Authors Posts by Pat Waring

Pat Waring

Pat Waring
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For 19 years, the well-liked and much admired minister was known for the energy and creativity he brought to Grace Church and for his participation in the Island community.

Artist Barney Zeitz polishes the window before it's dedication. — Photo by Michael Cummo

Along with the usual worshipers, the pews at Grace Episcopal Church in Vineyard Haven were filled this Sunday with visitors on hand to honor the Rev. Donald Lyons, minister there from 1966 to 1985. Mr. Lyons was well-liked and much admired for the energy, enthusiasm, dedication, and creativity he brought to the church and his participation in the Island community.

Mr. Lyons and Mr. Zeitz
Mr. Lyons and Mr. Zeitz

To celebrate his vibrant ministry, a stained glass window created by artist Barney Zeitz was formally dedicated with a ceremony at the end of the service.

Lead by the choir and the Rev. Robert Hensley, the congregation proceeded into the Parish Hall where the window floated, shimmering, at the peak of the newly renovated outside wall.

“I didn’t know anything about this until this morning,” Mr. Lyons, now a stalwart choir member and lay reader, confided. Many knew of the upcoming dedication but kept it secret from the honoree.

After brief prayer and introductions, longtime parishioner Lee Fierro said she met Mr. Lyons when he visited her home. He promptly drafted her daughter Dinah into the children’s choir. Later, Ms. Fierro became an active member.

She recalled years of church activities with Mr. Lyons, his dynamic ministry, and memorable experiences working with him as an actor in Island Theatre Workshop productions.

“Don was the most generous person throughout the Island,” said Ms. Fierro. “He had a way with everybody, all ages.”

Mr. Hensley dedicated the window and walls to God, seeking blessings for those involved with the project. A reception followed with refreshments and hugs, handshakes, and congratulations for Mr. Lyons.

The round 51-inch diameter fused and bonded stained glass window features an image of a green Jerusalem cross on a clear background with lighter green details. When critical and long-deferred reconstruction of the parish house wall was being planned with participation by Mr. Hensley and then-junior warden Lena Prisco, designs by architect Carole Hunter featured a round window as a centerpiece. As Mr. Hensley sought financial contributions from parishioners to pay for a stained glass window, Joan Merry offered to fund the window as a way to honor her husband’s ministry, and she made the final choice of design and color.

“He’s the best minister I’ve ever had,” said Lorraine Clark, an active member since 1960. “He was the best because he was the most active, he had an extremely active church with everything you could think of.”

Ms. Clark’s four children grew up in the church. She taught Sunday School among other responsibilities.

“Jack of all trades, he really was,” said Anne Palches who had known Donald Lyons as minister and as a fellow actor with Island Theatre Workshop. “He did everything for everyone.”

“He was aware of everything going on with everybody,” said her husband, Peter Palches. “He seemed to me to be an ideal priest. “ Mr. Lyons officiated at the couple’s 1983 wedding.

Jamie Harris, a stately Wise Man in the elaborate Epiphany pageants of those years who also acted with Mr. Lyons in the uproarious “I’m Not Rappaport,” offered congratulations.

Church member Sandra Whitworth said her daughter, Posie Haeger, who attended Sunday School and Grace Pre-School years ago, saw the window and was struck by its tasteful beauty.

Diana Waring, whom Mr. Lyons had baptized in the waters of Lambert’s Cove when she was 10 months old, was on hand with her baby daughter, Hazel.

David Grey, who years ago had sung in a church musical production staged by Mr. Lyons, still attends and is a choir member.

After graduating from Bowdoin College in Maine, Mr. Lyons attended the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge. Ordained to the priesthood in 1955, he was assigned as Canon at St. Paul’s Cathedral in Boston.

“I was in charge of drunks and Evening Prayer,” he said.

“The drunks” were the homeless, addicts, others down on their luck. They wanted money, he recalled, but received meal vouchers.

In 1959 he became Archdeacon of New Hampshire. Along with establishing churches in Kingston and Salem, he chaired the New Hampshire Traffic Safety Commission.

His assignment to Grace Church came after Massachusetts Bishop Anson Stokes sought his opinion about placing another clergyman at the Vineyard parish whose minister, the Rev. Henry Bird, had resigned.

“Send me!” said Mr. Lyons. “I don’t know anything about Martha’s Vineyard. I’ve never been there, but I want to be someone’s minister.”

Mr. Lyons and his family, including five children, moved to Martha’s Vineyard in 1966.

Working with youngsters was his high priority. He developed a vital children’s choir with some three dozen members.He was renowned for his original children’s musical plays on Biblical themes.

He began “Monday School,” with religious education and outings, so popular that children from other faiths came. Advised that he could entice teens to youth group if he got Dennis DaRosa — then a popular high school athlete — to join, he did so and it worked.

Instituting a sports-themed Father-Son Dinner, he brought Red Sox players here, including Al “Sparky” Lyle and Bill “Spaceman” Lee. The church sponsored a sexuality course for junior high students.

When Tisbury Selectmen refused to allow a rock and roll group to play in town, Mr. Lyons established a Grace Church Coffee House. Luminaries appearing included William Styron, Jules Feiffer, Art Buchwald, and singer Kate Taylor. A dance drew nearly 250 teens.

Mr. Lyons was universally known for making home visits to parishioners, being aware of their needs, and helping however he could. He encouraged lonely people to come to church, comforted the sick, bereaved, and troubled, urged addicts to seek recovery, counseled about family problems, arranged rides for youngsters.

Services were spirited, music exceptional with talented choir and organists. Worship could be colorful like the Palm Sunday when a donkey lead the procession through the church, Rogation Day at Nip ‘n’ Tuck Farm where crops were blessed, dance as part of services, the congregation marching with a band to Owen Park for a baptism. There was Sunday evening “Rock and Roll Worship” and educational Passover Seders.

Fellowship activities like potluck suppers and weekend-long Parish Life Missions fostered closeness and camaraderie.

Mr. Lyons opened the church to community groups including Alcoholics Anonymous, Education for Childbirth, Red Stocking, a food coop, dance and theatre classes.

Grace Church had earlier donated Greenwood Avenue land to Camp Jabberwocky. Mr. Lyons welcomed the campers with disabilities to services and special events.

Especially meaningful to Mr. Lyons was his establishment of a partnership with the Melanesian Brothers, a band of monks dwelling on islands in the southwest Pacific. After taking no vacation for years, Mr. Lyons finally enjoyed a journey around the globe, a visit to the brothers his primary destination.

Mr. Lyons served Martha’s Vineyard Community Services, first as chairman of the Youth Center Committee, later heading the Committee on Alcoholism.

Concerned because Trinity Episcopal Chapel in Oak Bluffs was predominantly white, he enlisted Sen. Edward Brooke to draw African Americans. The Martha’s Vineyard NAACP recognized him for contributions to civil and human rights.

After leaving Grace Church, Mr. Lyons joined the MV Times staff as an ad salesman, then proofreader and copy editor, and finally as a lively sports writer. Mr. Lyons was as popular at the Times as he was at Grace Church; staff often sought his guidance when writing about religion. Although no longer a full-time minister, he has frequently been asked to officiate at weddings and funerals.

Few here knew about favorite earlier roles: serving as a baker in China for the U.S. Marines, in which he enlisted days before turning 18; or as a Bowdoin undergrad, directing the Meddiebempsters, a double-quartet of young singers so exemplary they were invited to tour European Army Bases.

A crowd gathered for the dedication ceremony.
A crowd gathered for the dedication ceremony.

