She’s had her first 100 days, her first summer — including her first Possible Dreams Auction — and now Martha’s Vineyard Community Services executive director Juliette Fay is settling into the rhythms of year-round Island life. And she has some observations.
“What I’ve learned is that this is a very remarkable community,” Ms. Fay said in an interview at her office this week. “There’s a generosity of spirit and time and energy from board members and community effort put into keeping Community Services running.”
Ms. Fay was joined by development director Nell Coogan, who began at Community Services nine months ago. They complement each other. Ms. Fay moved to the Vineyard in March to take the helm at the Island’s only social services umbrella organization. Her resume includes a long and varied career in health and human services in both the public and private sectors. Ms. Coogan was born on the Island and returned some years ago after completing a master’s degree in public health. Both are mothers; Ms. Fay has grown children while Ms. Coogan’s children are young.
And both are passionate and enthusiastic about carrying forward the mission of Community Services for future generations.
“The people who work here work here for a reason: they care about what they do,” Ms. Coogan said. “That’s the reason you work at a nonprofit — you care about your community and you care about the things you do. The two of us came on ready to get everybody together. And we’ve been able to say, hey, we’re here, we’re new, let’s jump in. It’s been a lot of fun. We have such a great group here.”
And jump in they have. Last week Community Services received a $75,000 anonymous donation to begin a clinician recruitment campaign, aimed at bringing students to the Vineyard who are enrolled in master of social work programs, as well as bachelor degree candidates and licensed social workers looking to complete their field work. The program would include housing for student clinicians.
Ms. Fay said the program would ideally enroll five clinicians with a range of expertise that is not being met at the Island Counseling Center.
“We have a waiting list [at the counseling center], it’s tough,” she said. “If we don’t have certain credentials available for a case load, patients end up on the waiting list and it’s atrocious. It’s just a fact of life here — we’re completely booked.”
Ms. Fay is especially interested in adding clinicians who work with children.
“We have a good cadre here but we need more,” she said. “Bringing in a younger group of folks to work in our various programs is so essential for a number of reasons. They’re schooled now, so their best practice is something they’ve been certified in and they can bring that new energy and new technique into any of our programs.
Community Services is in the process of forming a committee to search for a manager to spearhead the program. Finding clinicians committed to staying on the Island is difficult due to the wage scale, cost of living and federal student loan policies, Ms. Fay said. “The salaries we pay are what people pay on the mainland in this field and they’re not great; it’s an issue for every clinic, it really is,” she said. “Here we have the challenge of five bucks for a gallon of gas and housing is hard to come by, particularly for young professionals.”
Ms. Coogan said the regional high school faces a similar problem and Community Services is networking with school leaders for possible collaboration.
“Yes, this is a grant to start this but the idea again is community,” Ms. Coogan said. “If we can get some student teachers and clinicians together who can find housing . . . it’s a nice idea for growing young professionals on the Island who can actually stay here.”
Creating some kind of student loan forgiveness is a top priority for the emerging program, Ms. Coogan said. While primary care physicians and dentists are given the opportunity to work off their student loans on the Island, due to a federal formula established in the 1950s, mental health professionals do not receive the same benefit. “We’re going to work really hard to try to convince folks that it’s very necessary down here,” Ms. Coogan said. “It’s a battle and it’s going to be advocacy and getting folks at different levels of government to support us. But it’s huge and it needs to happen. You come out of school right now with a lot of debt and it makes it not look so great to stay here because you can’t even have that help.”
Adolescent care is another area Ms. Fay hopes to strengthen.
“We want to work with the kid through the entire cycle of recovery and go from there,” she said. “A continuum would be an ability once a kid surfaces — whether it’s an eating disorder or substance abuse issue — to have the resources if their insurance covers it to send them off-Island for an intensive inpatient program. But when they get back on-Island they can’t just go back to school, they need an intensive outpatient structure, all the way to group meetings.”
As for the financial health of Community Services, Ms. Fay said that most programs are running in the black, although the clinic’s reimbursement formula continues to be a problem area. “I would say that you’d be hard pressed to find any outpatient clinic in the commonwealth in 2013 that was breaking even, it’s just not in the cards,” she said. “We’re in this holding pattern with insurers where we are in a rate quarter that is not substantial enough, and people know that.”
Ms. Coogan said Community Services relies annually on donations to balance the budget, but is looking to stretch beyond that for other sources of funding.
“We want to look globally at all of the options so we’re not just looking to all of our donors constantly,” she said. We need to make sure if you start something you can continue it. It’s nice to get a big donation up front but it’s important to figure out how to keep things going.”
Ms. Fay agreed. “If we are able to pick up the pace of growth for the organization I think that would give us a resource base to improve, and have the backdrop and overhead necessary to run things more smoothly,” she said.
But in the short term, both are enthusiastic about the current state of the programs. The Family Center is planning to move to the Nathan Mayhew Seminar campus in Vineyard Haven at the start of the new year after renovations are complete. The Daybreak Program, a day program for adults with disabilities, is flourishing, Ms. Fay said, and Connect to End Violence, which advocates for victims of domestic violence, is reaching out to team captains in high school sports to increase community involvement.
And they gave huge credit to a large group of volunteers who help keep Community Services running.
“We’re so lucky to have who we have,” Ms. Coogan said. “They are just amazing at what they do every day. You have people who stay here because they believe in what they do. We constantly have to evolve to what’s needed for the Island. It’s been great to think about what we do and what we can do better.”
A Connect to End Violence walk is planned for Oct. 26 from the Edgartown School. Registration begins at 10:30 a.m. and the walk gets underway at 11 a.m. The Daybreak Program is hosting a drop-in open house on Oct. 28 from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. at the clubhouse in Vineyard Haven. The Chicken Alley Thrift Store is hosting a Halloween party and costume contest at Dreamland on Oct. 31 starting at 9 p.m.