Cheer and charity at Possible Dreams Auction Sunday night

Martha’s Vineyard Community Services Executive Director Julie Fay said the evening far surpassed expectations.

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Photo by Michael Cummo

A chance for an experience of a lifetime brought a full crowd to the 37th annual Art Buchwald Possible Dreams Auction at the Winnetu Oceanside Resort in Katama Sunday night. The auction, a staple charity event for Martha’s Vineyard Community Services (MVCS), raised spirits, paddles, and over $400,000 for the Island’s umbrella social services organization. Liza May, Possible Dreams Auction chairman, said on Wednesday that monies were still coming in, but they were anticipating reaching their goal of $450,000 to $475,000.

MVCS provides a wide array of social services for Vineyarders, from children, families, and seniors to the disabled and veterans. Over 6,000 people receive help of some sort from MVCS annually. Julie Fay, executive director of MVCS, said it’s been a banner year at the organization, thanks to community generosity and a very talented staff. This year three new programs were introduced: the Island-wide youth collaborative, a veterans’ outreach program, and a mental health program through the health center. Next year they plan to develop a transportation assistance program and expand their substance-abuse program to help combat the opiate and heroin crisis.

“We turn no one away, and we are able to do that because this auction underwrites the costs of all our programs, the new ones and the old ones,” Ms. Fay said. “I want to thank you for your generous support.”

Ms. May said that this year there were 40 sponsors and more than 200 donors.

“Now more than ever it is clear that community services needs support,” she said. “It’s staggering to hear what they are doing to help our neighbors heal on the Island.”

Following that introduction, comedian and auctioneer Jimmy Tingle ramped up the energy before the live auction by joking about the historically cold and snowy winter: “I saw a woman pulling into my parking space, so I said ‘Excuse me, miss, that’s my space. Excuse me, it took me three hours to shovel that, that’s my space. I don’t care if we’re married, that’s my space. That is my space,’” Mr. Tingle joked in his notable Boston accent.

Co-host Guinevere Cramer occasionally interrupted the bidding wars and comedy to remind participants of the importance of their charity.

“Know that every dollar you give tonight truly impacts a person’s life, from the smallest level to the largest level you can imagine,” she said. She said that a $5,000 bid toward a Boston Bruins prize package could provide a 12-week parenting support group through the Island counseling center.

Notable at this year’s auction was the presence of Clifford the Big Red Dog. The auction was dedicated to Norman Bridwell, a longtime Island resident and children’s book author who died in December. Mr. Bridwell contributed a Clifford-themed dream to the auction for many years. The organizers slowed the fast pace of the auction for a special tribute to Mr. Bridwell written by Marc Brown, author and illustrator of the children’s series “Arthur,” and read by Wiet Bacheller, MVCS board member and personal friend of Mr. Bridwell.

“I think what I admired most about Norman was his generosity, his love for this Island, and especially what we are all here tonight to do: Celebrate and support Martha’s Vineyard Community Services and all the important ways this organization helps the families on our Island, especially our children,” he wrote. “I know there is no more important or fitting way we can honor Norman than by showing our generosity for our neighbors.”

Leslie Venturella was the winner of the Norman Bridwell dream, an original watercolor illustration from a Clifford book donated by the Bridwell family, along with a picnic with award-winning children’s book authors Marc Brown, Kate Feiffer, and Richard Michelson on the porch or in the garden at Good Dog Goods, with food provided by Chef Carolyn Kind of the Edgartown Yacht Club, for the price of $6,000.

Ms. Venturella and her family are from Mr. Bridwell’s birth state, Indiana, but have a summer home in Edgartown. She said she has been a fan of his work since she was little, and had won some of his provided dreams in the past. One year she was supposed to meet him in person, but he was unable to do so.

“He himself personally called me to apologize for not being able to meet me and the kids, and he did something on his own special for my children,” she said. “He’s just a very kind man; he didn’t have to do that.”

She said she has a special place for her new watercolor painting.

“We have a home in Edgartown and we hang them up there, they’re all framed, so I’ll do the same with this one,” Ms. Venturella said. “I have a little cubby room and they’re all in the same spot.”

Another sentimental moment of the night was a special tribute given by Michael Blanchard, an inspirational photographer and recovering alcoholic from Edgartown.

“Five years ago to the day I stepped onto a plane with my sister heading from Boston to Atlanta,” he said. “I believed my life was over. I had received three DUIs in three months, and I was facing six months in jail or a three-month rehab stay. This was less than a stellar performance from a chief operating officer of a company with 700 people.”

He said he used to drink a quart of vodka straight out of the bottle every day, and ended up in a psychiatric hospital for two weeks after planning to commit suicide.

“But on the plane to Atlanta, my sister wouldn’t even let me have a glass of wine,” Mr. Blanchard said. “So July 26, 2010, that became my sobriety date. So today is five years.”

Following that announcement, the entire audience stood up, cheering and celebrating the achievement. The communal feeling of the moment was palpable.

“I am a recovering alcoholic, and I am not ashamed,” he said. “So one of my biggest goals here is to share my story publicly so that others won’t be ashamed either, and seek the help that they need to for the disease. I am grateful for the fact that you chose to be here to support this event, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart.”

After teaching himself photography, Mr. Blanchard published a book and committed to contributing $5 of every book sale to the MVCS New Paths Addiction Program. He announced he had sold 1,000 books, and presented the $5,000 check to another eruption of applause.

The live auction was full of intense bidding. Mr. Tingle deemed many of the bidders “from the Bible” in comedic recognition of their charity, so it was especially funny when an audience member named Moses bid on the “Pulitzer Sail to Nantucket on the DiDay,” a prize that brought in $12,000.

The highly anticipated prize “Late Night with Seth Meyers,” which included four tickets to a taping of “Late Night with Seth Meyers” on NBC at Rockefeller Center with a backstage tour and meet-and-greet with Seth, went for $5,000. One audience member donated $6,000 to have Sally Taylor perform another song during the auction after her first performance, a song about angels dedicated to the “angels” of MVCS.

The big “dream” of the night, however, was a week at David and Julia Keefe’s home in Castleview Park in Kinvara, Ireland. Halfway through the bidding, another week was offered by the Keefes, bringing in two $12,000 bids for a total donation of $24,000.

After the conclusion of the live auction, the excitement remained.

“I’m feeling amazing,” Ms. May said. “Tonight far surpassed anything that we had hoped for. It was incredibly successful. I think that it restored the energy that it used to have.”

She said when she took on the responsibility of the event, she knew in her heart that she wanted it to celebrate “what we all love about this Island,” and she thought that the evening had achieved that.

Tamara Buchwald, daughter-in-law to Art Buchwald, the longtime auctioneer, heart, and soul of the auction before his death in 2007, agreed with Ms. May.

“This is exactly the way he wanted it to go,” she said. “It’s getting energy and everything it used to have. This is really the only thing he cared about, and he would be unbelievably happy.”