Three extraordinary Island women were honored Sunday, Dec. 4, by the Women Empowered (WE) organization, at the fourth annual Women of the Year Champagne Brunch: Polly Brown, Kym Cyr, and Lori Robinson-Fisher. Several dozen people attended the presentation held in the Harbor View Hotel dining room, overlooking Edgartown Lighthouse.
Kristina Kaufmann, a nationally renowned advocate for military personnel and their families, was the keynote speaker. “These women all have something in common,” said Ms. Kaufmann. “They didn’t just see a problem; they did something about it.”
These women “do so much to make the Island the wonderful place it is,” said WE board president Vivian Stein.
Ms. Stein presented the women in alphabetical order. “Polly Brown,” she said, “first mentioned the need for a service to allow elderly Islanders to continue to live in their own homes 10 years ago. She noticed older people were leaving the Island, and she commissioned a study on the need for continued care. Many of the seniors said they couldn’t, or wouldn’t, leave their homes.”
Seeing this need, Ms. Brown founded Vineyard Village at Home. This nonprofit organization helps seniors maintain their independence at home by connecting them with services and a volunteer network. “We have a wonderful cadre of volunteers who drive people all over the island,” Ms. Brown said. “We also have a list of service providers who have been prescreened.
“The great thing about Vineyard Village is, you don’t have to have any particular amount of time to volunteer. We send out a list of who needs what, when, and if you can do it, you do, and if you can’t, don’t volunteer that week.” Raking leaves, shoveling snow, and helping with trips to doctors and shopping are all great volunteer opportunities.
Honoree Kym Cyr, originally from Connecticut, has been an Island resident for 20 years. “We always had animals when I was growing up,” said Ms. Cyr, “I didn’t think about it.” One day when she was about 8 years old, she brought home a neglected beagle, her mother remembered. That dog became part of the family; it wasn’t until Cyr was an adult living in South Carolina that she realized how many dogs and cats are in similar straits. “Animal shelters in many Southern states have a never-ending influx of healthy, adoptable pets that are needlessly euthanized,” said Ms. Cyr.
“On one Island visit [to see her mother, who was involved in trapping and neutering feral cats], Kym brought 17 kittens,” said Ms. Stein. “Her passion was clear, but she needed an organization behind her.” Ms. Cyr and her mother and her husband formed a nonprofit board and applied for nonprofit status, beginning Second Chance Animal Rescue. The “no cage, no kill” rescue is supported by volunteers, donations, and Ms. Cyr and her family. Ms. Cyr works full-time, then comes home and devotes herself to the animals.
“We could take more [animals], of course, if we had more money,” said Ms. Cyr. “But we also need volunteers. If we had more foster families, we could take more animals.” She urged people, “Open up your heart and take a dog for a walk; come by the shelter and hold a cat on your lap.
“It may be a small thing that we do, but the effect on people’s lives is tremendous. This year we adopted a puppy to a family with an autistic boy. If you could have seen the light in their eyes — the puppy and the boy — you just know you had to approve that adoption.”
Lori Robinson-Fisher, the third Woman of the Year for 2016, was honored for founding the Islanders Talk Facebook page, and turning it into a force for good. “Lori checks the site every 30 minutes,” said Ms. Stein. “She does not allow political posts; people turn to it for news of the traffic and the weather.” As of this morning, the group has 7,900 members, and has become the go-to website for current happenings. It’s also a place for people to share resources. For example, “someone recently offered a turkey dinner to someone in need,” said Ms. Stein.
Islanders using the site to help one another led Ms. Robinson-Fisher to start another group: the Islanders Talk Benevolent Fund. The ITBF gathers funds for families in need using an online auction and other fundraising activities. “They’ve paid utility bills, bought a car part, paid funeral expenses,” said Ms. Stein. “They give people good help when they need it.”
Ms. Robinson-Fisher has now turned her sights to the opioid epidemic, with a group called Break the Silence.
“There were many drug-related deaths on the Island last year,” said Ms. Robinson-Fisher. “If we save one person, it’s worth it.” She handed out cards with information to connect addicted people with services, when they are ready to get help.
For information or to volunteer, contact:
Lori Robinson-Fisher, firstname.lastname@example.org