Modestly accepting compliments, Mr. Zeitz watched with satisfaction as noonday sun sparkled through his creation. He used a fused and bonded glass technique, affixing handmade stained glass pieces to a clear backing. Painting the backing glass with colored metal oxide, he added cobalt blue to the green glass to emphasize the central crosses. He said the exceptionally high quality epoxy he used acted as a lens, creating the appearance of moving light.

It was a day of celebration too for contractor Michael Carroll, who witnessed the successful completion of the nearly six-month project. Despite being delayed by harsh weather, Mr. Carroll said the job had been fun and church members “wonderful to work with.” He was especially glad he could reuse the original wall’s exterior siding as trim and wainscoting.

“I like jobs like this where I feel I can contribute to the community,” he said.

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John Holladay "Up Island" 48x70 acrylic on canvas — Photo courtesy of Louisa Gould G

Vineyard Haven is decked out for the season. From window boxes overflowing with blossoms and enticing window designs, to “Now Open” signs, there’s no mistaking the good news that summer is here.

Gallery owner Louisa Gould dived into the spirit with her upbeat and colorful “Summertime” exhibit opening last Saturday, June 28. Four artists, each with a very personal style, offer their unique interpretations of summer. Michael Haydn’s guitar tunes  set a festive mood, and light refreshments were served.

"Best Friends" 12x16 by Kate Huntington
“Best Friends” 12×16 by Kate Huntington

For Kate Huntington, summertime is beach time — and none would disagree. The Providence artist presents beach scenes marked by energy, color, and spontaneity. She captures the seashore sights so precisely that one can experience other sense perceptions too…the smell of salt air (and even Coppertone), sounds of surf, children’s giggles, the delicious sensation of cold water after hot sun.

Striped beach umbrellas in red, white, blue, seem to shout, “Hooray, it’s summer!” while shading flocks of active beachgoers. This quintessential Oak Bluffs seashore scene is complete with chairs, coolers, blankets, and two determined bathers.

“Best Friends” in bright bathing suits sit together in the sand, sharing pail and shovel. Lifeguards on their tall wooden perch watch over a cavorting crowd at South Beach. A young girl sits in cool shallows, digging. A little boy scuffs along water’s edge, yellow bucket in hand. When swimmers brave the surf we feel it sting our skin, hear it roar.

And what would the beach be without a dog or two.  “Black and Yellow,” a matched pair on red leashes, gaze out to sea, predictably soggy and sandy.

John Holladay — the only full-time Vineyarder among the four artists — works in a small corner of his home in a quiet Vineyard Haven neighborhood, but he paints the wide-open spaces. His most striking canvas is a view of the Keith Farm in Chilmark, a spectacular sight familiar to anyone who drives up Island on Middle Road.

The antique, lichen-covered stonewall is in the foreground. Across the gently rolling green meadow we see a quiet pond, the barn with its bright red door, a distant farmhouse, the ocean far beyond. The sky is light blue, clear; grasses grow high along the wall. All suggest the quiet heat of midsummer in Chilmark.

There are other up-Island farm scenes and for a true, iconic image of summer, Mr. Holladay paints the cliffs at Lucy Vincent Beach, sculpted by erosion.

Mr. Holladay, who has been a celebrated sports cartoon artist and a teacher, is a dedicated landscape painter these days, something Vineyard art lovers can celebrate.

Maya Farber "lillies" 18x24acrylic on canvas
Maya Farber “lillies” 18x24acrylic on canvas

Maya Farber’s paintings portray a trio of subjects: barnscapes seen in three seasons, three still lifes, and three floral portraits.

Born in Romania, Ms. Farber resides in Manhattan and upstate New York. She has a distinguished resume of studies and exhibitions in Europe and the United States. Yet she knows her simple, homey subjects intimately — the barn, fresh eggs, fruit, garden flowers — and portrays them with modest grace.

Her still lifes offer summer with a quiet, rural feel. Here, three empty glass containers — Coke bottle, Ball jar, Mason jar — sit on a table beside a painted bowl heaped with eggs, each shell a different shade.

There is the serene feeling of coming indoors on a summer day, the dim room cool, while outside it is hot and sunny. Sculpted fruit — a green pear, plump plum, clustered grapes evoke the same country kitchen feeling.

There are brilliant blue hydrangeas; loose bouquets of lilies in china vases, so real looking their perfume seems to scent the air.

Ms. Farber enjoys still life painting and wrote that the women’s movement allowed her to explore self-expression using this “female” imagery to her “great personal satisfaction.”

Ms. Farber paints a stolid white barn with twin silos seen across the seasons, snow-covered, under a blue summer sky, with cows in autumn. The scenes have a familiar, intimate feeling: little wonder, for the Farbers raise beef cattle here.

Peter Batchelder "Up Island View" 30 x24Oil on Canvas
Peter Batchelder “Up Island View” 30 x24Oil on Canvas

For Peter Batchelder, a prolific New Hampshire artist who once wrote art reviews and operated a gallery on the Vineyard, New England’s coastal and rural landscapes provide inspiration and raw material for his paintings.

“I take creative license with locations,” he explained. “I don’t always want the pieces to be literal.”

He paints a building’s actual shape, but alters surroundings, adding grasses, removing trees for an ocean view. He may pluck a structure from its own environment, show it in a new setting, simplify the design’s elements.

Mr. Batchelder creates scenes so familiar we feel we must have driven by them recently. Or, we wonder, was it a dream or a childhood memory? But whether or not they look like Chilmark, Cape Cod, or the New England woods is not the most important. These canvases are visually arresting, breath-taking, their spare compositions of buildings, trees, fields depicted with lush, over-the-top, super-saturated colors that are far from spare.

Embodying the Summertime theme, Mr. Batchelder’s scenes are dramatically enhanced and defined by the intense light of high summer. He believes a sense of place is “as much about color and light” as it is the location. In love with color, he may pick the color he wants to use before choosing the scene.

A field of tall grass is washed in the thick yellow gold of twilight; a peaked roofed house on a hillside is bleached by white-hot noonday sun; a big barn glows bright red. Contrast is intense: deep purple shadows, vibrant turquoise sky.

Should a visitor crave more summertime views there is plenty to see in the gallery, highlighted by Ms. Gould’s photographs of sailboats in many waters, dynamic ships under sail by painter Frauke Klatt, and works by other maritime and coastal artists. This show continues through July 16. “Colorburst,” featuring five artists, begins July 17.

Louisa Gould Gallery is located at 54 Main Street in Vineyard Haven. For more information, call 508-693-7373 or visit louisagould.com.

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Ruth Epstein with some of her art dolls at her Retrospective: A Creative Life. — Epstein Family

Visitors spilled out onto the porch of the Pebble Gallery at Featherstone Center for the Arts Sunday afternoon, chatting and enjoying the late afternoon sunshine. Inside, art lovers and well-wishers surrounded Ruth Epstein, offering hugs and congratulations for this, her first gallery exhibition ever.

Sarah and Mike Shepard viewing Ms. Epstein's sculptures and quilts.
Sarah and Mike Shepard viewing Ms. Epstein’s sculptures and quilts.

A glance around the airy one-room gallery would suggest that this must be a four-artist show. There were four entirely disparate collections on display, four separate media, four absolutely different styles. But everything here — from fanciful costumed dolls to sleek, sophisticated alabaster sculptures and much more — was created by the remarkable and prolific Ms. Epstein over many decades.

Titled by her daughter, Lisa, “A Creative Life,” the impressive retrospective show chronicles works created by Ms. Epstein while she lived in her native Holyoke with her late husband, A. William Epstein, and raised four children. She made sculpture pieces at her winter home in Florida.

