Cracked Teacups, Shattered Goodwill

Before reopening yesterday, the Martha’s Vineyard Boys’ and Girls’ Club Second Hand Store had a lengthy time-out — which is what boys and girls get when they have behaved badly. When parents enforce a time-out, it is to give a child time to get control of himself, and to let the shame of what they have done sink in.

In this case, it is the club’s board that needs to think about how it had come to suddenly fire, bizarrely, the store’s volunteers and its two employees, one who had been a smiling presence there for decades — and to sack them during a business day, in front of customers and donors. It was a stunningly crass approach, and encourages skepticism about the board’s ability to finesse the future fund-raising necessary in a strained economy.

The club itself serves as a safe place for kids, which is no small service to working Island parents. For an almost-token joining fee, families can access inexpensive child care all year long. Some of the cost of providing this service has been borne by the secondhand store in Edgartown.

Board members, no doubt anxious about the current economic squeeze — with its double pincers of strained philanthropy and more demand on services — looked to the second hand store to turn more profits. But for its customers, the store itself was a service. It was a place to get a gently-used snow suit for kids who’d grown so much since last winter, even when the paycheck had not. To find ballet slippers when even the dance lessons were cost too much — but who can tell that to a budding ballerina? To view the store as solely as a moneymaker seemed to miss the point.

In turn, many customers would never dream of taking outgrown clothes to the Island’s two excellent children’s consignment shops or a nearly-new dress to Martha’s Closet. Toys that might have sold on eBay were cheerfully taken to the second hand shop instead. What went around came around; it was social capital made manifest. And it was one of the few year-round places to gather in Edgartown.

Financial capital markets, as we know too well these days, are not always as secure as we had imagined. Social capital, the raw material of a civil society, is even more fragile. Caught between the two markets, the club board leaders acted like an ill-tempered child in a china shop, shattering a good deal of trust and goodwill — and also possibly its bottom line.

For the children’s sake, let’s hope the board has used its time-out wisely.