‘We’re creating a foundation in the community’

IHT’s mission continues during pandemic; important fundraising brunch goes virtual.


It will be a BYOM (bring your own mimosa) event when Island Housing Trust (IHT) holds its annual fundraising brunch on June 1. Because of the ongoing pandemic, the IHT event is going virtual this year.

The brunch will kick off a five-week fundraising period, which seeks to raise $500,000 toward finishing ongoing projects and jump-starting others. Bob Vila, who has hosted television home improvement shows like “This Old House,” will kick things off. Vila and his wife, Dianna Barrett, have been longtime supporters of IHT, and are responsible for hosting events that have generated some important ideas for the nonprofit, Philippe Jordi, executive director of IHT, told The Times. He said it was at one of their events where the idea to turn an inn into rental housing was generated.

Tiffany Manuel, Ph.D., founder and CEO of the Case Made, is this year’s guest speaker. Manuel has spent her career “working to expand opportunity for low-wage workers and to build inclusive communities,” according to the Case Made website.

IHT is sending out invitations to the virtual event, and is keeping track of fundraising on its virtual brunch page, where $190,000 had been raised at presstime. Anyone who didn’t get an invitation to the virtual brunch and would like to attend can contact IHT development director Christopher Anderson via email at christopheranderson@ihtmv.org.

Jordi said the brunch will be the start of the fundraising, and will introduce donors to the “Give Lively” platform. The online platform was created by the children of billionaire George Soros.

This isn’t the first time IHT has had to pivot, and it won’t be the last, Jordi said. It will take innovation and new ways to raise capital.

“It’s exciting because we’re able to push ourselves,” Jordi said. “The way we got here isn’t going to get us there. We need to think differently.”

The IHT staff has been working remotely since March 15, and continued on existing projects on Daggett Avenue and Greenwood Avenue in Vineyard Haven, as well as the conversion of an inn to apartments at the Pearlman House, Jordi said. They hope to launch new projects in the fall.

“We’ve done everything we can to not slow down. Some of the staff said they’re working more than usual. We as an organization have a 99-year promise to the community,” Doug Ruskin, chairman of the IHT board, said, referring to the 99-year leases that are signed. “We really take it super, super seriously. Despite the lockdown, we ran two virtual lotteries so that the projects that are nearing completion would have occupants once the construction restrictions were lifted.”

IHT has made it clear to staff that unless things changed drastically, there would be no layoffs or staff reductions, Ruskin said. “We’re telling everyone that we need them now more than ever,” he said of donors.

IHT is not alone, of course. Island nonprofits, like the Island Food Pantry, are seeing a greater demand for their services. There have been several relief funds established, as well. All of this is to say there are competing interests for those donor dollars.

“Concerned? Certainly. We’re not assuming it’s business as usual,” Ruskin said, noting that IHT continues to see generosity among its loyal donors. What he knows is that housing for the Island’s workforce is essential. “Housing has a known direct connection to health outcomes and stability. Philippe and I see it firsthand every time there’s a new opportunity and folks move in,” Ruskin said. “When Scott’s Grove opened, I met one of the new occupants three weeks later … I said, ‘So what do you think?’ She looked at me and said, ‘This has changed my life already.’”

Jordi’s wife, Randi Baird, an Island photographer, has been chronicling the pandemic through a series called “Everyday Heroes.” Each time she does an interview, she finishes with the same question, Jordi said: “‘What’s the silver lining?’”

For him, it’s clear what that silver lining is for IHT. They’ve created housing for more than 300 people, 100 families on the Island — and growing. “What we see in terms of our work is it’s a long-term proposition. We’re creating a foundation in the community that’s going to create resilience. We’ve seen that already with the people we have either sold homes to or rented homes to. These are the very people working in our hospital, checking us out at the cash register, that are reporting on these stories. To me it really resonates,” Jordi said. The community continues to step up. “That is the silver lining …The way that people come together in our community. It’s heartening.”