Two members of the Portuguese-American Club walked into the building on a recent Saturday night and bartender Gina deBettencourt prepared their usual — a Sierra Nevada for one and a Michelob Ultra on the rocks with a pitcher of ice for another.
The talk at the bar ranged from the usual chit chat about the weather and a surprise party planned later that night at the Ritz, to more substantial matters such as restoration plans for part of the P.A. Club building.
Bar talk is not just idle chatter for Mrs. deBettencourt to make the evening shift move faster. It is a chance to connect with members, learn their stories and maybe hear about someone in need. After all she doesn’t just serve drinks, she is also the new president of the P.A. club.
Mrs. deBettencourt was elected president of the organization in November, succeeding longtime club president Tricia Bergeron, who led the club for 22 years. Mrs. Bergeron tagged Mrs. deBettencourt to be the next leader of the organization.
“She sucked me in to hockey and lacrosse, I should have known where this was headed,” Mrs. deBettencourt said, laughing. “She’s a great person and you want to be around her.”
The P.A. Club is a benevolent society, and helping others is what drew Mrs. deBettencourt to the club in the first place. She’s been involved in club activities for 15 years, volunteering with her sons and husband Allan deBettencourt, and most recently serving as vice president of the organization.
From taking care of funerals to aiding the homebound or sick, the club works in quiet ways to support the community.
“If anyone is in need of something we make sure we help that person out as much as we can,” Mrs. deBettencourt said. “It’s truly the heart and soul of our organization.”
The club aids the Red Stocking Fund, Hospice, the Red Cross and numerous other nonprofit groups. It also hands out about 35 college scholarships every year to Island kids.
“That’s a good feeling at the end of the day and end of the week when you know you’ve helped a family or a person who had cancer or a broken leg,” she added. “The outreach across the board is just amazing to me and how many people the club reaches.”
Mrs. deBettencourt said she’d love to see the club grow in its ability to meet more of the community’s needs.
“If there’s someone who needs help, we want to be there,” she said.
Take one little Island boy, for example.
“We did a fundraiser for a little boy who had a problem with his legs due to a stroke. We were able to raise $6,000 for him to get a brace that helps him walk,” she said. “He went 10 years dragging his foot and this cutting edge piece came out; we said we’ve got to do this.”
“Now he just needs the bike to go with it and he’ll be able to ride a bicycle,” she continued, adding that the bike will cost upwards of $4,000. “Hopefully someday we’ll get enough money for that. But more importantly, that little boy is able to walk and run.”
The club is open year-round, but runs on an opposite schedule than most Vineyard establishments. July and August are dead, Mrs. deBettencourt said, except on rainy days when the Oak Bluffs harbor crowd runs to dry ground. Come fall and winter, the club is hopping.
“Most of our members are just regular workers,” she said. “In the summer time everyone is working like crazy to make the last dollar before summer is over. But everyone steps up, they come and say ‘what can we do to help?’ whether it be financially or physically.”
In the coming years, the club will need to turn its attention to some building work, she said. The original building in the front, which is more than 80 years old, is in need of restoration work.
When she’s not at the P.A. Club, Mrs. deBettencourt is in the kitchen at the Edgartown School, where she’s been the school chef for 26 years. She was one of the first school chefs to introduce local produce into daily meals.
“The kids really understand it all, now they know where their vegetables are coming from,” she said. “It’s easy to buy potatoes from Cisco because they come cleaned but the kids now know where they come from. It’s all coming together.”
Back at the bar, a board member comes in for a drink and lets Mrs. deBettencourt know that he will be sending the latest building report to her the next day.
Bartenders sometimes make snacks for customers. Tonight, Mrs. deBettencourt made brie with an onion-garlic jam, like little pigs-in-a-blanket, she said.
Mrs. deBettencourt said she and other bartenders would be bringing over meals for those who were alone during the holidays.
“We’re blessed to have a great community,” she said. “It’s very supportive to the Holy Ghost, the membership, the bar. There are a lot of great people here.”