She recalls beginning to do artwork on her kitchen table in the mid-1950s (her first creations were collages using dried beans, to create cheerful wall hangings). And she is still at it 60 years later.

Ms. Epstein did her current collages, some lush and decorative, some bearing family significance, over the past six years, since she moved to Martha’s Vineyard after her husband died.

“I wanted to leave Holyoke,” she recalled of that difficult time. The perfect solution appeared when her daughter invited Ms. Epstein to move into her West Tisbury guesthouse. She is delighted with the change.

Vineyard Haven resident Chetta Kelley read about one of the pieces on display.
Vineyard Haven resident Chetta Kelley read about one of the pieces on display.

“The Vineyard is a perfect place to start over, to start your life from a different angle when you don’t have a spouse,” she said.

Ms. Epstein created a particularly moving collage soon after her husband’s death, in his memory. “The Journey” shows a woman, gazing off towards the sea, her new Vineyard home. It incorporates a poem describing the sense of chaos and powerlessness after a loss or wrenching change, with romantic images of flowers, ocean, and sky interspersed with photos of her husband, an image of the smiling young couple at their wedding years earlier.

“I felt better after I did it,” she confided.

Another dramatic collage is chilling in its significance, with faded, tattered letters, map fragments, and old-fashioned black-and-white photos telling a story devastating for the Epsteins and countless other families.

The graphic depiction of the Holocaust was inspired by a shoebox of faded Yiddish letters written by Ms. Epstein’s grandmother, Hava Mittleman, from Poland to her mother in the United States. The last was dated August, 1939. Hitler invaded Poland on Sept. 1. The grandmother and all her relatives were shot, killed, buried in mass graves.

West Tisbury resident Judith Birsh enjoying the art on display.
West Tisbury resident Judith Birsh enjoying the art on display.

“I made it for my family,” said Ms. Epstein. “I thought my children should know.”

Some of the collages are just plain pretty and delightful to look at. There is a garden of songbirds, arrays of lush, colorful flowers. “Angels Watching Over Me” features crowds of sweet-faced cherubs and “has a very calming effect,” the artist said.

“Big Mama” combines a white baby dress, lacy bonnets, tiny tie-up shoes, and an old-fashioned doll. There is a yellowed newspaper, The New York Tribune, January 3, 1861, only months before the Civil War began.

Snuggled on a couch and displayed on pedestals is a huge extended family of Ms. Epstein’s whimsical dolls. “All Dolled Up” reads the sign as they show off flashy garb, striking combinations of colors, textures, styles, each with a distinct personality. The artist made the stuffed fabric dolls beginning in the mid-1980s, dressing them in recycled garments and fabrics.

“The Healer” has wild red hair and many-hued New-Age style clothes. A pretty mermaid in iridescent ocean colors lolls languidly in a seashell, and there are many others.

But there was more! In front of a wide window, five graceful alabaster sculptures glowed softly in the afternoon sun, curved, sensuous, their smooth surfaces calling to be touched.

Ms. Epstein described to one fascinated viewer the power tools and techniques she used to mold and polish the alabaster. She created them during the 1990s in the Boynton Beach studio of the Stone Gallery, which offered the outdoor facilities needed for working with alabaster.

“It’s messy, but very satisfying,” she said.

Nor was that all. Flanking the window hung two soft ivory quilts, adorned with big lacy flower designs. Roughly textured decorative hangings were displayed on platforms and walls. Ms. Epstein recalled her beloved handmade Swedish loom she used to create them in the 1970s, and explained that she often used roving (raw yarn) for textural variations and inserted wires to add dimension.

Not surprisingly, the fashionable shawl that Ms. Epstein wore to accent her white outfit, reversible, multi-colored and stunning, was a piece she made herself.

A self-taught artist, Ms. Epstein was accepted to the Art Department of Syracuse University in the 1940s. But she felt the other students were too talented for her and studied merchandising and fashion design instead.

“I just have that fortunate ability,” she mused. “I like challenges. If I see something that intrigues me, I will research it and try to find out how to do it. That makes life more interesting, and allows you to grow.”

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Poet Annette Sandrock performed her spoken word piece during the fourth annual summer solstice celebration at Featherstone Center for the Arts in Oak Bluffs on Thursday evening. — Michael Cummo

Although the official Summer Solstice would not take place until Saturday, a band of creative writers and musicians at Featherstone Center for the Arts could not wait another minute, and gathered to celebrate the new season on Thursday evening.

Dozens of people came to watch poets perform during the fourth annual Summer Solstice Celebration.
Dozens of people came to watch poets perform during the fourth annual Summer Solstice Celebration.

The sun took her sweet time sinking behind the trees, splashing the rich green lawns with vibrant patches of gold as revelers began arriving. They trooped up the amphitheatre slope bearing chairs, blankets, picnic gear, and extra warm layers just in case.

While one might have expected a jolly festival of rowdy dance, rollicking music, singalongs, and giggles, this celebration had a very different flavor, honoring the transitional spring-to-summer moment in a serenely thoughtful style.

Poet Ellie Bates, who organized this fourth annual Summer Solstice Celebration, welcomed the audience members, now settled comfortably on the grass, sipping and snacking, chatting, and marveling at the beauty of the still-sunny evening.

As the program went on she introduced a talented line-up of home-grown Island poets. Most, she reported, are members of the Martha’s Vineyard Poets’ Collective and the Cleaveland House Poets. Many had read at Featherstone, Pathways, and elsewhere; some had taught workshops, a few had one or more books to their credit.

Delighted with the audience turnout, and the large number of readers taking part, Ms. Bates said she felt the event was a perfect kick-off to the season and the Pathways, Featherstone, Noepe Center Summer Festival of Poetry held here in July and August.

Poet Clark Myers read a poem he wrote.
Poet Clark Myers read a poem he wrote.

Annette Sandrock’s sweet story-poem told of a daisy she picked in Spain, the happy day they spent – woman and flower: “I showed it birds, I saw the world from its point of view,… Me and Daisy, walking the path.” Her words gave the little blossom a personality, delicate and precious. We want to meet it.

Jill Jupen offered meditations on life, death, and their mysteries. In a flock of raucous crows she saw Cambodian elders, huddled, chattering: “everyone talking at once.”

Artist Harry Seymour paired his poems with paintings, modestly admitting this was his first attempt at poetry. No disclaimer was needed for his strong verses, including the powerful “Empty Swings,” a passionate cry-out against gun violence.

Barbara Peckham deftly moved from outrage in a diatribe against heartless politicians ignoring the poor and powerless (“while God’s children weep”) to a lusciously lyrical poetic seascape: “Miss Ocean wears her blue green dress embroidered with crystal beads…” We envision it appearing as a children’s picture book one day, iridescent illustrations to match the sparkling words.

Winonah Harrington tossed a bouquet of haikus, floating like bubbles, glittering spontaneous images suggesting stories. Clark Myers evoked old-fashioned family life in recalling his grandmother Ada.

Shellion Hamlett, left in jean jacket, and poet Winonah Harrington enjoying the performances.
Shellion Hamlett, left in jean jacket, and poet Winonah Harrington enjoying the performances.

There were more poets, and words kept on coming, rhymed and unrhymed, couplets, haikus, free form, evoking moods from dark to lighthearted, contemplative to zany.

Edgartown Poet Laureate Steve Ewing topped off the heady mix with his newly minted “Slow Roll,” describing memorable first-time treats with economical images: childhood ice-cream, chilled Campari in Italy, red poppies abloom in France. Then he described a magical sensation, a subtle shift as he sat outdoors at twilight: “The sun stopped setting and the earth took over.”

