Letters to the Editor
A wrong impression
To The Editor:
In writing a very favorable article about Island MCAS scores, Times reporter Janet Hefler quoted me saying that "no incoming freshmen qualified for an honors math program" when I first arrived. That is not true. Many middle school students came up in honors, but the numbers were uneven from each school. With the expertise of the elementary and middle school teachers, more students are enrolled in honors than ever before. Thus the excellent math scores are attributable to the teaching in all grades from kindergarten on up.
I apologize for giving the impression that all the students' successes were due to the high school teachers and staff only. I also apologize for seeming to take all the credit for the middle school's math programs.
Regional High School
Editor's Note: The Times received this letter for publication on October 13, but clumsily, we misplaced it. So, here it is, a week later than planned.
Mr. Graham should bite the bullet
To the Editor:
I want to commend Dan Cabot for his clear and accurate reporting on the Bill Graham vs. West Tisbury tax case, and say thanks to The Martha's Vineyard Times for their wise and satisfying editorial on the same subject.
I work for Jo-Ann Resendes, and while she may not be warm and fuzzy (her words) she is very smart, supremely organized, fair, honest, and works hard for the town. West Tisbury is lucky to have her.
To Bill Graham and his supporters, if you really don't want to punish the people of West Tisbury you'll bite the bullet and find a way to pay the price for your incredible good fortune, as the rest of us do.
Take the deal
To the Editor:
I've been following the Graham tax case stories in both newspapers since the beginning. I have to say there are things about the case that just don't add up. I do know from reading the testimonies of the trial that the town has lost its arguments, big time. Let there be no doubt as to the outcome of the trial if it comes to a conclusion. The judge will find in favor of William Graham. She will order restitution from the town and possibly order a criminal investigation. She will surely give Mr. Graham punitive damages, in addition to all the legal expenses and back taxes.
Are you people so arrogant and pompous as to not see that. You all better wake up and smell the coffee. If I take Mr. Graham's offer on face value, I would say you should do whatever it takes to correct the situation regarding the blunder of the tax assessors in West Tisbury. Dismiss the lot of them if you have to. Mr. Graham has extended an olive branch to the leadership of the town as a last-ditch attempt, so he doesn't have to bankrupt the town, including the people in it. After all, he does live here, and need I remind all of you of his family's integrity. Hello. I thought his offer to be most magnanimous.
Now, about the issue of changed record cards, water views, no water view and Brian Roberts' assessment. Well, let's just say I smell something fishy.
Michael F. Kemly
Affordable housing, yes, but …
To the Editor,
Following the numerous letters for or against the proposed Cozy Hearth subdivision, I would like to make one fact very clear. The Watcha Path neighborhood is not in opposition to affordable housing, nor do we doubt that the people looking to develop this area would be fine neighbors. The people who live on or off of Watcha Path are all hard working year-round Island people who all too well understand the difficulties in securing housing on the Island, the love for this Island and the desire to live and raise our families here.
Personally, for us to take a stand against this project has been a very difficult one. A valued friendship of some 20-plus years has been strained because of this whole issue. It is sad to see that personal stands are tearing apart friendships. At Martha's Vineyard Commission meetings, Cozy Hearth parents of little ones in the audience have been heard to tell their young children that the people of Watcha Lane are the people who don't like them. Things are getting a little out of hand and, unfortunately, there are no easy answers. Passions run hot and deep when debating Cozy Hearth. There are valid points on both sides of this issue and many well informed and trained people are tying to sort through all the various issues to find answers.
What is clear is, yes, we do need more affordable housing, Yes, the land that Cozy Hearth has chosen is in a core habitat for endangered species and the project must now be reviewed under the Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act. Yes, the land is in the watershed for Oyster Pond, and, yes, there are major nitrate loading problems that must be solved.
