The communities of the Tri-Town are special: the landscapes, the historic buildings, the history. But what really makes our three towns stand out are the people who live in them, the people who work in them, govern them, and especially the ones who give of their time and energy, volunteering for the highest good of their town and fellow residents.
This is the reason why, every year, The Wanderer is pleased to highlight the selflessness of three individuals – one from each town – to honor them and to recognize both their countless hours of service to the community and their dedication, which keep the community afloat like the keel of a ship that keeps the vessel from capsizing.
The community responded to the call for the submission of nominees from their towns this year, and the names of the selected recipients quickly rose to the top as the most deserving of this honor. We mostly stayed with the tradition of selecting one resident per town, but this year we broke slightly from the norm and decided to give the honor to two outstanding citizens from one of the towns who share the credit for one extraordinary project that has benefitted so many individuals and families from our own communities and a number of surrounding ones as well.
The Wanderer is proud to award this year’s 2016 Wanderer Keel Awards to: Debbi Dyson and Julie Craig of Mattapoisett; Joanne Mahoney from Marion; and Doreen DeCosta of Rochester.
For 10 years now, Debbi Dyson and Julie Craig have been providing adults with developmental disabilities the chance to reach new heights atop therapeutic horses thanks to their project, Helping Hands and Hooves.
The partners provide horseback riding lessons to disabled adults who have aged out of the school system at age 22, when further services are either minimal or unavailable. Every summer, Dyson and Craig, after a year of fundraising for their organization, provide a free therapeutic horseback riding summer camp for adults with developmental disabilities who might not otherwise be able to afford riding lessons, thus opening them up to the many therapeutic benefits they experience as a result of riding horses.
“It’s just as therapeutic for us as it is for them,” said Craig. Craig has a son on the autism spectrum, which is one of the factors behind the inspiration for the program. “It’s a double win. They enjoy it, we enjoy it, and we love doing it.”
Dyson, who also has a brother with a developmental disability, said she is inspired by her students and couldn’t imagine not being a part of Helping Hands and Hooves.
“Every day that I’m there, it inspires me by who they are and what they go through and the sheer joy,” said Dyson. “And when they get out to the farm, it’s just this light that goes on inside them.”
Both women say their work is rewarding in a number of ways, but the joy they bear witness to is more than enough to keep them going.
“It’s incredibly joyful,” said Dyson. “And to do it with someone that I just respect so much … it has just worked out so well.”
In Marion, Council on Aging Chairperson Joanne Mahoney helped make something possible that many in Marion have been wishing for year after year – a ‘senior center’ for the aging population of Marion. And, although Marion continues to be one of the few area towns without a physical senior center, for the time being there is at least a program and a place for seniors to gather and continue to grow as a community.
“Joanne has worked to put this program together so the seniors of Marion have a place to gather as we have no senior center,” said Marion resident Edward Sefranka.
Of course, says Mahoney, she still hopes there will some day be a real senior center building, but in the meantime, the Marion Music Hall has served the purpose well, with Monday morning activities that include chair yoga, visits by the town’s nurse, and a public speaker, evolving and growing into a lunch program on Mondays and Wednesdays, and morning exercise programs throughout the week.
“It’s really taken off on its own,” said Mahoney. With the hiring of the new COA director, along with Mahoney establishing a Friends of the Marion Council on Aging in order to fundraise for a senior center and senior programming, the program is now firmly established.
“We’re seeing anywhere from thirty to sixty people every Monday,” said Mahoney. “It has been very successful, and I’m very happy with it.”
But Mahoney’s efforts don’t stop there. Her ultimate goal is to see construction of an actual senior center.
“It’s a lot of work,” said Mahoney, “but it’s a lot of fun and it’s very rewarding.”
Over in Rochester, the members of the ATOMIC Youth Ministry of the First Congregational Church of Rochester nominated DeCosta for her leadership of the 15+ member youth group. The members say she “pours her heart and soul into” the ministry for kids in grades 6-12, ensuring the group meets every week and scheduling Bible study for the older teens throughout the school year.
DeCosta organizes a number of other activities for the youth as well, such as the week-long teen summer camp and the annual winter trip to the Monadnock Encounter weekend Bible retreat in New Hampshire.
“Mrs. DeCosta is such an amazing person whom I can look forward to seeing in youth group,” said Tiana D., a youth group member. “I can always trust her when I have problems.”
Another youth group member, Geneva S., said, “She is the best role model to all of us for how we should live for others.”
DeCosta just wants the kids in her group to know how much they inspire her and to know Jesus and want to have a relationship with Him.
“There’s nothing on the face of this Earth that I could give as a gift except for the love of Jesus,” said DeCosta. “If I could leave you with one thing it would be to not only recognize Jesus, but to live like Him because that’s how I live my life every single day the best that I can.”
For DeCosta, it’s the kids that should be given a reward.
“They are the most spectacular things that God has put before me,” said DeCosta. They’re wonderful. Once a week with them is not enough. So I am very grateful to have each and every one of them in my life.”
The Wanderer congratulates the winners and we thank those who submitted nominations to bring these outstanding people into the forefront to be honored and recognized for the good work they are doing in our community.
By Jean Perry