Also sharing their talents and poems were Ann Lees, Jennifer Smith Turner, Scott Crawford, William Waterway, Ms. Bates who offered a verse along with providing introductions, and Marianne Goldberg (whose poem, in her absence, was read by Annette Sandrock. 

Three easy rocking tunes by Lizzy Bradley and Mark Mazer, began with “Georgia on My Mind,” Ms. Bradley providing the sultry vocals and making a brilliant debut on electric guitar.

Christina Montoya jazzed up the atmosphere with a fiery, powerful, flirtatious poetry/dance performance, exuding joyful woman-energy.

At last the sun had all but disappeared when William Waterway took the stage, now shadowed under heavily leafed branches, ending the evening with haunting impressionistic tunes played on a simple Native American branch flute.

“The birds were singing – they gave me my direction,” he said afterwards.

Satiated with elegantly crafted poetry, delicious food for thought, the patrons slowly, reluctantly, headed home, driving down the hill beneath a still-light apricot tinged sky.

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All roads and walking paths led to the Oak Bluffs Campground Sunday afternoon as graduates, family, friends and well-wishers converged on the Tabernacle for the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School’s 55th Commencement Ceremony. Even before the Tabernacle came into view the unmistakable sounds of happy voices, laughter, and the band tuning up filled the air.

Blessed by sunny skies, summery temperatures, and an Island community that had cheered, supported, and watched them grow, the seniors of 2014 giggled with anticipation as they adjusted white and purple robes and tasseled caps.

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Superintendent of Schools James Weiss addressing the graduates.

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Hartley Sierputoski receiving her diploma from Assistant Principal Andrew Berry.

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Avery Lazes was stylin' underneath his gown.

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Football Coach Donald Herman and Dawn Feinsmith.

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From left, Dori, Alex, and Tim Clark.

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From left, Claudia Taylor, Mariah Campbell, Jessica Campbell, and Ina Thigith.

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Hockey teammates Haven Huck and Callie Jackson capturing the moment.

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Isabel Smith, left, and Caroline Gazaille.

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Lily Lubin, left, and Anna Marques.

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Michael Ducatt and Keira Mercier.

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Class Essayist Nathaniel Horwitz.

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Patty Culkins, left, with daughter Sophie Ulyatt.

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From left, Master of Ceremony Sam Permar, Salutatorian Barra Peak, and Class Essayist Nathaniel Horwitz.

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Rick Bausman, left, and son, Hudson Bausman.

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Sarah Dawson hugs Vice Principal Andrew Berry

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Sarah Ortlip-Sommers, valedictorian.

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Shane Metters, left, and father Garry Metters.

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From left, Hartley Sierputoski, Isabelle Wadleigh, and Miranda Tokarz.

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Teo Azzollini (left) and Haven Huck.

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Taylor Brasefield (center) with aunt and uncle, Denise and David Brasefield.

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Chorus members Claudia Taylor, Sarah Dawson, Lorraine Menezes, Mikayla Tinus, and Emelia Cappelli.

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Juniors Elie Jordi and Emily deBettencourt were the marshals for the ceremony.

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Alistair Morgan, John Henry O'Shaughnessy, and Sarah Parece.

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Keith Dodge had advice for the students.

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Lucas Amarins and Charlotte Benjamin.

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Acting principal Matt D'Andrea presented an award to G. Galen Mayhew.

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Renata Lacerda, Edney Teles, Keilla Geddis.

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Sam Permar was the master of ceremony.

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Hats off to you grads!

Inside the Tabernacle benches began to fill early, everyone jockeying for a seat with a view. Black-robed faculty clustered at the entrance waiting to lead the procession, as giddy as their students.

Even the solemn march down the aisle to “Pomp and Circumstance” could not keep the seniors’ excited smiles and the sparkle in their eyes from shining bright. Girls in white, boys in purple, they stepped purposefully ahead while brave parents teetered on benches, cameras and iPhones held aloft. Even when the students were seated, the atmosphere still bubbled with exuberance, infectious and sweet.

Graduating senior Sam Permar emceed with style, befitting his plans to study acting at NYU Tisch. Welcoming the standing-room-only crowd, he graciously introduced speakers, songs, the Pledge of Allegiance, and kept the program moving smoothly. He issued a special welcome to Massachusetts Secretary of Education Matthew Malone who was in the audience, as well as several elementary school teachers who had been influential in earlier years for the Class of 2014.

Salutatorian Barra Peak, on her way to Harvard, offered well-researched reflections on the history of public education and the ideals of school crusader Horace Mann.

“I think Horace Mann would be very pleased by The Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School,” she said proudly, citing its public support, resources, tolerance, diversity, dedicated, highly trained faculty, and the fact that it is free and open to all.

“Wherever you go, I hope you will seek out new knowledge and new experiences and never close your minds to learning,” she said.

In his upbeat speech, Class Essayist Nathaniel Horwitz gave generous accolades to his classmates, singling out nearly three dozen for achievements in academics, athletics, community service, and the arts. Engaging and witty, the Harvard-bound grad had no qualms about poking fun at himself — his football career with one touchdown in three seasons, his crush on a female field hockey and lacrosse star.

“Every member of this class has been special to me, and to everyone,” he said, “Thank you for a perfect four years.”

Superintendent of Vineyard schools James Weiss, crediting a book by David McCullough Jr., exhorted students to remember they are “works in progress,” to seek a passion — “to do something for no other reason than because you love it.”

“Of course, you, the graduates of Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School for 2014 are special,” declared Mr. Weiss, citing the seniors’ unusual Island upbringing, their multiple achievements and commitment to helping others.

“It is my hope that you will continue your education beyond this commencement, trying new things, sometimes successfully and sometimes not, but always learning, growing and exercising your passion,” Mr. Weiss said. “It is also my hope that you will move from here, allowing the world to know what we have already come to understand — that you are the Vineyard’s special gift, our very special graduates.

“Congratulations and thank you!”

Then, lauding her achievements in art, dance, academics, and school activities, Mr. Weiss presented the Superintendent’s Award for Academic Excellence to Valedictorian Sarah Ortlip-Sommers, who will attend Stanford.

Choral performances gave a moment to breathe and reflect: “Defying Gravity” and “Choose Something Like a Star,” the haunting senior song, Robert Frost’s poem set to music by Randall Thompson.

Praise and advice

Acting Principal Matthew D’Andrea gave high praise to Andrew Jacobs-Walsh, who will attend the University of Maine, and Jade Pine, heading to Framingham State University. Listing their many achievements, he presented each with the Vineyarder Award. The annual award honors one male and one female graduate for showing outstanding growth throughout their four years of high school.

For his outstanding leadership skills both in and out of school and “a disciplined approach to life in everything he does,” Mr. D’Andrea presented G. Galen Mayhew with the Principal’s Leadership Award.

“Princeton University will be fortunate to have him as a student next year,” Mr. D’Andrea added.

Student Council President Mary Ollen began her speech with a loving shout-out to her father, John Ollen, who was watching the ceremony from Massachusetts General Hospital via Skype. After resounding applause from the compassionate audience, she gave heart-felt thanks to high school Technical Director Woody Filley for arranging the Skype.

Ms. Ollen expressed appreciation for the Island’s generosity, from filling the seats at school plays and athletic events to contributing more than $700,000 in scholarships.

“Thank you to both Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School and the Island community for supporting us,” the Wellesley-bound Ms. Ollen said. “We owe you everything.”

“Everything you do matters,” said Sarah Ortlip-Sommers in an inspiring valedictory send-off, encouraging her peers to do something positive for society. “Every good intention is important in the process of living a good life. Small kindnesses make a difference to everyone around you. So make sure that every day you do something that brings some small joy to even one person.”