With the new habitat study, now 11 homes will have to be built on only three acres instead of the original 11 acres they had planned, which now makes the density of this project feel even more crowded. Also in this three acres, Cozy Hearth must build their road and build all of their septic systems. The road that accesses this land has major safety issues and is in poor condition to begin with. Investigation into cutting across conservation land owned by Sheriffs Meadow to reroute Watcha Path traffic onto Oyster Watcha Road has been dead-ended, so we are still stuck with our already very dangerous intersection only with Cozy Hearth adding traffic estimations of a 65 percent increase, or 110 more trips per day to our little road.
Things just seem to get more and more grim with each commission meeting. This week we will enter out sixth Martha's Vineyard Commission meeting and again discuss Cozy Hearth. The newspapers have had numerous articles about the young families waiting and waiting to be given the green light so that they can build off of Watcha Path. They have not covered the stories of the people in the Watcha Path neighborhood and how they got there or why they are fighting for what they believe is right. Each and every one of the Watcha Path people are hard-working Island people. Many have worked several jobs or worked their way up the buy-and-fix-up-a-house ladder to get here. Some are taking advantage of the three-acre zoning and have working farms. Some have purchased their three acres for the right to build a main house and guesthouse, a plan to give their children Island housing. One family has done the summer shuffle causing them to move 21 times in the last 22 years, while raising and educating a family of three children. Watcha Path is the home to people who work in all walks of Island jobs. We are artists, builders, welders, shopkeepers, real estate brokers, painters. We work in town schools, work for public utilities, are property managers/caretakers and volunteers in this community. It is not that we do not want the Cozy Hearth people as our neighbors; we are sure they would make great neighbors. They and we are Island people, and we have one very important thing in common, a love for this Island.
It is this very reason why the residents of Watcha Path say no to Cozy Hearth as proposed. We love this Island, and we truly feel that this is not the place to overstep zoning, overstep water issues, overstep road safety and overstep a known habitat for endangered species. This is not an easy stand for any of us, the people of Watcha Path, to take. But our answer is no. Deep down in our hearts we believe what we are fighting for is the right stand to take. Smart growth principles are used as the model for development and for affordable housing all across our country. Smart growth calls for affordable housing to be: 1. in an existing neighborhood area, as shown on the Edgartown Community Development Plan; 2. Accessible to services that are in or near a village center, close to grocery etc.; 3. in an area that is serviced by town water and town sewer and close to a school; and 4. last but not least, not in a nitrogen sensitive watershed. Cozy Hearth fails on all four of these counts. Then add the fact that it is in a habitat for endangered species and this is why the Watcha Path residents ask, is this smart growth? Unfortunately, it is not, so we must say no to Cozy Hearth.
Are we so focused on affordable housing that we are not thinking about what we are doing here? Are we willing to sacrifice our ponds and environment? Are we willing to set precedents in breaking into the most rural of our agricultural residential zoning? There are other ways. We all know the Island has just voted to create the Martha's Vineyard Housing Bank. It will collect a one percent transfer fee on real estate sales over $750,000 and supply monies needed to purchase property for affordable housing. Land trusts across the country that are the leaders in affordable housing are being tremendously successful buying up existing homes and refurbishing them. Our daughter who graduated from MV High in 1990 and who did the Island shuffle for the better part of her life is now project director for the City of Lakes Community Land Trust in Minneapolis. She also sits on the National Agency CSI Board that works to set up land trusts all over the country. I say this to emphasize that these are not housing issues found only on Martha's Vineyard; it is a national crisis. The important thing that we must focus on is that we do it right and when we develop what is left of our Island that we do so using smart growth principles. We have to find ways to secure affordable housing without sacrificing, but rather protecting, things that make Martha's Vineyard the place we all want to call home.‑
The entire Watcha Path neighborhood is clearly speaking out against this plan. We all moved out to the Oyster Watcha Midlands for the same reason — rural, three-acre, agricultural zoning. Is the affordable housing drum being beaten so loudly that we cannot hear the voices of common sense? This project will only realize three affordable homes that will be put into perpetuity for generations to come and it will be done breaking all smart growth principle guidelines, and also done so in a protected habitat for endangered species.
