Grassroots activism


In the coming weeks, Martha’s Vineyard will undergo its annual transformation from an off-season community into a summer vacation resort where busy friends and neighbors smile at each other from opposite lanes of stalled traffic.

Most of our heavy lifting occurs in the off-season. It is when Islanders assess their needs and take action. As the Island’s pulse begins to quicken, we report this week on two examples of grassroots activism and initiative that deserve continued community support.

On Monday, Cathryn McCann reports (“MVRHS committee approves synthetic turf for athletic field”), the high school committee voted in favor of a plan by MV@Play, a newly formed nonprofit, to rebuild an athletic field using synthetic turf — widely used by schools across the country — on top of an organic infill material made of a blend of cork, coconut husk, and silica sand.

The choice of organic infill followed debate and discussion about the health risks associated with using crumb rubber. To their credit, the men behind MV@Play heard the concerns of their neighbors and accommodated them.

David Wallis, Terry Donahue, and Robert “Spike” Smith, the driving force behind MV@Play, are year-round residents with an ambitious goal to privately fund a $12 million project to create a centralized athletic facility for use by the high school, youth programs, summer camps, and adult leagues.

At the core of the proposal is wide community use. Island taxpayers contribute greatly to fund school programs and facilities. A greater return on that investment is a welcome idea. Monday’s vote was a small step forward.

School committee member Jeffrey “Skipper” Manter of West Tisbury was correct when he said, “A spirited group of individuals is going to do something that we are not going to be able to give the students or the community, and I’d hate to pass it up.”

The Island is fortunate to have men with the energy and vision to take on such a daunting task, and residents, many of them seasonal, with the resources to make it happen.

One challenge will be to mount a coordinated effort, one that includes other Island organizations and agencies, in order to avoid the often overlapping efforts that can drain resources and energy in pursuit of similar goals. For example, what part might the nearby YMCA play in pursuit of a community athletic complex?

There is no question that wider participation in athletics and exercise is beneficial to individuals and the community at large.

In a not unrelated effort, on Friday evening a large crowd filled the Oak Bluffs School auditorium to attend “Breaking the Silence,” an event at which Islanders shared their concerns about the growing heroin epidemic and its effect on Martha’s Vineyard.

Billy Pfaff, founder of “Heroin is Killing My Town,” was the featured speaker.

Lori Robinson Fisher of Edgartown was the woman behind the scenes who made it happen.

With the energy of a nor’easter, Ms. Fisher took it upon herself to get Mr. Pfaff and representatives of Spectrum Health Care Systems, one of New England’s largest treatment providers, to the Island and get Islanders to hear what they had to say. She put the word out on “Islanders Talk,” a Facebook page, which she created and maintains, with almost 6,500 members.

Speaking to The Times on Monday, Ms. Fisher said she was very pleased with the strong turnout. “It shows how much people on this Island really care about the situation,” she said. “It also made it clear that you can’t tell a drug addict when you see one. It could be anybody, your neighbor, your child, or your mother. Heroin doesn’t discriminate.”

There is more work to do. Martha’s Vineyard Community Services, Martha’s Vineyard Hospital, school leaders, and the Island’s various youth organizations can better coordinate their efforts to tackle a problem that cuts across Island life.

Drug users also have a responsibility to take it upon themselves to seize the opportunities our community makes available to kick the drug habit.

Too often, it is left to government to tackle big projects and big problems. On Martha’s Vineyard, we are fortunate to have residents at the grassroots level who are willing to roll up their sleeves and go to work.