She too acknowledged the uniqueness of the Island, “a community that takes care of people in need, celebrates people’s lives and looks out for one another… the sense of community and shared traditions will provide us with a source of strength for the rest of our lives.”

Retired English teacher Keith Dodge told a cautionary tale of his misspent early college days, counselling seniors to make the most of their lives and educations, and not be afraid of change and “never stop learning.”

The popular former teacher’s tips included: travel, buy property, save money, plan ahead.

“Please don’t live accidentally,” Mr. Dodge urged. “Try to know where you’re going and even make a list.”

At long last the big moment arrived. One by one the students made their way to the stage, received their coveted diplomas from Regional District Committee Chairman Colleen McAndrews, handshakes and hugs from smiling school officials.

Camera-wielding relatives pressed ever closer to the stage. Applause and cheers were nearly deafening after each name was called, well-wishers unable to contain their delight despite the program’s futile request: “Please reserve your applause until all diplomas have been awarded.”

Then it was back up the aisle to waiting hugs from proud family and joyful friends, bouquets, group photos, an evening of parties, and finally, the rest of life waiting just beyond.

Tomorrow would begin a short summer, packed with work and preparations, then transition to new lives filled with challenges and uncertainties. But for today this class of 2014 could bask in the secure love, caring, and admiration of family, friends, and its small yet formidable community.

Off to the future

Outside the Tabernacle on the sunny lawn happy pandemonium reigned, the traditional post-commencement chaos. Relatives, friends, and graduates searched for each other in the swirling crowd.

“I don’t know where my family is!” mock-wailed one pretty blonde grad.

Cameras and cell phones were everywhere, handed back and forth so everyone could get in the shot. Mothers and fathers thrust lush bouquets at white-robed girls. Graduates were deluged with hugs and slaps on the back then corralled into place for family photos. Some still wore their robes neatly, others had already divested themselves, leaving graduation garb, like high school itself, gladly behind. Everyone laughed, some cried too, caught up in emotion. It was hard to tell whether it was the ecstatic graduates or their proud parents who were smiling the widest and brightest.

Caroline King smiled joyfully for the camera, standing between her dad, Sandy King, and stepmother, Rose Walsh. But the first chance she got she dashed off to catch up with waiting friends.

Not yet college-bound, Caroline is looking forward to a year off “to figure out what’s next,” according to Ms. Walsh. She added that she is glad Caroline is taking the opportunity to explore while she is young.

Isabel Smith, headed to Elon University in the fall, was receiving hugs, greeting well-wishers, and making plans. She was excited to be hosting a party soon at her home along with two close friends, Mary Ollen and Sarah Alexander.

Teo Azzollini had party plans too. Enjoying a moment with her mother, Roberta Kirn, dad, Nicky Azzollini, and her sister, Marta, a May UMass grad, Teo, who will also attend UMass, said she had attended eight parties on Saturday and was counting on at least three more later in the afternoon.

She said her day’s highlights were Mary Ollen’s speech “and celebrating with my family.”

John Henry O’Shaughessy was all smiles, surrounded by male friends and wearing a colorful scarf patterned on the Irish flag around his neck. His next step is Westfield State University.

Also grinning from ear to ear was Keira Mercier, posing for photos with her sister, i-coming senior Taija Browne. Keira reported she is joining the U.S. Army and will head for training to Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri. She follows in the steps of relatives and a close family friend who have served in the military.

“Walking across the stage, knowing I’m done with high school,” was the best part of the ceremony for her, she said mischievously.

Smiling just as broadly was her mother, Lindsey. “I’m very proud!” she said, holding her daughter’s flowers while the exuberant grad flew off to hug classmates.

“I’m very excited!” said Molly Wallace about her plans to attend Northeastern University’s Pre-Med program. Her goal: to be a pediatric neonatal cardiologist at Boston Children’s Hospital.

Family resemblance was unmistakable as she posed for the camera with her mom, Patty.  Big brother Jordan stood patiently nearby, taking care of Molly’s big bouquet.

While brimming with pride, Ms. Wallace admitted she would miss her daughter’s cheerful presence at home. “I’ve already made hotel reservations for a September visit,” she said happily.

“I think this was one of the nicest graduations ever,” said Megan Alley of Oak Bluffs, here to celebrate and congratulate track star Jeremy Alley-Tarter, her grandson who will be attending Assumption College. “The speeches were wonderful and I heard a lot of love.”

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Valedictorian Sarah Ortlip-Sommers, who is headed to Stanford in the fall, told her class, "small kindnesses make a difference to everyone around you." — Photo by Ralph Stewart

All roads led to the Oak Bluffs Campground Sunday afternoon as graduates, family, friends and well-wishers converged on the Tabernacle for the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School’s 55th Commencement Ceremony.

Sam Permar, left, MC'ed the ceremony. Barra Peak, center, is the class salutatorian and will attend Harvard in the fall, along with Nathaniel Horwitz, right, the class essayist.
Sam Permar, left, MC’ed the ceremony. Barra Peak, center, is the class salutatorian and will attend Harvard in the fall, along with Nathaniel Horwitz, right, the class essayist.

Blessed by sunny skies, summery temperatures, and an Island community that had cheered, supported, and watched them grow, the seniors of 2014 giggled with anticipation as they adjusted white and purple robes and caps. Even the solemn march down the aisle to “Pomp and Circumstance” could not hide their excited smiles and the sparkle in their eyes.

Graduating senior Sam Permar emceed with style, welcoming the standing-room-only crowd, graciously introducing speakers.

Sarah Shaw Dawson, headed to UVM  in the fall, gets a hug from vice principal Andrew Berry.
Sarah Shaw Dawson, headed to UVM in the fall, gets a hug from vice principal Andrew Berry.

Superintendent of Vineyard schools Dr. James Weiss  urged students to remember they are “works in progress,” to seek their passion – “something you do because you love it.”

“You are the Vineyard’s special gift, our very special graduates,” he concluded. “Congratulations!”

“Thank you to both Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School and the Island community for supporting us,” said student council president Mary Ollen. “We owe you everything.”

Lily Lubin and Anna Marques give the thumbs up to graduation.
Lily Lubin and Anna Marques give the thumbs up to graduation.

Soon would come an all-too-short summer packed with work and preparations, then transition to a new life filled with challenges and uncertainties. But for today this class of 2014 could bask in the secure love, caring, and admiration of family, friends, and its small yet formidable community.

Tallula Brodsky listens to the speakers.
Tallula Brodsky listens to the speakers.

“Everything you do matters,” said valedictorian Sarah Ortlip-Sommers in an inspiring send-off to her classmates. “Every good intention is important in the process of living a good life. Small kindnesses make a difference to everyone around you. So make sure that every day you do something that brings some small joy to even one person.”

Lucas Amarins and Charlotte Benjamin.
Lucas Amarins and Charlotte Benjamin.

At long last the big moment arrived: the awarding of diplomas. One by one the students made their way to the stage, received the coveted diploma with warm handshakes and hugs.

Graduated!
Graduated!

Applause and cheers were nearly deafening after each graduate’s name was called, well-wishers unable to contain their delight despite the program’s futile request: “Please reserve your applause until all diplomas have been awarded.”

Then it was back up the aisle to waiting hugs from proud family and joyful friends, bouquets, group photos, an evening packed with parties, and finally, the rest of life just beyond.

Avery Lazes might win the prize for most interesting under-gown outfit.
Avery Lazes might win the prize for most interesting under-gown outfit.