We are always so quick to blame the summer people for being the ones who have hurt or overdeveloped our Island. The summer people do not vote. We, the year-round people, are the stewards of this Island. We are the ones who sit on committees and run our towns. We are the ones who are responsible for the growth of this Island and for the damage done by poor planning or by environmental issues that hurt our ponds and water supply. We are the ones who in the end will be held accountable for what is right and what is wrong. The Island sits in our hands, not the hands of the summer people.
There are no easy answers. The Martha's Vineyard Commission should be commended for their tireless energy that has gone into this review and for their patience in sorting through the pages and pages of information involved in this review. Bill Bennett should be commended for trying to find a way to help supply affordable housing. The people of Watcha Path should also be commended for fighting for the protection of this Island and their belief that this is just not the right location due to environmental and road issues that can not be solved.
So, again we all will go to the commission this week, and again we will all discuss the matter at hand and all the many sides that are to be looked at. I, for one, must admit that I am saddened by how we, the people of Martha's Vineyard, are being torn apart over this issue. There are two sides to affordable housing, not just the side of those needing houses, and not just the side of those people who believe this is the wrong place. Let's hope the commission will guide us to sort this out and do what is right for the Island. Let's hope that both sides of the Cozy Hearth development can work together to keep this Island a place we want our children to inherit and that no child in our community will ever be told to think that there are people who do not want them to be their neighbors.
To the Editor:
The story of Ibrahim Shhab and his visit to Martha's Vineyard schools (September 29) is a wonderful example of the Fulbright program at work. It focuses on a lesser known, yet highly important, aspect of the program — exchanges for primary and secondary school teachers and administrators.
The better-known Fulbright student and scholar programs provide exchange opportunities for university faculty and students with at least a bachelor's degree to do research, to study or to teach abroad. All Fulbright exchanges are beneficial, and the teacher exchanges have a multiplier effect, touching many students in the early and more formative years of their education. Recent events have taught us that understanding others and their cultures must begin early.
The exciting story of one person's odyssey to a very different country and of his exposure to different teaching techniques highlights the importance of continued funding of Fulbright exchanges. As Congress seeks ways to cut government spending in the wake of hurricane damages and other pressing needs, we must let our members of Congress know that teacher and student exchange programs are vital to our national interests and deserve to be well funded.
Charles H. Harff
Oak Bluffs manager defended
To the Editor:
Having read Eric Hohenthal's letter(s) criticizing Joe Alosso, the Oak Bluffs Wastewater Commissioners, and the selectmen, I feel compelled to respond, not to defend Mr. Alosso, or the Oak Bluffs elected officials, but to clarify what we have done, and why.
Mr. Hohenthal seems to have concluded that Mr. Alosso is guilty, without benefit of a trial or hearing. I have served on many juries where I was asked if I thought someone must be guilty because they were arrested and charged. Of course, the correct answer is, "no," unless you want to be bounced off the jury. Personally, I believe that Mr. Alosso has broken no rules: the town of Oak Bluffs has given him all necessary permits; and the Cape Cod office of the Mass. DEP believes he has broken no rules. Unfortunately, someone in Boston is trying to make a case of it.
None of this has anything to do with his performance as wastewater plant manager; his performance has been outstanding, managerially, technically, and fiscally. His salary is in line with the market averages, and the 20 hours per week specified in his contract is a fiction. He's manager, and he gets paid to do a job; whether it takes 15 hours (good for him) or 30 hours (too bad for him). His actual hours are closer to 30, and he is on call day and night.
If Mr. Hohenthal had ever attended a wastewater commission meeting, or the two selectmen's meetings at which this matter was on the agenda, he would have understood all this.
Robert A. Iadicicco
Oak Bluffs Wastewater Commission
to be a law
To the Editor:
I read in the newspaper last week that a special election in Florida had allowed residents of that state to come up with the "stand your ground law" allowing Floridians to "shoot first and ask questions later." The law is the result of the efforts of voters who championed it from start to finish. I can't help but envy the tenacity of Florida's citizens and the passion they feel for this law. I wish that I had the enthusiasm to push through a few laws of my own. So, for your consideration, I am presenting to you what I believe are some badly needed laws for our Island. Feel free to get behind any of them that you might feel passionately about.
