Donations to Martha’s Vineyard Community Services continued to stream in the day after the 33rd annual Possible Dreams auction, bringing the total raised by the popular fund-raising event to more than $400,000, organizers said this week.
“We feel wonderful,” said Julia Burgess, executive director of Community Services, who will retire by next year. “We are very grateful to the people who contributed and came to the auction.”
Monday’s live auction alone raised $188,850, with the balance coming from a silent auction, auction tickets, a raffle, dinner fees, corporate sponsorships and individual donations, she said. The total take was $402,288, before expenses.
Organizers called the event a success, despite a last-minute scramble to coordinate leadership for the auction.
“Because of the time that we had to do this, we weren’t sure that we were going to be able to pull it off,” said Sandy Pimentel, auction chairman. This was Mrs. Pimentel’s first year as chairman, and she stepped in on late notice to fill an unexpectedly vacant position. “A lot of us involved are new. That really made it more difficult because we had to re-establish connections with [donors] from the year before,” she said.
But the support came through.
“There were a lot of people who had done this before, and advised us and supported us,” said Mrs. Pimentel. “And people in the past did a great job of documenting how to do things and when. Even though we were behind, it was easier to get caught up because of that documentation.”
Mrs. Burgess added: “We are glad we’ve had so much community support through the years. We are there for the community, and the community has supported us.” Many donors are seasonal residents, but “they consider it their community also,” Mrs. Burgess said.
In the past, support garnered by auctioneer Art Buchwald, who died in 2007, helped the charity earn up to $800,000 in their most successful year. “He had a wonderful way of imploring his friends and making them feel the kind of passion that he felt about the agency,” Mrs. Pimentel said.
Mr. Buchwald’s absence at the auction and the nation’s recent economic situation have contributed to greater fund-raising challenges for Community Services. “The economy on the Vineyard has had a ripple effect in the sense that it hit us later than the rest of the country,” Ms. Burgess explained Monday during the auction. “And it’s lasting a little longer.”
Community Services provides services to 6,000 Islanders annually through disability assistance, violence prevention, early childhood education and counseling services. That’s about a third of the Island’s winter population. The Possible Dreams auction raises about 10 per cent of the annual operating budget. Other sources of revenue are insurance payments and self-pay in the early childhood center, which is on a sliding scale. The organization employs more than 100 people, and yet much of their work maintains behind-the-scenes status.
Behavioral health programs like Connect to End Violence and the Island Counseling Center service their clients under a confidentiality agreement, making it difficult to publicize services, Mrs. Burgess said. “It means that you can talk about things in the abstract, but unless people are willing to come forward, we can’t use the case studies to give more life to our description of the program.”
To that end, the Possible Dreams auction is an opportunity for Community Services to advertise and celebrate their services. Ms. Burgess mentioned the overall “good spirit” that characterized the event this year. “I thought the auction itself was really a lot of fun, and I think people who attended enjoyed themselves,” she said. The auction was packed with excitement, energy and care for the Island community, she said.
On Monday night in Ocean Park during the bidding for the 18th item, the auctioneer leapt off the stage and sat on bidder Bill Rollnick’s lap. Mr. Rollnick responded to the pressure and upped his bid. But Laure Sudreau-Rippe was determined. She raised her paddle and bid $17,000 to attend the Vineyard Playhouse production of Love Letters with Ted Danson and Mary Steenburgen.
“Especially in difficult times, we need to give back to people who need help,” said Ms. Sudreau-Rippe. “It’s important to recognize that there are people who have less and to help them.”
The live auction featured professional auctioneer Dan Flynn, who repeatedly prompted, “Let’s have some fun,” before opening the bidding on each dream item. Mr. Flynn didn’t disappoint the crowd with his lightning-fast sales tactics and yells of triumph over big bids.
“We wanted to make the event more accessible,” said Ms. Pimentel. “We wanted to make it possible for people who wouldn’t ordinarily be able to get something to walk with something nice,” she added.
“For some people, the dreams are really impossible dreams, but these are within their grasp,” said bidder Sissy Biggers. “It’s a great idea to get everyone involved.” Ms. Biggers bid on Radio Days, a silent-auction item that allows the winner to host a radio show in the “hot seat.” Ms. Biggers said, “My family refers to MVY as the soundtrack to the Island.” She said she hoped to hear her husband’s voice broadcast on the station.
Other hot-ticket items included a genealogy DNA session over dinner with Henry Louis Gates Jr., which went for $10,000, and the annual Sushi with Belushi rendezvous, which went for $4,500. Mr. Flynn, joined by Alex Friedman, an Island resident and former host for Plum TV, gave a hearty “Grazie” when the donors duplicated a vacation trip to Italy. The two trips went for $13,000 each.
“I know firsthand what Community Services means to my students, their parents and the community in general,” said Wiet Bacheller, former teacher and president of the board of directors for Community Services. ”There is a real misconception that Community Services don’t really need money because they have Possible Dreams,” she said. “But this is only a small portion of the funds we need,” she said. “We may be the poster child of fundraising, but our needs are great.
“And it takes every dollar,” she said