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A wellspring of energy and an “Elders Bill of Rights.”

The Vineyard population is aging rapidly, bringing an array of challenges and concerns, but Islanders aren’t taking the unsettling news lying down. When the Rural Scholars, students from the University of Massachusetts Medical School, reported last October that the senior population of Martha’s Vineyard would swell dramatically in years to come, Island activists formed the Healthy Aging Task Force (HATF) to strategize ways to head off the challenge. The task force was developed as a sub-committee of the Dukes County Health Council.

A public meeting in November drew some 65 participants from across the Island, representing several dozen service agencies and providers. That session saw the creation of seven work groups along with a 20-member coordinating committee. Each group was charged with researching and developing responses for a single aspect of senior living.

A morning-long meeting last Thursday, May 22, at the M.V. Hebrew Center in Vineyard Haven brought the groups together along with other interested community members to share their findings and map out action plans for months and years ahead.

Facilitated by HATF chair Paddy Moore, who is also a Dukes County Health Council member, and Peter Temple, executive director of the MV Donors Collaborative, the fast-moving meeting was carefully organized and kept to a precise schedule, employing slide presentations to emphasize facts, figures, and findings.

Massachusetts Secretary of Elder Affairs Ann Hartstein capped off the 3½-hour session, offering acknowledgement and inspiration, answering questions, raising ideas, and conveying the assurance that state government supports such local healthy aging initiatives.

“This is a wonderful celebration,” said Ms. Moore with a bright smile as she welcomed the crowd of nearly 100, pointing to the “wellspring of volunteer energy” and the progress underway.

“I believe that timing is all.” she added, saying this is the perfect moment for Vineyarders to prepare for challenges to come as the percentage of senior citizens grows.

Ms. Moore set the tone by introducing the task force’s “Elders’ Bill of Rights.” The nine-point document calls for seniors to enjoy a life that includes appropriate and affordable housing and transportation, the ability to fully participate in community activity, the choice of living at home or in a facility setting, receive high-quality care and make other decisions in later years, all in addition to being respected and valued by their community.

Mr. Temple recapped the warning from the Rural Scholars that the percentage of Island residents over 65 is growing rapidly. According to these projections, from 16 percent in 2010 the Island population of seniors will rise to 32 percent in 2030. The Island’s increase in older population is much more rapid than that of the U.S. or Massachusetts.

Projections show that the Vineyard’s percentage of elder residents will soon be surpassed only by that of Cape Cod, an area called by one observer, Mr. Temple reported, “Medicare by the Sea.”

Many of these older residents have low incomes and are living in homes that are isolated and not well designed or appointed for potentially changing needs and abilities.

Impacts will be felt everywhere, from the increased pressures on medical and mental health care to town services such as senior centers and EMTs. Adding to the challenges, Mr. Temple said, it is difficult to attract health care professionals and home care workers to the Island due to high living costs and limited housing options.

Before the worrisome predictions could cast a pall over the crowd, Ms. Moore introduced the work group presentations, providing varied responses to the challenges raised. Representatives of each work group outlined updates on findings and progress. Reports were clear, concise, rich with detail and optimism.

Reports made recommendations as common-sensical as exercise tailored to seniors, as useful as a centralized information system, and as ambitious as building a new, revolutionary type of nursing care facility and campaigning to change town zoning.

The work groups discovered, as the Rural Scholars did, that the Vineyard already possesses numerous services and programs that address seniors’ needs. In some cases, recommendations were for coordination, education, and adjustments so existing services would be better used.

The Community Engagement and Prevention group honed in on preventing falls, which are prevalent among older adults and can have far-reaching negative impacts on health and well-being. The group plans to institute of “A Matter of Balance” trainings on the Island. The peer-lead programs aim to lessen fears of falling, teach fall prevention and exercises to improve balance, strength, and confidence.

“Falls are the fourth biggest cause of death among the elderly, and our evidence-based workshop training on Matter of Balance can actually save lives,” Ms. Moore said.

Citing the importance of exercise, especially walking, and working with MV Commission staffer Chris Seidel and with support of the MV Chamber of Commerce, the group will soon make available online maps of all walking trails and pedestrian-friendly ways titled “Getting Around Martha’s Vineyard.”

A proposed “Seniors’ One-Stop Referral Service,” a centralized, web-based system, would provide comprehensive information on resources to guide and support elders, providers, and caregivers. Along with gathering and posting complete resource information online, the plan calls for establishment of an office with a staffer available full time to respond to telephone inquiries.

“Transportation is the thread that ties everything together,” said Leslie Clapp reporting for the Transportation Work Group. “If you’re isolated and lonely you’re not going to be very healthy.”

After surveying every mode of Island public transport and some on the Cape, the group aims to educate seniors on what is available. They also will strive to remedy several gaps that exist, such as travel to certain off-Island specialists and veterans’ services.

The Aging in Community group explored a new and promising model for small scale, personalized nursing facilities designed to look and feel like private homes. Fitting into residential neighborhoods, the Green House model offers private rooms, care based on a patient’s wishes, frequent direct staff contact, and could alternatively accommodate rehabilitation or assisted living programs.

According to the report, the Town of Edgartown has raised the possibility of including a Green House in a pending affordable housing development. With the aim of allowing seniors to remain at home whenever possible, the work group also will promote use of existing volunteer programs.

The Affordable Elder and Workforce Housing group intends to consult with town boards across the Island and push for zoning changes to allow accessory or “in-law” apartments which could accommodate an elderly family member, or a caregiver to help an aging homeowner.

Work is also underway to find ways to educate contractors on several simple design adjustments (e.g. wider doorways and halls, easy no-threshold doors, first-floor living potential) which could make new or retrofitted homes accessible, safe, and livable for older, wheelchair-bound, or handicapped residents.

More than one-third of Vineyarders now provide care on an informal basis to an older family member or friend, a number projected to rise to 55 percent by 2030. The Caregiver Support Work Group is exploring how to provide varied resources for those informal helpers from skills development to medical oversight and respite opportunities.

Funds will be needed to bring many of these ideas to fruition, but progress is underway. Ms. Moore announced a $5,000 M.V. Hospital Community Health Initiative grant towards the One Stop program. Anonymous gifts include: $2,500 for the Green House Feasibility Study; $1,750 for Matter of Balance Training; and $10,000 to fund a two-day consultation with the Altarum Institute’s Center for Elder Care and Advanced Illness. The MV Donors Collaborative has contributed time of its executive director and other proposals are pending.

As the meeting ended Ms. Moore urged participants to share all they had learned with neighbors and friends, offer ideas, and consider volunteering.

“There is a lot of work to do,” she said.

Massachusetts Secretary of Elder Affairs, Ann Hartstein, spoke to the group, and her remarks are here.

For complete slides from the May 22 presentation and additional information visit:

dukescounty.org/Pages/DukesCountyMA_HealthCouncil/DCHATF

or

mvdonors.org/documents/PresentationMay22.pdf

For information or to volunteer, contact Paddy Moore: mooreii@aol.com or 508-693-1627.

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Brenda Piland accepts donated clothes from Sandy Blythe. — Lynn Christoffers

Updated at 7:10 pm, April 30, 2014.

Along with the Island Food Pantry, Red Stocking, and free church suppers, a less familiar program in the community safety net assisting those in need is Clothes to Go. A ministry of the United Methodist Church, since 2009 this program has collected donations of new and “gently used” wearables from generous Vineyarders and made them available free to those who need them.

Clothes to Go, located in Vineyard Haven’s Stone Church, is open one morning and three afternoons a week in winter, one morning and two afternoons in spring. The schedule coincides with that of the Food Pantry, which operates in an adjoining room, making it one-stop shopping for many.