You can not champion the less fortunate and throw them off of your private beach at the same time.
Residents must stop complaining about something after 25 years. After that, it is to be considered a dead issue.
A group cannot have an anti-Bush rally when there isn't anyone disagreeing with them.
Carpenters must give up the "1/2 now and the other half before I vanish" rule, leaving your job unfinished and hazardous.
All babies are not cute. If a friend's baby looks like Yoda, you are not required to lie and say that it is adorable.
Town officials are not allowed to watch reruns of Gunsmoke for inspiration when debating town issues.
Women cannot complain about the lack of men on the Island if they dress like a member of the Taliban.
It is illegal to criticize a summer resident for having a trophy house while simultaneously charging them triple for goods and services.
The price of gas should not increase just because it is rumored to be drizzling in Florida.
Not having waterfront property does not make a person underprivileged or disfranchised. Relatively speaking though, it is ok to refer to them as less fortunate.
Just because you live here does not mean that your landscape paintings are good. You should not charge a thousand dollars for something that a semi-talented chimp can do.
It is no help to snow-plow the streets if you create a 10-foot-high wall of impenetrable ice at the end of driveways.
When a person asks "How are you?" it is not a request for a detailed synopsis of the last five years of your life. The produce section at Cronig's is not group therapy.
To the Editor:
Vineyarders can commend the Steamship Authority and the selectmen of its year-round port for finally having a civil discussion of traffic congestion and how to deal with it. Unfortunately, neither side went beyond the Band-aid solutions that have continued to fail in the past.
No reconfiguring of the SSA lot can get debarking vehicles more easily through Five Corners, their only exit. Although it is an Island problem, it is Tisbury's intersection, and only that town can fix it. Without expensive street alterations, some revision of existing traffic patterns needs to be considered, although any changes will inconvenience someone, and opposition will be loud and lasting. There is still grumbling about making Main Street one-way.
Five Corners is a worse mess in summer than winter because more vehicles are in its five entering traffic streams, each needing room to get through to one of four possible exits, while not hitting clueless pedestrians in the crosswalks. Here are some possible low-cost changes:
1. Require Lagoon Pond Road traffic to exit via Skiff Avenue. (The post office probably sends more cars into the mess daily than the SSA; observe on Sundays when it is closed).
2. Require Beach Street extension traffic to use the Black Dog exit onto Water Street (better than directly into Five Corners).
3. Reverse the one-way of Union Street, but allow no trucks.
4. Improve Cromwell Lane as an exit from town lot. (Pave it?)
5. Move crosswalks away from intersection.
Taken together, these steps would certainly ease conditions at Five Corners, more cheaply and more effectively than traffic lights or additional police. They would also increase or create problems elsewhere, justifying the angry reactions of people they inconvenienced. Only an experiment (for perhaps a month in the off-season) would show which is the better over-all pattern.
Of course Tisbury can leave present traffic patterns as they are and watch the SSA schedule-makers shift still more boats to the exposed Oak Bluffs wharf. Then on days when bad weather closes it, and all those boats come in, try to borrow some police to handle the extra traffic congestion.
W. R. Deeble
To the Editor:
The following letter was addressed to Michelle Jasny, who writes the Visiting Vet column for the Times.
I commend you for your article of the 29th in the MV Times. Have you heard of the new book by Dr. Shannon Fujimoto Nakaya? See http://www.newworldlibrary.com/productdetails.cfm?PC=324 and she has a web site at www.kindredspiritkindredcare.com.
Your article is the only thing I've seen besides Nakaya's book that realistically approaches dealing with a major illness in a pet.
Univ. of Tennessee Knoxville
Best care possible
To the Editor:
Last August 18, I went shopping with my youngest son, and as we shopped we saw old, familiar faces, you only see in the grocery stores this busy time of year, it was a great day.
