Thirteen years ago Steve Soriano was new to Martha’s Vineyard and unemployed. He found support at Island Employment Services, part of the disability services program at Martha’s Vineyard Community Services. It’s been 12 years since Mr. Soriano started working at Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School, and he never misses a day.
“To me, working is a joy,” he said.
His story is one among hundreds by people who have been helped by Community Services in the past half century on the Vineyard.
Founded in 1961, Community Services began as the Island’s first mental health center, called the Guidance Center. At the time there were 6,000 year-round residents on the Island. In the 1960 census 23 per cent of the population was living below the poverty line. In January of 1961 the Island unemployment rate was 15 per cent. A small group of physicians and clergy got together and decided there was a need for psychiatric services and marriage counseling. Dr. Milton Mazer, a psychiatrist whose name would become synonymous with Community Services, was recruited to come to the Vineyard.
The organization grew to become an umbrella human service agency, and while the agencies have changed through the years, the umbrella has stayed wide open.
Today it is by far the largest human services provider on the Island. The organization serves over 6,000 people each year and employs a staff of nearly 100, not counting dozens of volunteers who devote countless hours to the various programs.
“We serve folks in our core programs, but the fact is that’s not where our service delivery starts or stops,” said executive director Juliette Fay. “Any unmet need on the Island probably finds its way here. We scramble to come up with solutions and we use our creative instincts and networks to expand our services.”
There are five distinct programs: Connect to End Violence, Disability Services, Early Childhood Programs, Island Counseling Center and the Chicken Alley Thrift Shop. Each program contributes to the overall mission of providing individuals, families and the community with high quality and accessible education and health and human services.
“The nexus of health and mental health,” said Ms. Fay.
In the years ahead leaders at Community Services plan to focus on raising funds to sustain important programs like New Paths Recovery, an outpatient addiction treatment program, while still paying attention to needs that go unmet. With an eye to gaps in service, Community Services has goals to meet the education demands for early childhood educators and mental health practitioners, develop an adolescent care continuum, and launch a clinician recruitment campaign.
Its annual summer fundraiser is the Art Buchwald Possible Dreams Auction. The date this year is Sunday, July 27, at the Winnetu Oceanside Resort.
Early Childhood Programs
Early Childhood Programs serve children aged three months and to eight years. The programs began in 1972 and today offer quality child care, parent education and support services to nearly 1,100 families. Agency programs include center-based child care, The Family Center and Head Start.
The child care center provides day care and preschool for children ages three months to five years. The program is located at the Community Services campus and is accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children.
The Family Center offers free parent education, play groups, access to health screenings and a lending library. It also provides counseling and support services for children and parents.
Head Start is a home-based preschool program for kids ages three to five. In addition to weekly home visits there is a parent education group, family activities and leadership training. Head Start is a free program based on income or special needs and involves the parents in the education process.
Island Employment Services provides training, assistance with job placement and support for people with disabilities.
Community Services also operates Daybreak Clubhouse, a therapeutic community for people with mental health conditions. The main focus of Daybreak is to help find employment in the community or at the clubhouse for people with disabilities.
“It’s member and staff run,” said Jakob Burton-Sundman. “We [the members] plan and cook the meals, help do the paperwork, everything. Knowing that it’s the only place like this, makes me want to help keep this place open.”
There is a family support center that offers referrals, networking and trainings for families that include a person with a developmental disability.
Island Counseling Center
The Island Counseling Center provides mental health programs for a variety of needs, from elder services to substance abuse programs.
The center offers adult mental health services for individuals and groups including psychiatric and medical evaluation. There is also readjustment counseling for war veterans.
Children, youth and family services provides everything from home therapy to grief counseling for children and families.
Elder Services works with the Island’s seniors and their caregivers, providing support for Alzheimer’s disease, anxiety, depression and trying to reduce isolation and help seniors continue to live productive, independent lives. These services include support groups, medical and psychiatric monitoring and individual and family counseling.
New Paths Recovery is an intensive outpatient addiction recovery program where participants commit to a minimum of nine hours of treatment per week. A participant in the program said, “What we learned here was originally applied to our addictions, but we use these tools to manage our lives today.”
Program participants learn about relapse prevention and mindfulness, among other skills. The program is designed to treat co-occurring mental health disorders and offers the opportunity for positive social interaction.
“I am so honored to do this work every day,” said Jillianne De La Hunt, a licensed social worker and co-coordinator of the program.
The counseling center also offers emergency services, the Island’s only psychiatric crisis response center. It is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
Connect to End Violence
Jaime Billings is a domestic violence and rape crisis counselor for the Connect program. She first became involved with Connect when she was a student at Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School, where the program offers prevention education. Now, working as an educator in the schools is her favorite part of the job.
“I would love to see the day when our services are not necessary,” Ms. Billings said.
Until then, the program continues to offer short-term counseling, crisis intervention services (available 24 hours a day), court and medical advocacy, referrals, and education and prevention outreach. The program staff and volunteers collaborate with schools, police departments, the court system, and other groups and organizations in the community.
Chicken Alley Thrift Shop
The Chicken Alley Thrift Shop has a bigger mission than just selling used goods.
“We’re perpetuating community,” said Karen Child. Ms. Child is one of the four thrift shop employees, and she’s proud to say that their sales are an important revenue source for Community Services.
“It feels so win-win for everybody,” she said.
People donate unwanted items and get a tax deduction, Islanders get things they need at affordable prices, the proceeds support Community Services, and, perhaps most important, the store is a community meeting place.
Ms. Child, a retired schoolteacher, has a long association with Community Services. As a young woman, she took an assertiveness training class that the organization offered. Later, she worked at Early Childhood Programs and brought her daughter to work with her. And now, in retirement, she gives back by working in the Thrift Shop.
“Community Services gives people a sense of ownership, a sense of belonging,” Ms. Child said. “It matters what this organization does.”