the Garden Club’s annual Daffodil Show in April.
That’s all it took. Malavase was hooked, and for the last two decades has been the unofficial ambassador and head cheerleader of beautifying Nantucket through daffodils. She joined the Garden Club when her children were young, became an accredited judge and a member of the American Daffodil Society national board, and today delights in leading workshops and advising anyone who asks on the joy and satisfaction of planting the yellow flowers that have become so ubiquitous on the island since the late Jean MacAusland planted thousands along Milestone Road in the 1970s.
“One honorable mention at a flower show and you’re hooked,” Malavase, who spent her career in the island hospitality industry, said with a laugh. “It’s a good family project, it’s not intimidating and the end result is a more beautiful island. It’s so nice in the spring to drive around and see these little things popping up, little green sprouts, yellow and white and pink, that come back year after year. After a long, gray winter, it’s a wonderful thing.”
Giving back to the community comes naturally, said Malavase, who is also a regular volunteer at the annual Boston Pops concert to benefit Nantucket Cottage Hospital, a member of the Nantucket Historical Association long involved with its Festival of Trees, and recently joined the board of the Friends of the Nantucket Field Station.
“We are fortunate enough to live here, and it’s our responsibility to give back our time. That’s always been my mantra. I’ve been lucky enough to be able to stay here, so I need to help protect the island, be its winter babysitter, and make it more beautiful daffodil-wise,” she said.
“My role is to educate and get more people involved. It’s not intimidating, it’s fun, and it should be fun. It doesn’t cost a lot of money. It’s very reasonably priced, and an investment in the beauty of the island.”
Nantucket has dozens of nonprofit organizations looking for volunteers, and a large number of willing bodies able to help out. What it didn’t have until last year was a central clearinghouse to connect those looking for assistance with those who could provide it.
Enter Katie Manchester. The 28-year-old Nantucket High School graduate has been volunteering most of her life, first on the island as a “Breakfast Buddy” at Nantucket Elementary School, then in college at Southern New Hampshire University with the American Red Cross, and then with the AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps, in Vinton, Iowa, helping to strengthen communities across the Midwest through team-based community service.
When she returned home last spring, she wanted to continue her work, but quickly realized there was no single place where would-be volunteers and organizations in need of bodies could connect, and opportunities were being lost.
So Manchester started Volunteer Nantucket, a website (http://www.volunteernantucket.org) that lists the island’s volunteer opportunities, coupled with a social-media network broadcasting real-time requests for assistance and offers of help. She also organized the Nantucket Volunteer Fair at Nantucket High School to showcase to students who need to complete 20 hours of community service before graduation those organizations looking for help.
“I love helping people in any way I can. If I was independently wealthy, I’d help those financially in need as well. But donations of time can do so much. Whether it’s sorting food at the Nantucket Food Pantry, or filing papers in an office that alleviates some of that work for the paid staff, the opportunities are endless. You can always find something to do,” said Manchester, who has a master’s degree in organizational leadership and an undergraduate degree in business administration.
“My hope is to get as many organizations involved, and really increase volunteerism on the island. People want to volunteer, and it’s important to volunteer for a cause you are passionate about. If a person enjoys what they are doing it’s most beneficial for all involved. There are a lot of nonprofits here, serving many worthy causes and really helping a lot people. Most of them rely on volunteers. People are busy, but even hour an week can be a big help.”
Winston Churchill once said, “There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man.”
Mickey Perry, an instructor in the first therapeutic riding program in the country at Windrush Farm in North Andover, Mass. before dedicating almost three decades to volunteering for, teaching and then running the Nantucket Children’s House Montessori program, couldn’t agree more.
Now retired, she’s gone back to therapeutic riding, bringing children and adults from all walks of life together with four of her horses on South Shore Road.
While most think of therapeutic riding as only benefiting those with special needs, the truth is, it can help everyone, Perry said.
“There’s no strings attached. Horses understand. They’re forgiving, they’re patient. When you’re with a horse, you can leave the stresses of life behind. Sometimes it’s just grooming, and we have kids and adults who come and just read to the horses. It’s very peaceful,” she said.
The transformation in some children with special needs, however, can be remarkable. The confidence they gain, and the serenity they feel when making the connection with a horse is palpable.
“It brings me so much joy to see the progress they make, and the confidence they gain in themselves from being with the horse, and that carries through when they leave the barn. One of my underlying beliefs is that you can always do more than you think. Little tiny steps, it doesn't have to happen all at once,” she said.
Riding also teaches responsibility and the value of hard work, said Perry, whose entire family shares her love of horses and riding. Her daughter Meghan rides on the competitive three-day-eventing circuit, a discipline that can be equated to an equestrian triathlon, and her husband Bruce also rode and evented.
“The kids learn how to shovel, they learn about how heavy a bale of hay is, the responsibility of horse ownership, and that translates over to life responsibility. We say, ‘be brave, be kind, be honest.’ That’s what the horses are,” Perry said.
On the island or an ocean away, Augie Ramos is always willing to lend a helping hand. Whether it’s advocating for affordable housing, raising awareness of Nantucket’s Cape Verdean heritage, or collecting clothes and food in 2005 for those displaced by Hurricane Katrina or today for victims of domestic violence in Cape Verde, Ramos is not afraid to speak his mind or get his hands dirty.