And as we walked back to our vehicle, my son went ahead of me to put the bags in the car. I walked slowly behind, as I walk with a cane due to an old injury, now accompanied by post-polio and arthritis. As I walked my foot hit a grate on unleveled ground and I fell hard onto my knees, shoulder and face, in a split second to the ground.
Within a matter of seconds, an off-duty communications lady was by my side, along with a young, blonde-haired young lady, who held my head and neck until the EMTs arrived. She asked me, "Are you (Rob's) Gram? Try not to move. Help is coming." At times like these, one never gets names of these dedicated people trying to help.
Now, because I had fallen between a tree and a parking curb block, the Edgartown EMTs had to lift me up with the assist of a wonderful Edgartown police officer, to enable them to board and collar me and put me onto a stretcher. They all were so compassionate and caring to me as well as comforting.
Once at M.V. Hospital, the excellent care continued with Dr. Jeffrey Zack, and his wonderful team of coworkers. We on Martha's Vineyard can be proud of these professional and compassionate people, working every day to give us the best care possible, with kindness and compassion. We thank you all, "you are truly angels among us."
Clara A. Marshall
To the Editor:
One of the highlights of the fall season, the Vineyard's best, played out at the final Farmer's Market.
Such a bounty of flowers. I visited several stalls. Finally, I settled on a stunning display of wildflowers.
I told a smiling man which bunch I wanted. He placed them in a rusty tin can and took my money. Then I asked him, "Where did these luscious flowers come from." "Vietnam," he replied.
William R. Meyer
To the Editor:
It saddens me to no end that because of our involvement in Iraq we are unable to focus and resolve so many pressing issues here in the U.S. — health care, education, poverty, to name but a few. Do we have to wait another three years before we see a change in policy? Probably. And then what? Another fixed election, another single-minded administration. And why are we not hearing anything about the young American men and women who have been injured in Iraq and brought stateside for treatment? How many of their lives will never be the same? What on earth are these people in the White House thinking besides Haliburton's bottom line — obviously nothing.
To the Editor:
This letter was sent to the West Tisbury Board of Assessors:
We are writing to express our dismay at a recent notice we received from the town's attorney in the Graham appeal to the Appellate Tax Board, Ellen Hutchinson, informing us that she had filed to change the hearing for our appeal to that board from an informal to a formal hearing. Apparently, this is the town's right, but we want you to know it is not a decision we agree with or understand. We'd like to know why and by whom this decision was made. Was this decision made by the board? By their attorney? By Ms. Resendes? Why did we hear this from the attorney and not the assessors?
We filed for an informal hearing, that is, one without lawyers, an option offered by the Appellate Tax Board, because we did not think lawyers were needed in what is not a legal matter. Our appeal is straightforward, and based on the assessing board's methodology which they state is based on market sales in our neighborhood. In fact, their decision about our assessment ignores the market, and raised the assessment for our property to over $11 million in 2005 despite its having been on the market for over two years with no offers, let alone anything near $11 million. We'd also like to point out that a neighboring property which sold for $11 million a number of years ago is now assessed for $7 million. These circumstances require an answer, but none has been forthcoming.
A second reason we requested an informal hearing is that we have put together our case ourselves, and we did not want to bear the expense of a lawyer. Finally, we have been reading about the mounting legal expenses for the town as the result of the Board of Assessors' refusal to discuss settlement with Mr. Graham, and would prefer not to be seen by our fellow citizens as adding to their legal expenses.
The Board can send Ms. Hutchinson if they wish. They need someone to defend their actions. We don't.
Ellen and Timothy Guiney
West Tisbury assessors respond to Guiney
To the Editor:
This letter was sent to Dr. and Mrs. Timothy Guiney of Boston:
Thank you for your letter dated October 4, 2005. While we are sorry that you are dismayed by the decision to transfer your two Appellate Tax Board cases from the "informal procedure" to the "formal procedure," the decision was made in light of our obligation not just to you as a West Tisbury taxpayer, but to all West Tisbury taxpayers. Moreover, it appears from your letter that you have misunderstood what is meant by the "informal procedure." We will endeavor to explain what is meant by the "informal procedure" and further explain why we chose to transfer the cases to the "formal procedure."
