In 2017, Poliana “Poli” Bellan Wilson left her home in Sao Paulo, Brazil to attend a Rotary convention on Martha’s Vineyard. Wilson had been very active in the Rotaract Club in Sao Paulo since she was in her teens. Rotaract is an international youth program founded by Rotary International; today there are over 10,000 clubs in 180 countries.
Wilson had no previous connection to the Vineyard and really didn’t know that much about it. But while she was here she not only made professional connections but she made a personal connection as well. She met Adam Wilson, a fellow Rotarian and renewable energy consultant on the Island. When she returned home, Poli and Adam talked online, the relationship heated up and Adam went down to visit Poli in Sao Paulo. Poli, in turn, came to the Vineyard to visit Adam but the two decided this back-and-forth relationship was not sustainable so they decided to get married.
Moving to the Vineyard, Poli was eager to pursue her new life as Mrs. Wilson and also eager to begin the next phase of her career. Back in Brazil, she had been an English as a second language (ESL) teacher for 25 years. She had her own company and worked with companies teaching everyone from secretaries to CEOs.
But upon arriving in the United States, because she had a tourist visa, she couldn’t get a work permit. But Wilson was undaunted, just because she couldn’t get a work permit didn’t mean she couldn’t volunteer.
“My parents, my sister, and even my grandparents have always been involved with the community,” Wilson said, “so from an early age I learned the golden rule of doing unto others what you would like them to do unto you. In my childhood and early teens I remember being part of a youth group from church and we did lots of small projects to help the ones in need, and from 17 to my late 20’s I was a member of the Rotaract Club”
Until she got her work permit in July 2019, Wilson capitalized on her language skills and volunteered to interpret for the Head Start program offered by Martha’s Vineyard Community Services. Head Start is a home-based program committed to giving every child the opportunity to succeed in school. Wilson interpreted for the home visitors when they were calling on Brazilian families.
Wilson’s husband, Adam, has been a longstanding member of St. Andrew’s Church in Edgartown so she started attending services with him and soon, drawing on her social media skills, she volunteered to help bring their Facebook page back to life.
Last February, Wilson was offered the position of St. Andrew’s Parish Life Coordinator and Social Media Coordinator where she maintains the presence of the church online. Last spring, because parishioners couldn’t attend services during the lockdown, she helped organize an ecumenical car parade where people of all faiths could gather from the safety of their cars and enjoy one another’s company.
Mardi Moran, the treasurer at St. Andrew’s, put Wilson in touch with the Good Shepherd Parish in Oak Bluffs to volunteer to help out with their website, Facebook business page, graphics, and English and Portuguese translations. She also became involved with Food Baskets – MV, their program that distributes food to the community. “I’m a greeter,” Wilson said. “We have a lot of people from the Brazilian community and I go to the cars and greet people; I love doing that. I can see people’s smiles right through their masks.”
Wilson took the interpreters course from CAP (Community Ambassadors Partnership) and they have a “Pay it Forward” policy so she volunteered to interpret some of their forums, such as a forum with Brazilian house cleaners and the Island Board of Health.
Lastly, you may have heard Wilson on the radio. Once a week she records a feature — Onda Brasil — on WMVY. “I read the papers each week then write up stories which I broadcast in English and Portuguese.”
So between her jobs at St. Andrew’s Church and her countless hours spent interpreting and reaching out to connect with the Brazilian community, Wilson clearly has her hands full, but then she wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I understand that whenever you lend a hand to someone,” she says, “you are also being touched by that hand, and that touch is what fulfills my soul throughout my journey in life.”