Ramos, who arrived on the island in 1951 at 17, found a home 30 miles out to sea. His sense of fairness, equality, social justice and compassion for those less fortunate was formed much earlier, however. When he was 9 years old, his family lived down the street from a Salvation Army location, where he helped set up cots.
“My mother was a generous person, my grandmother was caring and sharing, and we took care of each other,” he said.
His philosophy is pretty simple.
“People come into my (salvage) yard, and they want something, and I ask, ‘Did you do something good for somebody today? If you did, I’ll do something good for you’,” he said.
“We’re supposed to be the richest community in the state, yet we have a food pantry, people are losing their houses, kids are going hungry, people need rental assistance. I hate to see people being displaced,” continued Ramos, a member of the town’s council on human services who in the past has served as a selectman, and on the Nantucket Housing Authority.
Ramos quietly puts his money where his mouth is. He doesn’t ask for credit, but few who have asked him to put in a good word for them, or assist in finding housing or a job, have come away disappointed.
“Augie is a tireless advocate for fundamental rights: affordable housing, the commemoration/preservation of rights, dignity and recognition for people-of-color, and a quiet/unassuming ‘Robin Hood,’” said professor Claire Andrade-Watkins, an historian and filmmaker at Emerson University who worked with Ramos and other islanders on “Nantucket Strolls – Forgotten Byways,” about the legacy of the island’s people of color.
“He is the one who shows up to make sure an elderly person, someone incapacitated, down on their luck, gets a helping hand. He’s the one who always has your back, keeps his word, and is a fearless advocate for those who can’t fight for themselves.”
Allen Reinhard just spent his 54th summer on the island, and has been living here year-round for 24 years. Over that time, the Nantucket Conservation Foundation middle moors ranger, Land Bank and water commissioner and former selectman has seen dozens of public ways and access points to the beach disappear, lost to subdivision construction, homeowners seeking to keep strangers away from their property, and simple neglect.
It bothered him, and he decided to do something about it. He was appointed to the town’s Roads and Right of Way Committee, and since 2005 has been its chairman. During his tenure, the commission has worked hard with town officials to legally take back some of those ways and create new ones that provide access to the water from one end of the island to the other. It's also started a program of identifying the existing ways with granite markers, and making sure they are identified in town records so they are never lost again.
“One of the things that makes Nantucket so unique is the ability to get to the beach in so many places. I want to ensure that continues,” Reinhard, 70, said. “It’s what makes Nantucket so different from Martha’s Vineyard, Cape Cod or the Jersey shore. I don’t ever want to see that change.”
Reinhard’s support for the preservation and creation of public ways to the beach stems in many ways from his desire to see Nantucket’s open space permanently protected and his proprietary feeling of responsibility for it that grew out of his years with the Land Bank helping to secure new property for both passive and active recreation; and the Conservation Foundation leading interpretive walks and keeping an eye on its holdings.
“When I’m out on the properties, I feel really a part of them, and they’re unlike any other place I’ve ever been. I want to share that with other people, for future generations. I’m of the firm belief that if you want people to understand the importance of conservation, and preserving areas around the island, you need to get them in to see them, and the best way to do that is to provide public access,” Reinhard said.
Patient. Compassionate. Organized. Dedicated. Any one – and every one – of those words can be used to describe Charlene Thurston, executive director of Palliative & Supportive Care of Nantucket.
The former head nurse at Nantucket Cottage Hospital, Thurston has been involved with PASCON since she became its director in 1988, and she has overseen its growth from a small hospice program founded in 1982 to one that today not only assists islanders struggling with fatal illnesses, but also those fighting to get better again.
PASCON’s small staff and volunteers work with patients from diagnosis and the early stages of illness through a cure, or the advanced stages of illness, death and bereavement. They are extensively trained to understand the psychological, emotional, social and spiritual aspects of their work. Last year, the organization provided palliative (early-stage) care to about 60 patients, and end-of-life care to about half of the approximately 100 people who died on the island.
Thurston herself can often be found on the floor at Nantucket Cottage Hospital, visiting with patients and consoling relatives.
Compassion and understanding are essential qualities of the job, but not all that’s required.
“We’re working with people who are very fragile and very vulnerable. They have a loved one with a life-threatening illness who will or may die. But we’re not just a hand-holding service. There’s a knowledge base that goes along with it,” said Thurston, who came to the island in 1973 to take a job at the hospital, and with her husband Barry raised a family on Nantucket. “We need more than compassion. We need an understanding of pain-management, and a deep background of knowledge around how people cope with emotional crisis, grief and bereavement, so we can help their families and children cope.”
The work at times can be heartbreaking, but the rewards are more than worth it, Thurston said.
“Doing this kind of work, you have to make peace with death. You can’t do it if you’re going to fall apart every time someone is facing one of these sad situations. You have to come to terms with your own life first,” she said. “One of the things I’ve really felt in doing this work is that you’re allowed into a patient’s life at a very private and intimate time, and it’s truly an honor and a privilege to be allowed in and to be able to make the journey more bearable. It’s extremely rewarding to make a difference in their life.”