One recent afternoon, regular volunteer Brenda Piland sat at the front table sorting new donations. Wearing a red shirt and aqua fleece vest with dark tights, Ms. Piland looked businesslike and comfortable.

“Clothes to go!” she acknowledged with a grin, gesturing at her fashionable outfit.

Unlike its earliest days when donations were piled on tables for patrons to browse through, today the room is attractively organized like a consignment shop. Inventory is extensive, garments displayed neatly on shelves and racks. Shelving along the rear wall holds men’s and women’s shoes and boots; children’s items are sorted into cubbies. Slacks, jeans, shirts, sweaters, and jackets hang from freestanding racks. All are in good repair, and many have familiar quality labels.

Small bins hold hats and wallets; racks display neckties and belts. There are blankets, household goods, linens, towels, toys, and books.

The number of patrons varies. There may be a handful one day, more than two dozen another. But business is brisk and customers leave satisfied, with armloads or bags of useful finds.

Although patrons are free to choose what they want, amounts are limited. Signs announce: “10 Items a Visit,” “One Coat a Visit,” “Be mindful of others: take only what you need!”

The $10 or $15 collected in a donation pitcher each week goes into the Trinity Methodist Church Sunday plate.

People drop off donations often. That afternoon a woman brought several clean, colorful children’s tee-shirts. While some donors give one or two items, others arrive with boxes or trash bags, stuffed to bursting. This winter, a community member came with a stack of warm blankets, quickly claimed by delighted patrons. Volunteers once received eight bags of clothes from a single donor. Most contributions are in good shape but occasionally some cannot be used.

“We do quality control,” said organizer Jennifer Wey Fiore. “We want donations, but we don’t want people to donate things they wouldn’t wear.”

Ms. Piland said that although the racks and shelves are well stocked, turnover is high. A constant supply of replacements is needed. Unlike many second-hand programs, Clothes to Go accepts out-of-season clothing. Thanks to available storage space in the church basement, garments not suited for immediate use are packed in bins to be offered later.

“The Clothes to Go ministry is one of the few places on Martha’s Vineyard where people with financial challenges can go to get clothing free of charge,” said the Rev. Robert Hensley of Grace Episcopal Church. “It is convenient to those who use the food pantry, being housed at the same location.

“The Island Clergy Association is very grateful to have a central location to which our clothing collections can go for distribution to our neighbors who need them. It is also a major help to the clergy, who have a specific location to send people for assistance.”

Mr. Hensley is especially aware of local needs as he works closely with the Island Homeless Outreach ministries through the clergy association.

Jennifer Wey Fiore, a social worker and busy mother of two teenaged boys, came up with the idea for Clothes to Go in 2009. She was inspired by her grandmother who ran a similar free clothing program at her Boston-area church. A member of Trinity Methodist Church in Oak Bluffs, Ms. Fiore said she was aware of the need here, especially from her experience working on the Island for the Massachusetts Department of Families and Children. She asked herself, “How can our church help?”

Clothes to Go got underway with the support of the Rev. Richard Rego and many other helpers in the congregation.

In the beginning it was “like a pop-up,” Ms. Fiore said.

Volunteers would unpack donated clothing, laying it out on parish hall tables early Saturday morning. That afternoon they would store the goods to clear the room for Sunday.

It quickly became clear that a permanent space was needed where displays could remain set up and patrons could come more often. The program moved to the Stone Church in the spring of 2010. At first volunteers made do with big tables for clothes, but soon they acquired donated racks, shelves, and bins.

“Everything we have was either built by volunteers or donated by local businesses,” said Ms. Fiore gratefully. “Everything is donated. We don’t spend a dime!”

Murray’s of the Vineyard gave racks and hangers when going out of business. Stores occasionally donate merchandise that hasn’t sold. Churches and schools have had clothing drives. Students volunteer to fulfill community service requirements. And Ms. Fiore reported that recipients sometimes return to donate or help when they are able.

Ms. Fiore said she is glad to be next door to the Island Food Pantry to make it easier for patrons, and she has received invaluable support and advice from its director, the Rev. Armen Hanjian.

Volunteers staff the facility during operating hours, and a monthly workday is held when volunteers do an overall cleanup, sort donations, pack out-of-season clothing, and other chores.

“It’s quick work and it’s fun,” said Ms. Fiore.

Ms. Fiore is convinced that this program is needed by many Vineyarders who are just trying to get by. She said it is not just the very poor who need help clothing their families.

“I raised my kids here, I know the cost of living,” Ms. Fiore said. “As a full-time social worker I see families every day trying to make ends meet.

“We see all ends of it here at Clothes to Go. We see people who are down and out, people who are struggling with finding stable housing, struggling with substance abuse. And we see families who are working, working hard.”

Ms. Fiore said that occasionally concerns arise about people taking more than their share, or using the program when they don’t really need it. But she remains determined to keep Clothes to Go open to all. There are no eligibility requirements, no application forms, means tests, or references.

“That would exclude people in our community,” Ms. Fiore said, adding that she wants the program to be open-hearted. “I don’t want to be the one to judge.”

She said that although Clothes to Go is a church-initiated program she wants people to know “it belongs to the community.”

“The aim is to have a place where all parts of the community can come and mingle together,” Ms. Fiore said. “I want it to feel accessible to everybody.”

Clothes to Go spring hours: Mon., Wed. 2 to 4 pm, Sat. 9 to 11 am. Volunteer work days: Saturdays May 17, June 21, 3 to 5 pm. Stone Church, Church St., Vineyard Haven. For info, call 508-693-4424.

Alyssa and Nayelli Vieira planted their own cranberry bean seeds, and learned how the beans were used in early times. — Photo by Danielle Zerbonne

Bright sunshine and warm temperatures set a summertime mood as the Greenhouse of Martha’s Vineyard in Oak Bluffs got a head start on the season Saturday. The “Early Earth Day Celebration” offered an opportunity for serious gardeners and green-thumbed dabblers alike to enjoy a planting preview.

Joyce Brigish tended to seedlings.
Joyce Brigish tended to seedlings.

Formerly the Community Solar Greenhouse of Martha’s Vineyard, familiarly known as “COMSOG,” the greenhouse was bursting with enthusiastically growing things. Along with tiny seedlings there were full-grown greens that thrived in the indoor warmth all winter.

Beginning with its annual Mother’s Day Sale on May 11 and throughout that month, the greenhouse will offer these lovingly grown organic seedlings to home gardeners. The selection rivals that of a commercial nursery, and it includes lettuces and other greens, squash, cucumbers, and more. Heirloom tomatoes are a specialty along with conventional specimens.

“We have the most heirloom tomato varieties of any place on the Island by far,” Said Thalia Scanlan, Master Gardener and longtime board president.

Sungold tomatoes.
Sungold tomatoes.

Ms. Scanlan pointed proudly to the extensive list of peppers both hot and sweet, and a large variety of eggplants from the traditional Black Beauty to Asian, Italian, and other types. Flower seedlings and herbs will be for sale, and lush blooms in hanging baskets.

Outdoors, fascinated children clustered around a table as Diane Sylvia guided them in planting their own little pots of cranberry bean seeds. Along with the delight of real gardening, the children learned how the beans were used in early times.

Youngsters took their potted seeds home, excited to tend them and watch the beans sprout. Ms. Sylvia handed out fact sheets and even a traditional recipe for bread pudding baked in a pumpkin shell.

A retired math teacher, Ms. Sylvia is greenhouse manager. She was named to the post after having been an active member and volunteer for some time, even maintaining a blog and Facebook page for the facility.