First, Massachusetts General Law Chapter 58A, section 7A gives taxpayers the right to file its petition for an abatement of real estate taxes under the informal procedure. A taxpayer, under the informal procedure, waives (gives up) his right to appeal the decision of the Appellate Tax Board to the Court of Appeals. Additionally, the taxpayer waives his right to conduct "discovery" during the time period before the trial. "Discovery" is the broad name given to various tools used during a pre-trial period to learn about the other party's case.
You were mistaken in your letter when you stated that the informal procedure "is one without lawyers." Whether a case is brought under the informal or formal procedure, either or both parties may be represented by lawyers. It is up to each party to make that decision. Additionally, a case brought under the informal procedure does not mean that the parties simply sit around a table and discuss the matter. Whether the matter is brought under the informal or formal procedure, a trial is held. The parties can present witnesses, if they choose. Moreover, whether a formal or informal case, the parties can present expert witnesses (usually licensed real estate appraisers) to give their opinions to the Appellate Tax Board as to the fair market value of the property.
It must be noted, however, that Massachusetts General Law Chapter 58A, section 7A gives assessors the option to have a case, which is brought under the informal procedure, transferred to the formal procedure. The legislature, in enacting this provision, in effect, gave assessors the "last word" on whether a case is to be heard under the formal or informal procedure. Clearly the legislature realized that there might be good reasons as to why assessors would want to have the case brought under the formal procedure.
In this matter, there were very good reasons as to why your two cases were switched from the informal to the formal procedure. The two properties are currently assessed at $6.53 million and $3.53 million; these are significant cases with the potential for sizeable abatements. Of course, as you know, all taxpayers ultimately bear the burden of abatements that are given to a particular taxpayer. We believe that it is our obligation to the taxpayers of West Tisbury to vigorously defend the assessments that have been placed on the two properties. As part of our vigorous defense, we want to retain the right to inspect the two properties (a right which would have been lost if the cases had not been transferred from informal to formal). In addition, we want to retain the right to learn as much as possible ahead of time about your case. What witnesses will you be presenting? What theory or theories will you be alleging to support your position that the two properties are over-assessed? What sales properties will you (or your expert) be relying on? What comparable properties will you (or your expert) be relying on? We believe that by switching your two cases from the informal to the formal procedure, we will not be unduly adding to the town's legal expenses. Rather we believe we will be saving the town abatement dollars by vigorously defending assessments which are well supported by sales in your neighborhood.
We understand that in this litigation you are concerned about your personal costs and the real estate tax abatement you believe you are entitled to. However, we are concerned with how abatements and legal expenses impact the entire taxpayer base. We believe that we must defend our assessments when we believe an abatement is not warranted. The taxpayers of West Tisbury deserve no less.
Raymond P. Houle
Stanton C. Richards
West Tisbury Board of Assessors
To the Editor:
Precious has been recovered.
My daughter and I would like to give a big thank you to Officer Tim Williamson and State Police Officer Jeff Stone for their diligent work, which led to the safe return of my daughter's stolen puppy Precious. You have made her year.
Thank you to Andrew Morris and Katie Strelecki for taking the journey to New Hampshire to retrieve Precious and for compensating the couple who purchased her.
Precious had been stolen October 6, and taken directly off the Island. Precious was sold to a couple in New Hampshire who purchased Precious from two of the three co-conspirators. We thank them for relinquishing Precious without hesitation.
To anyone who may have provided the police with information, we thank you for aiding in the safe return of Precious.
To those individuals who stole the puppy, never underestimate the power of a mother whose child has been hurt. I hope the police give you what you deserve.
Again, thank you to two of the Island's finest for all they have done.
