Everything is possible: Pass the word
It takes a village to create a fundraising event that can raise almost one million dollars in a single evening. But that is what happens the first Monday in August as the Vineyard turns out to support Martha's Vineyard Community Services' annual Possible Dreams Auction.
Celebrating its 30th anniversary on August 4, Possible Dreams is one of the country's longest-running celebrity auctions. For most of its 30 years it had the singular advantage of having the late Pulitzer Prize-winning writer and humorist Art Buchwald serve behind the scenes, and as a crowd-pleasing auctioneer. But his celebrity friends and Island supporters continue to rise to this occasion, such as Carly Simon, Ted Danson, Mary Steenburgen, Mike Wallace, Walter Cronkite, Keri Russell, Patricia Neal, Diane Sawyer and Mike Nichols, who have attended and participated in the event. There are items up for bid that offer opportunities to appear on television, in films, or just to mingle with the famous.
Following last year's costly postponement due to rain, the Possible Dreams Committee decided to move the auction to Outerland at the airport, which will be a rain or shine location.
Jan Hatchard, Martha's Vineyard Community Services Director of Development, explains, "We had to find a location that could accommodate a grand tent and a 1,000-person capacity. Outerland is ideal."
Outerland's managing partner Barry Rosenthal is donating the use of the club and its grounds. He says, "We're honored they asked us be part of their efforts. Possible Dreams is a huge Island event that supports one of our most vital organizations. Many people don't understand exactly what Community Services does."
The Vineyard is home to a year-round population of upwards of 15,000 people, who earn, on average, 30 percent less than other State residents. On top of low incomes, the cost of living on the Vineyard is 60 percent higher than the national average, with housing prices 96 percent higher. While appearing to be an idyllic retreat to day-trippers in July, the Vineyard's isolation and long winters contribute to its high incidence of individual and family problems.
Photos by Ralph Stewart
Ms. Hatchard explains: "We're the largest health and human services organization on the Island. From family therapy and childcare, to addiction counseling and crisis support for survivors of domestic abuse or rape, we're here. Most importantly, we offer our services to residents or visitors regardless of their ability to pay."
Executive Director Julia Burgess adds, "We rely on contributions to fill in where third party insurance and public contracts fall short. Possible Dreams provides a significant portion of the funds we need to offer our services to people who otherwise would go without help."
Year-round resident Kelley Nagi, 37, moved to the Vineyard several years ago, before her first child, Caroline, was born. When the baby had a medical emergency, Ms. Nagi says she needed support.
She heard about Community Services' "Baby's First Year" program and decided to attend.
"I didn't know where to turn," she remembers. "I needed to be around other new moms, and most of the people I knew then were older. Community Services sponsored these get-togethers for women and their children. They got me through a really difficult time." Ms. Nagi now serves on the fundraising committee, and works throughout the year on the event.
This Monday at 4:30 pm, those attending will have an opportunity to bid on approximately 30 dreams - unique items or events that would be otherwise impossible to buy - donated by people connected to the Vineyard.
Long time seasonal resident Olga Hirshhorn, whose late husband, Joseph H. Hirshhorn, inspired the Smithsonian's Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, D.C., is an avid art collector, and a loyal participant and bidder. Ms. Hirshhorn's contributions have bought the sprightly 88-year-old many fishing excursions with The Times managing editor, and more importantly in this case, fishing columnist Nelson Sigelman and fishing legend, Cooper "Coop" Gilkes. She laughs as she recalls her first experience: "We went out in an 18-foot Boston Whaler, and we were out all day. I remember walking home with my string of fish, feeling like Tom Sawyer."
Singer/songwriter Livingston Taylor will join long-time Possible Dreams auctioneers Rick Lee and Susan Klein to coax and wheedle audience members to up their bids for one-of-a-kind dreams: a private golf clinic at Farm Neck Golf Club with world champion Ernie Els; a visit to the set of Good Morning America with Diane Sawyer and a night at the theater with Mike Nichols; the Red Sox VIP treatment in the owner's suite at Fenway Park; and an invitation to the 2009 American Idol finals and the show's celebration party afterwards - to name but a few offerings.
An August resident of West Tisbury, Carol Guthrie of Darien, Conn., once won the bid for a Carly Simon serenade in her home. Ms. Guthrie's successful bid last year netted her a memorable dinner with award-winning food writer Michael Pollen in California. As for this Monday, she says, "I'm intrigued by the dream featuring archeologist Duncan Caldwell's private tour of hidden French caves with prehistoric engravings."
This year, in addition to the auction, Community Services is hosting a dinner celebrating 30 years of Possible Dreams and honoring the following long-time supporters: children's book author Norman Bridwell; cartoonist Jules Feiffer; anchorman Walter Cronkite; actress Patricia Neal; singer/songwriter Carly Simon; and newsman Mike Wallace. Held after the auction, the dinner will be emceed by Art Buchwald's son, Joel, and is open to the public.
Ms. Hirshhorn stresses the importance of supporting the event in its new location and in continuing to honor of Mr. Buchwald's irrepressible spirit.
The 2008 Possible Dreams Auction will be held at Outerland, adjacent to the Martha's Vineyard Airport. Seating begins at 3:30pm; bidding at 4:30pm. Free parking at Martha's Vineyard Regional High School with continuous door-to-door free trolley service. Limited paid parking at Outerland. Admission is $25 at the gate or in advance at ticketsmv.com or at ticket outlets Island-wide. For more information, visit possibledreamsauction.org or call 508-693-7900, ext. 267 or 222. Possible Dreams will be held rain or shine.
Karla Araujo is a frequent contributor to The Times.