DSC 7765 resized 600HAC Volunteer of the Year Maura Dankert (far right) with her family, staff from The Village at Cataumet and HAC volunteer Cynthia Goldberg.

A few years ago on a cold winter day, Karen Graveline, Maureen Carser and Dan McCullough found themselves outside battling frigid temperatures, horizontal sleet and freezing rain to check on two homeless women living in a tent not far from Hyannis Harbor.

As they trudged through the brush, and ice began to form on McCullough’s beard and in his colleagues’ hair, they called out, asking the pair, “Can we come in?”

The women, recognizing the voices, zipped open their tent where McCullough, Carser and Graveline, saw them as comfortable as could be, enjoying some food and drink while listening to the radio. “They looked up at us standing out there… And one of them said to us, ‘What are you people doing out there in this weather? Are you crazy?’” McCullough said, relaying the story to those in attendance at HAC’s 41st Annual Meeting & Volunteer Recognition last month at the Cape Codder Resort & Spa in Hyannis.

As the laughter in the audience died down, McCullough acknowledged that perhaps he was not alone. “I guess if we’re doing this kind of work and we’re defining success in such unusual terms, maybe we are crazy,” he said. “But if we are then you know what, there are a lot of you in this room who are crazy too because you’re doing the same thing: HAC’s middle name.”

McCullough and Carser, members of the nonprofit TEAM M25, were celebrated for their “craziness” – others may call it a passion for helping those most vulnerable – at HAC’s annual meeting with the 2014 Human Services Partner Award.

DSC 7455 resized 600Dan McCullough (right) of TEAM M25 with NOAH Shelter Director Greg Bar at HAC’s Annual Meeting & Volunteer Recognition. 

In accepting the award, McCullough stressed that TEAM M25’s work – the organization cares for Cape Cod’s homeless that live outdoors – is driven not by success as defined by today’s society. Instead, he aligned success with another word tied to HAC’s work: assistance.

“Working with our people is not like building a boat in your backyard… where neighbors will come in and say, ‘Gee, you’ve been building that boat for 11 years. Is anything going to happen?’” he said. “It’s not that kind of thing. We’re dealing with human beings and we come from a place where we need to define our success in other ways.”

If success is indeed tied to assisting those in need, then it was visible in the award recipients at this year’s annual meeting, including those like the Hyannis Main Street Business Improvement District (BID) which was chosen as HAC’s Business/Organization Partner of the year.

The BID was instrumental in helping HAC launch the Day Center at NOAH last May as part of a community effort that included the Duffy Health Center, the Hyannis Civic Association, the Town of Barnstable and the Barnstable Police Department. “We think of Hyannis as a downtown with a heart and we want to come together and help people be happier and have a better quality of life,” said Elizabeth Wurfbain, the executive director of BID, explaining why it was so important for the community to provide the region’s homeless with a safe place to go during the day.

This year’s Volunteers of the Year recipients – mortgage loan officer Darin Weeks of Cape Cod Five Cents Savings Bank and Maura Dankert of Birthday Wishes – are also shining examples of McCullough’s definition of success.

Weeks has been teaching at HAC’s first-time homebuyer class for the past decade, helping “hundreds of families navigate the complex home buying process in purchasing homes here on the Cape,” Cheryl Kramer, manager of HAC’s Housing Consumer Education Center, said.

And once a month over the past six years, Bourne’s Dankert has been providing a little joy to children at The Village at Cataumet by throwing them birthday parties, complete with cake, ice cream, gifts and games. She has extended her monthly volunteerism to include driving families at the shelter to the local food pantry.

Dankert said her reward has been seeing the smiles of parents and their children as they have a few moments of normalcy amid the chaos of living in a homeless shelter. “To give them about an hour and a half of just fun time as they check their stressors at the door is just wonderful,” she said.

Having compassion for clients is something HAC CEO Rick Presbrey highlighted when recognizing employees at the agency – Michael Sweeney, Nancy Davison, Anne Williams, Dolores Barbati-Poore, Marthel Wass, Marie Johnson, Judy Van Buskirk, Lynne Perry, Alison Reid, AnnMarie Torrey, Lil Burlingame, Margaret Benaka and Ann Rebello – who have 20 or more years of service.

David Augustinho, chair of HAC’s executive board, expanded upon this sentiment in his remarks, commending staff for “their depth of knowledge and the empathy for the population they deal with.”

DSC 7755 resized 600HAC’s Presbrey Public Service Award winner Paul Ruchinskas with his wife Loretta. 

This year’s recipient of the Presbrey Public Service Award, Paul Ruchinskas of Brewster, also had kind words for the work of HAC as he has had a close relationship with the agency over the past 13 years. During that time, Ruchinskas has served as the affordable housing specialist at the Cape Cod Commission, helping it allocate federal and state funds to support affordable development in the region through the county’s HOME Program.

“Paul Ruchinskas has spent his professional life changing other people’s lives, thousands of families lives he changed for the better in the most fundamental way,” said last year’s Presbrey award winner Larry Brown as he introduced Ruchinskas. “Ask anyone who is homeless. Ask anyone who spent Christmas with their kids in a motel room. I can’t think of a more complex field having to learn and then having to learn the stuff of it and having to learn the way of it, and then to do so much good (as he has).”