At another table, Laurisa Rich shared information about rain barrels, a boon for environmentally minded gardeners. Ms. Rich, who organizes rain barrel sales for the Lagoon Pond Association, said these big green vats gather valuable, nutrient-rich water and can be equipped with a hose.

Herbs and pink and red geraniums soaked up the sunshine, and blooming daffodils welcomed visitors at the greenhouse door.

Gail Tipton stocked up on Swiss Chard.
Gail Tipton stocked up on Swiss Chard.

Drawn by the promise of spring, people came to browse, buy, ask questions, or help with chores. Those who wanted the pleasure of getting their hands dirty could transplant seedlings or plant seeds for blue or golden Hubbard squash. The squash plants, Ms. Sylvia said, serve as “decoys” to lure pests away from other vines. Another volunteer happily grabbed a rake and got busy tidying the grounds, while a little girl wielded a big watering can.

Behind the greenhouse, the garden plot was still at rest, but soon it will be planted. By mid-summer the garden provides an abundance of flowers and vegetables sold to members and at the Oak Bluffs Open Market. Specialties include lemon cucumbers, and okra that is hard to find here.

“People come just to buy okra,” said Ms. Sylvia.

Volunteer energy keeps the greenhouse thriving throughout the seasons as it has for many years. Members lend a hand all during the winter, sprouting and tending plants, then gear up production as springtime nears. Springtime sales of young plants are an economic mainstay and summer flower and produce sales bring needed revenue too.

Yarrow seedlings are ready for spring.
Yarrow seedlings are ready for spring.

At $30 for individuals, $35 for couples, membership fees are modest. Members are invited to volunteer and may purchase produce and plants at cut rates. A big benefit is picking greens year-round. There are more than 200 members on the roster, including some three dozen faithful volunteers. Others pitch in when possible.

During chilly months volunteers gather for a Wednesday chore day. After a busy morning tending plants they enjoy a potluck soup lunch with salad made from freshly picked greens growing close at hand.

According to Ms. Scanlan, doing chores in the greenhouse’s tropical atmosphere during cold winter weather is a delight, not a burden.

“It’s a very restorative kind of thing,” she said. “It’s a healthy thing. There’s nothing quite like it. In the winter you slog through the cold ugliness then you open the greenhouse door and you’re in another world. It makes you feel ‘we can get through this. It’s not a problem.

“It’s just a lot of fun. It’s a lot of work.., but that’s the joy.”

Organizers changed the facility’s name from the familiar “COMSOG” last year when the greenhouse celebrated its 30th anniversary. The change was an effort to bring the greenhouse into the public eye and let people know more about activities and opportunities.

A bright new green sign stands at the New York Avenue entrance and the jaunty artwork is echoed on a bright brochure. “Come Grow With Us,” is the message, “Learn, Grow, and Connect,” the motto.

Ms. Scanlan said the name change has had a revitalizing effect. “It is catching on and there’s a feeling of new energy,” she said. “People are really responding. There’s quite an upbeat feeling.”

Everything's blooming at Vineyard greenhouses. — Ralph Stewart

While we wondered if winter would ever end, elves at local greenhouses have been busy with seeds and seedlings; cleaning and refurbishing shops, grounds and display areas and stocking soil, fertilizer, potted plants and shrubs ready to burst into bloom.

Ashley Lister at Donaroma's.
Ashley Lister at Donaroma’s.

Most nurseries opened quietly last month for those intrepid gardeners who wanted to get a head start on the season. These days, they are buzzing with preparations for Palm Sunday on April 13, which for many Islanders is the unofficial “grand opening,” when the spirits of plant lovers are lifted by displays of early spring flowers, the smell of warm soil in greenhouses filled with young growing plants, that long-awaited breath of spring. It is indeed a time to awaken from the winter doldrums and begin dreaming of flowers, herbs, vegetables, and the warm days ahead.

All nurseries carry conventional and organic soils and fertilizers, pest control products, gardening tools, containers, and paraphernalia. They offer a variety of special discounts and bargains to tempt the green-thumbed customer.

Vineyard Gardens

Palm Sunday Open House: 11am to 2 pm; free plants, refreshments and Easter Sunday Egg Hunt (1 pm).

What else: Saturday morning (11 am) free lectures range from starting plants from seed to vegetable gardening, lawn care and maintenance and more. Saturday hands-on workshops teach how to prepare seeds and seedlings, and bring them home to plant ($20 fee).

What’s new:  Greenhouse attached to front shop; Amish-made Adirondack chairs.

What’s special: Each week, a special plant is offered at a 20-percent discount.

“Please stop by for a breath of spring,” says Chris Wiley, co-owner with husband Chuck. “The greenhouses are full and gorgeous.”

484 State Road, West Tisbury. VineyardGardens.net, 508-693-8511

Middletown Nursery

Palm Sunday: Family Fun Day visitors can plant a mini-strawberry or flower garden.

What else: Free seminars with organic gardener Roxanne Kapitan, “The Backyard Vegetable Garden from Seed to Harvest,” begin April 19, 1-2 pm. Topics include composting, building organic soil, and maximizing garden yield.

What’s new: remodeled the shop and creation of parklike display grounds with educational displays and new plants.

What’s special: the Island’s exclusive Husqvarna Dealer offers power tools and equipment. “Yard Sale” discounts are offered through April 19.

“We hope for a beautiful Easter Sunday and invite families to join us from 10 am to 1 pm for an Easter filled with the colors of spring,” said manager Steven Elliott.

680 State Road, West Tisbury. (508)696-7600

Jardin Mahoney

Easter season: Easter Cookie Decorating party for the kids on Easter Sunday, 9 am-3 pm.

What else: Lush tropicals and indoor hydrangeas, tulips, daffodils and even aromatic herbs welcome visitors into the big greenhouse. Also, fruit trees including apple, pear, plums, and cherries and berry bushes.

What’s special: Sale on blueberry bushes while supplies last.

Wandering the grounds makes for a nice spring walk and the garden center stocks everything you need to get outdoors and start digging.

45 Edgartown Vineyard Haven Road, Oak Bluffs. jardinmahoney.com, (508) 693-3511.

Donaroma’s

Palm Sunday: 10 am-2 pm, Donaroma’s welcomes guests with cut daffodils for all; Easter Sunday from 10 am-2 pm.

What’s new: Easter Lilies and hyacinths; early blooming shrubs like lilac, forsythia, and dogwood.

What’s special: A spring sale runs April 11 to 13; weekly specials for landscapers only.

The spacious florist shop and greenhouse is bursting with cheerful Easter decorations, plant baskets, bunnies, butterflies, and chicks.

Upper Main St., Edgartown. Donaromas.com; (508)627-3036.

Heather Gardens

Palm Sunday (8:30 am- 3 pm) open house featuring free plants, warm refreshments, and sweet goodies.

What else: According to owner Mike Saunier, the nursery features the Island’s largest selection of locally grown, hand-seeded annuals in six-packs.

What’s new: Expanded variety of shrubs.

What’s special: one greenhouse filled with lush tropical houseplants and the tiny potting shed offering antique garden collectibles.

“We have the same friendly staff as in previous years who are always eager to help,” said Mr. Saunier, echoing the welcome of all Island nurseries.

377 State Road, West Tisbury. heather-gardens.com, (508)693-1467.

This story was updated on April 14, 2014, to correct a mistake in the Middletown Nursery section. Steven Elliott was mistakenly identified as the owner of the West Tisbury nursery. John and Heather Hoff have owned the business for five years. Mr. Elliott is the manager.