The staff, volunteers and supporters of Martha's Vineyard Community Services gathered together Saturday night to offer one last happy birthday to the 40-year-old health and human services agency.
Community Services embraced middle age in style this year, and the evening's tribute to volunteers and employees was no exception.
"My colleagues in the senate are unanimous in their envy for my [Cape and Islands] district. But beautiful places like the Vineyard carry great burdens as well as great advantages. Frankly, that struggle will be more difficult in the next year," Sen. Robert O'Leary said to the group Saturday night, referring to the state's financial crisis.
"Staff and volunteers [of Community Services] stepped up to the plate and delivered a level of service we all can be proud of," he added.
The year-long celebration offered the Island a chance to look back over the past four decades of the agency's existence - years marked by unprecedented growth and relentless financial strains. The year of anniversary activities turned the spotlight on the Island community - celebrating its diversity with a photo exhibit featuring a broad array of families. A group of staff and volunteers worked through the year to create the Island's own version of the family diversity project to be exhibited this spring.
But during Saturday night's anniversary dinner, the agency turned the spotlight on itself - highlighting the selflessness and loyalty of a few volunteers and veteran agency employees.
With a tiara on her head and a grandson on her hip, Lynn Weber-Wright strolled through the agricultural hall enjoying her title of volunteer of the year.
"To say that Lynn takes care of the book department at the Thrift Shop would be like saying Tiger Woods plays golf," said Thrift Shop manager Dolly Campbell.
"Lynn stocks, prices and sorts 10,000 books at the Thrift Shop," Ms. Campbell added, noting that over the past year Ms. Weber-Wright gave 1,000 volunteer hours to the store.
Marianne Neill, a past board member and longtime Windsurfing Challenge volunteer, joined Ms. Weber-Wright for a moment of thanks. Community Services congratulated Ms. Neill for her 15 years of commitment to the Windsurfing Challenge, which has raised $150,000 to fund free care over the years.
Community Services executive director Ned Robinson-Lynch saluted the dozens of employees who attended the dinner by sharing the feedback received in a telephone call earlier in the week.
"Just yesterday I got a call in my office. A woman I will not name sounded upset and asked me to call back. She told me she had heard we were having a 40th anniversary celebration. She told me she was a mother and that were it not for the staff at Women's Support Services, she would not be here. She said were it not for Island Counseling Center, she would not have survived the past eight years. She mentioned a third program where her child with a disability was given assistance. Because Community Services was here, she is still alive," Mr. Robinson-Lynch told the crowd.
The staff of Island Counseling Center honored ICC program director Tom Bennett for his 20 years at the helm of the counseling program.
"One of the hallmarks of Tom is that he meets every individual with kindness and deserving of respect," counselor Jane Dreeben said.
"It's hard to quantify his impact on Islanders. He's helped save countless lives, and his love for this Island is palpable," she added. "While Community Services is going through some growing pains, it is important that we thank you."
An emotional Mr. Bennett accepted the award, saying how honored he was to receive the recognition after the tumultuous year at Island Counseling Center as employees voted to join a union.
The tributes continued with Early Childhood Programs teacher Judy Thomas presenting a 20-year service award to program director Debbie Milne.
"Those of us who work with Debbie don't know how she does it," said Ms. Thomas after recounting the growth of the Early Childhood Programs over the last two decades.
Moments later, Ms. Milne bestowed similar thanks and praise on Ms. Thomas, her colleague of 20 years.
Visiting Nurse Service program director Chris Knowles recognized staff members Leslie Mahaffey and Judith Andrews for 20 years of service.
Linda McCarthy, Gretchen Mayher, Catherine Flynn and Bernadette LaPorte received honors for 15 years of service; and Liz Burnham, Kathie Carroll, Kathi Hackett, Debbie Holt, Anne Magnesio, Kendra Yale, Bruce Balter, Ned Robinson-Lynch, Twona Thomas, Chip Bergeron, Audrey Tilton, Susan Anne Kelly, Betsy MacPherson, Chris Knowles, Cynthia Farrington, Ann Wallace and Mary Fischer were honored for over 10 years of service.
"We owe a huge debt of gratitude to our incredibly talented and devoted staff members," Mr. Robinson-Lynch told the group.