When he was asked to participate in the Possible Dreams auction that benefits Martha’s Vineyard Community Services, Jesse Sylvia didn’t hesitate. Newly famous after a second place finish at the World Series of Poker last Halloween, Mr. Sylvia saw the auction as a way to put his talent and raised profile to good use.
“I wanted to help out in some way so it was really cool to be given the opportunity to do that,” Mr. Sylvia said over the phone from Las Vegas this week. The dream up for bid this Sunday is participation in the so-called Martha’s Vineyard World Series of Poker, a tournament that will be officiated by Mr. Sylvia and attended by a few of his poker champ associates, as well as 14 of the winning bidder’s friends.
When he’s on the circuit, Mr. Sylvia spends a lot of time in casinos, forgoing daylight for hours on end. He rarely plays poker on the Island, but when he does, it’s a more laid back atmosphere, he said. “Not that I won’t be competing or playing hard, because I will be,” he clarified. “It will be great to do that on the Island, because I love being there and it’s when I am the happiest.”
Mr. Sylvia grew up in West Tisbury. His mother, Marlene DiStefano, a local florist, is friends with everybody, he explained, so he’s always been recognized on the street. His recent celebrity turned the tables in their relationship, however.
“It was kind of fun because when after the final table thing happened, I had a lot of people who would come up to her and say, tell your son congrats. I told her, ‘Now you get to be pulled over on the street.’ ”
Recruiting Island affiliates like Mr. Sylvia to donate their time, services and products to the decades-old auction is not much of a challenge, said Nell Coogan, director of development and community relations at Community Services. Many donate dreams year after year. “We don’t have to pull teeth,” she said.
For most of its years when humorist Art Buchwald was auctioneer, the auction was held in the garden at the Harborside Inn in Edgartown. A few years ago when organizers were regrouping following the death of Mr. Buchwald, the event was moved to Ocean Park in Oak Bluffs. “I think for years, we have been trying to find that perfect spot, and we are not even sure where that is,” Ms. Coogan said. This year the event will be held at the Winnetu Resort in Katama, where the tent will have access to Lure, the resort’s restaurant.
One high profile item up for bid this year is the now-defunct Oak Bluffs blinker light, since replaced with a roundabout. The blinker inspires nostalgia for many Island residents, some of whom were less than enthusiastic about the rearrangement of the intersection last year. Eight people approached Community Services with the idea to auction off the blinker, Ms. Coogan said, so she asked the town. The town selectmen formally declared the blinker surplus property and voted to donate it to Community Services.
“They’ve taken enough heat over this, so it was fun to add a lightness to the whole thing . . . I think that it is going to be funny,” Ms. Coogan said. The Community Services campus is located not far up the road from the roundabout. “There are a lot of people who like the piece of history, the piece of hilarity from the Island,” she said. “We thought, we’ll see, there’s no price tag on that one.” The old blinker light awaits its new home at the Oak Bluffs highway department garage off Old County Road. Many of the other dreams are similarly priceless, their value generated by the bidders’ promised exposure to fame or exclusivity. Returning dreams include a tea with Island literary icons, an ancestry study with Henry Louis (Skip) Gates Jr., and a custom painting from Islander Allen Whiting, in his sixth year donating his time and talent. “I am happy to support Community Services and it’s great to be part of the Island community,” said metal sculptor Anthony Holand, who invites the winning bidder of his dream to accompany him as he designs and sculpts a custom work. “This is my home and I am proud of that.” Others are worth thousands of dollars. For example, one dream is a wedding package, which includes the use of a venue, a justice of the peace, flowers, photography, sweets, and even two portable restrooms. Another popular dream is a daylong group bus trip with moving truck company owner Tripp Barnes, who tours bidders around undisclosed spots off the beaten path. “We started out as a bunch of strangers in a Vineyard Transit Bus . . . and by the end of the night we are all good friends,” said Cecilia Brennan, who bid on Mr. Barnes’s unique tour last summer. The group has already held one reunion, and is planning a second in August.
Island organizations and residents say they enjoy giving back to the organization which has cared for the community’s vulnerable members since 1961.
“Everyone needs help at some time in their life, whether it’s with their kids and childcare, a friend or family member who has a disability, or dealing with mental health issues,” Ms. Coogan said. “We cover so many things that can happen in a life, and we deal with them so discreetly and efficiently.”
A key event, the auction makes up about 10 per cent of the Community Services budget. “We depend a lot on our events and fundraising,” said Ms. Coogan.
The legendary columnist Art Buchwald, who died in 2007, was the longstanding auctioneer and the donor of a dream that consisted of an interview with him. This year, two WBUR radio hosts — Tom Ashbrook of On Point and Robin Young of Here and Now — will present an updated Buchwald dream which features an interview with Ms. Young in the WBUR studios in Boston.
Since the purchase of the MVY 92.7 signal last year, the public radio station has made efforts to connect with the local Island community. “We are thrilled to be working with [Community Services],” said Louise Kennedy, director of community engagement at WBUR.
There are also more than 40 silent auction dreams available to bidders. The silent auction was added last year in an effort to appeal to people of more
“I think for years, it was great to have these big dreams who could go to these top percentile of people who could afford them,” Ms. Coogan said. “But when reality hits and not everyone can afford the big ticket items all the time,” the silent auction items seemed more appropriate.
Last year, the auction raised more than $400,000. The auction was historically held on the first Monday in August, but this year it was moved to a Sunday night in July. The auction will be formally named for Mr. Buchwald this year. The 35th Art Buchwald Possible Dreams Auction is Sunday, July 28, at the Winnetu Oceanside Resort in Edgartown. Doors open at 3:45 p.m., the silent auction begins at 4 p.m., and the live auction starts at 5 p.m.