Gazing at the ferry entering Vineyard Haven Harbor from the second floor of Martha’s Vineyard Hospital, pharmacy director Valci Carvalho reflected on his path to being a part of the Island community.
Originally from Rio De Janeiro, Brazil, Carvalho followed his family to Martha’s Vineyard when he was 14 years old. His father was invited to be an associate pastor for one of Martha’s Vineyard’s Portuguese-speaking churches. However, the move held difficulties for the Carvalho family.
“The transition wasn’t great,” Carvalho said. He did not know much English before moving to the Vineyard, but there were other culture shocks that awaited him. Rio de Janeiro is one of Brazil’s largest cities, with millions of people, so the rural Martha’s Vineyard — alongside other differences — was a “shock culturally in more than one way.” Carvalho said his family also underwent the challenges many people who grew up on the Island had to experience.
“Our first summer here, we didn’t know about the ‘Vineyard shuffle,’ which we learned very quickly what it was,” Carvalho said. “The house that we were renting was a winter-only rental. Our first summer here, I think we were in at least four different locations within the period of two months before something came up. We were sharing a room, the four of us, at a local inn for about a month.”
Additionally, entering high school in a new country and leaving behind friends and family was not an ideal situation. “I feel like the age I was at was a bit more complicated,” Carvalho said. “My sister had a very different adaptation, because [when] she came here she was 11, so she went to middle school, she got to go to high school with some people that she met. I just went right in.”
While Carvalho met some great people in high school, he was not as outgoing at 14, and it was tough adapting to the new environment. This was compounded by the Carvalhos having no relatives on the Island.
Despite the difficulties, Carvalho said “saving graces” for him were the Portuguese-speaking church community. “Coming here, we didn’t know anybody, so it’s not like we were immediately inserted into the community,” he said. “Being a part of the church really helped in that sense, and it also gave me some structure in dealing with all that was going on.”
Moving to Martha’s Vineyard was something that Carvalho questioned, but he would later find out that Massachusetts has one of the highest concentrations of Brazilian communities in the U.S. “Wherever you go in Massachusetts, you’ll find a Brazilian store,” Carvalho said. “Boston, Somerville, Framingham, Malden, all of those places you can find one. Then it made a little bit more sense why we ended up here, but the question still remained, ‘Martha’s Vineyard, really?’”
Having been a part of the Vineyard community for 20 years now, Carvalho feels “God has a plan in all things.” Carvalho particularly felt this through the “spectacular people” he met on the Island.
“I’m sure there’s spectacular people everywhere, but the people I met here literally helped me shape what my future would look like,” he said, giving credit to the teachers who would support his language abilities and other studies.
In high school, Carvalho was considering careers that would let him deal with numbers, such as engineering or finance. Jim Cressel, who was Carvalho’s chemistry teacher, would encourage him to pursue a career in pharmacy.
“I don’t know if I took it very seriously at the time … but it was kind of one of those things that click in your mind, and chemistry was one of them [for me],” he said.
The connection between Carvalho and the hospital was already established while he was in high school. He was working in the hospital kitchen when he was 16 years old, and would work at Martha’s Vineyard Hospital in different jobs until graduation. While in high school, Carvalho would approach his future boss, David Caron, to shadow him.
“He took me in,” Carvalho said. “I stayed in touch with Dave, who if I ever needed anything was more than willing to help.”
Working at the hospital and meeting Caron would help Carvalho to pursue his pharmacy career, starting by attending the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences in Boston. He would also become a Martha’s Vineyard Vision Fellow in 2007 while studying for his degree. Carvalho would also ask Caron to be his mentor for the duration of the fellowship, and Caron said yes “without hesitation.”
“When I asked him that, I don’t think that he realized he was going to be stuck being my mentor for years to come,” Carvalho said with a chuckle.
Leaving Martha’s Vineyard and meeting people from different fields in the fellowship gave Carvalho a chance to get a different perspective on his home Island.
“In everything that we see today, the challenges that we face here, those challenges didn’t start yesterday,” he said. “Twenty years ago, housing was already an issue on the Island … It takes a village, really, to keep the Island running.”
Carvalho would dive into the Island community again after graduating, first working at Conroy Apothecary before returning to Martha’s Vineyard Hospital on a part-time basis around 2013.
“10 years down the road, we are where we are,” he said. “It’s kind of wild to look back at it.”
A “grouping of factors” motivated Carvalho to come back to the Island. Many of Carvalho’s fellow students moved out of Boston or back home. Carvalho also wanted to be near his parents, who were still on the Island. The relationships he established on the Vineyard also played a part in his decision to return. “I’ve spent some time at other pharmacies, I’ve had a couple of job offers off the Island, but it just seemed like the right thing to do,” Carvalho said. “I felt a responsibility to return some of the many benefits I received while I was here, and contribute to the community in any sort of way.”
Plus, Carvalho said he now prefers the pace of the Vineyard, compared with Boston. “Everyone says that once you drink the waters of the Vineyard, you end up coming back at some point or another,” he said. “Even if it’s years down the road.”
Carvalho sought ways to serve the Island, starting by serving in his church. He later joined Martha’s Vineyard Community Services’ board of directors, and would also go back to his high school. This time, it would be his turn to introduce students to careers in healthcare. Similar to how Carvalho was able to find his chemistry with pharmacy, he hoped the event would inspire students to follow a career path that interests them. Additionally, there are people at the hospital and school who are willing to help students explore these options, according to Carvalho.
Carvalho also said he hopes to provide mentorship to a developing youngster in the future.
“You hope you can instill some of the positive things you learned along the way onto someone else,” he said.
Looking back on the 20 years he’s had with the Vineyard, Carvalho said while the road to where he was was not easy, he has learned a lot along the way. He met his wife on the Island, and was able to settle down in a house four minutes away from the hospital. Additionally, Carvalho’s two little girls are going through the Island’s school system. “It hasn’t been easy, but I have nothing but gratitude for everything,” Carvalho said.