Volunteering can be thankless work. Luckily, each year the organization Women Empowered hosts an event to honor individuals who have selflessly donated their time and talents to various causes. This coming Sunday, Women Empowered will present its fourth annual Women of the Year champagne brunch, where they will introduce three Vineyarders who are making a difference in our community.
The honorees this year are Polly Brown, president and founder of Vineyard Village at Home; Kim Cyr, president and founder of Second Chance Animal Rescue, and Lori Robinson Fisher, founder of Islanders Talk, the Islanders Talk Benevolent Fund, and Break the Silence. The selections cover service organizations with scopes from helping elders to animals, to Islanders in need.
The champagne brunch will feature keynote speaker Kristina Kaufmann, co-founder of the Code of Support Foundation, which provides essential and critical one-on-one assistance to struggling service members, veterans, and their families. Ms. Kaufmann is a wartime Army wife and part-time Vineyarder who has served as an advocate for military and veteran families for over 15 years. She is an expert on how war impacts the mental health of military families. Her publications and media appearances include the Washington Post, New York Times, NPR, CNN, NBC, FOX, and ABC, and she has briefed Congress on several occasions.
Honoree Kim Cyr has been helping animals for almost 20 years. Her organization, Second Chance Animal Rescue, brings dogs and cats from kill shelters to the Vineyard for adoption. According to their website, “Second Chance Animal Rescue is a no-kill, cage-free shelter that helps rehabilitate lost or abandoned cats and dogs and prepares them for a forever home.”
Ms. Cyr began the rescue initiative out of her home 17 years ago. Ms. Cyr and her volunteers bring animals from shelters (primarily in the Southern U.S.) to the Vineyard, keep them in a state-approved isolation room for 48 hours, have them spayed or neutered, examined and treated by a vet, and then offer them to the public for adoption. Ms. Cyr keeps many of the homeless pets at her Oak Bluffs home/facility. Others are taken into foster homes until they can be adopted.
It’s a labor of love for Ms. Cyr, who works for the office of the Superintendent of Schools. “I don’t have my own personal life,” she said. “I work full-time and then go home and work my other job.”
When asked how she feels about being honored as a Woman of the Year, Ms. Cyr said, “You just kind of do what you do. I really feel like I’m doing what I was called to do. It’s an added bonus when someone recognizes your work. It’s humbling.”
Honoree Lori Robinson Fisher began the Facebook group Islanders Talk about four years ago as a platform for herself and four friends to share their thoughts. “It was so busy in the summer that I just decided I would set up something where we could get together and talk online,” she said. “It was supposed to be just a coffee group. Friends invited friends, and now we have almost 7,800 members.”
People post questions, requests for help, and general observations and thoughts. Although it’s not geared toward commercial enterprises, new businesses can use the site to get the word out, and existing businesses can promote sales and specials through Islanders Talk. “It helps Island people,” Ms. Fisher said. “ We’ve even helped the police solve a few crimes.”
With all of those people checking in on the site, Ms. Fisher decided that she could make good use of the outreach. Two years ago, she started the Islanders Talk Benevolent Fund. The organization raises funds online as well as through fundraising events and an ongoing online auction, featuring items donated by local businesses and individuals.
The money raised is used to provide support for Island people in the form of travel expenses for those going off-Island for medical treatment, help with utility bills, and other much-needed temporary assistance. “I knew there was a huge need on the Island,” Ms. Fisher said. “I knew there were homeless people and others in trouble. People don’t always want to ask for help.” The benevolent fund periodically donates to other organizations, such as the Family to Family holiday meal program.
A retired nurse and stay-at-home grandmother, Ms. Fisher recently took on yet another initiative, tackling a serious and growing problem on the Island: drug addiction. She calls the new initiative Breaking the Silence. “Rather than going after the dealers, we try to help the addicts and people in need,” she said. “We have cards that we give out with phone numbers. We help people get into detox.”
This past May, Ms. Fisher arranged for speaker Billy Pfaff to come to the Vineyard for two public talks. Mr. Pfaff is the founder of Heroin Is Killing My Town, an organization striving to bring community awareness to the heroin epidemic and find treatment for those suffering from addiction.
With all of these efforts, Ms. Fisher still finds time somehow to help raise her grandchildren. Her volunteer work is the equivalent of a very demanding full-time job. “People say to me, ‘You need to start getting paid,’” Ms. Fisher said. “But I love doing it. It keeps me occupied. I lost my son Jared a year ago last August. We did a clothing drive for homeless people in his memory last year. He always wanted to help the homeless.”
“I can never say no,” she added.
Honoree Polly Brown founded Vineyard Village at Home in 2006 when, through a market survey, she recognized a real need on the Island for seniors who wanted to stay in their homes but needed some help. According to the nonprofit, all-volunteer organization’s website, “Vineyard Village at Home is empowering seniors to enjoy a vibrant, at-home lifestyle supported by direct access to vital Island resources and services. Vineyard Village offers members concierge-style convenience and care to help seniors enjoy life to the fullest.”
Ms. Brown moved to the Vineyard year-round in 1995. After retiring from her career as a lawyer, she wanted to do something to contribute to the community.
The organization relies on over 50 volunteers who give seniors rides to doctor’s appointments, errands, outings, and activities. Currently, Vineyard Village provides about 85 rides a week. “The nice thing about being a volunteer for us is that you don’t have to commit any amount of time or any specific time,” Ms. Brown said. The organization sends out mass emails to see which volunteer might be available in each case.
As with all of the women honored by Women Empowered this year, Ms. Brown collects no salary for the work she does.
Each of the three women stressed that they see the Women of the Year recognition as an opportunity to raise awareness of their organizations, promote their services, attract volunteers, and reach out to potential financial supporters.
“I thought it was quite a wonderful honor, not so much for me personally, but as an idea,” Ms. Brown said. “I’m delighted to have the chance to make more people aware of what we do.”
Fourth Annual Women of the Year Champagne Brunch to benefit Women Empowered: Sunday, Dec. 4, 11 am, Harbor View Hotel, Edgartown. Tickets are $100. For more information, call 508-696-8880 or visit women-empowered.org.