New material needed
To the Editor:
Re: Defense Appropriations Bill HR2863.
Considering we are in a time of war (and war is hell), the banning of cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment of prisoners in US custody shouldn't be a high priority right now (legislatively-speaking, that is). I know - what those soldiers did at Abu Ghraib Prison wasn't necessarily cruel and inhuman, it was just incredibly ignorant. It was akin to what a college fraternity would do. Truth be told, a college fraternity does worse than what was reportedly done at Abu Ghraib. Quite the commentary on "higher education."
Another thing to consider when demonizing President Bush's reason for wanting to veto this bill is all the other things attached to the bill that have nothing to do with the item in question. Really, this line about prisoner treatment shouldn't even be in the bill. Everything else is all about spending and salary increases. I swear - the logic of our elected officials when drafting a bill is astounding. (What - no funding measure for a Capitol Hill Starbucks?)
Another horse that's been beaten to a pulp is the constant Bush-bashing. Everyone loves to bitch and moan about everything he does or doesn't do. Did I vote for him? Yes. Do I agree with everything he does and says? No. Do I think he's the right man for the job right now? Yes. Are his recent Supreme Court decisions questionable? Absolutely. But, come on people - come up with some new material.
You can help
To the Editor:
Several members of the Martha's Vineyard Hebrew Center have been looking for something a little more hands-on than giving money to help in the aftermath of the two hurricanes in Louisiana. Islander Jim Pepper is volunteering with the Red Cross in Biloxi, Mississippi for several weeks and wrote a moving description of his experiences which his wife Judy read at the Yom Kippur service. The Social Action Committee wishes to follow Jim's example. We have identified a small, effective organization in Louisiana that specializes in self-help projects.
The Southern Mutual Help Association (SMHA) focuses on communities in Louisiana. Founded in 1969 as an agent of change, it was born out of the oppressive conditions in the Louisiana cane fields. It is a highly respected organization with grants from national and regional foundations whose president, Lorna Bourg, was a recipient of a MacArthur Foundation "genius" award. SMHA works with especially poor rural communities whose livelihoods are interdependent with the land and water. They provide resources and teach members of these communities how to help themselves.
Many people living in these rural areas, like the family farmers, fishers, and small mom-and-pop businesses, struggle for survival even in the best of circumstances. But with the two hurricanes that battered the region, they are desperate. They not only lost their homes but the very means of creating a livelihood. Cane, citrus, and soybeans — the main crops in the area — are decimated. The fisheries are largely devastated and many small businesses are destroyed.
In conversation with us, staff of SMHA has recommended that we help a single community get back on its feet. They suggested we assist the town of Jean Lafitte, located a few miles south of New Orleans. Jean Lafitte has a population of 2,137 people and 575 families. The per capita income for the town in 2002 was $14,000; 17% of the people in Jean Lafitte were below the poverty line before the hurricanes hit. Jean Lafitte was damaged by Katrina but really torn up by the second hurricane, Rita.
SMHA has suggested that we focus our assistance initially on a family-run café/restaurant, Jan's Seafood, one of the economic and social centers of Lafitte, which lost its commercial freezer with all of its food. We are looking for a used commercial freezer and for someone with a truck to drive it down to Louisiana as well as some volunteers to go there for a week to help the restaurant get restarted. Working with the congregation and the larger Vineyard community, we want to focus on Jean Lafitte's social center — Jan's Seafood — and through them help jump-start and rebuild the rest of the community.
In response to the devastation wrought by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, SMHA has created a hands-on Rural Recovery Task Force and is working to build a $30 million Rural Recovery Fund for low- or no-interest loans to help rebuild Louisiana and train people to get all the federal dollars to which they are entitled through various programs and agencies. More information about SMHA can be found on their web site, www.southernmutualhelp.com.
Please send in donations for this effort to the MV Hebrew Center, PO Box 692, Vineyard Haven, MA 02568, earmarked "SMHA" and e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to participate in a week-long trip to help out in Lafitte in November.