Mattapoisett-based group put hands and hearts into disaster relief
MATTAPOISETT — In a small office on Route 6 in Mattapoisett, staff members work toward a big goal: Changing the world through the hands and hearts of caring volunteers.
All Hands and Hearts, a Mattapoisett-based nonprofit organization, visits areas hit by natural disasters to help residents repair their homes, their communities and their lives.
Although supplies and some skilled labor is funded through private donations, the organization specializes in “volunteer-powered disaster relief,” said Bruce Linton, chief development officer for the non-profit. “We create a platform where volunteers who want to help can help.”
Teams of volunteers circulate in and out of disaster areas for as long as help is needed, he said.
All Hands and Hearts has its roots in the aftereffects of one of the worst natural disasters in history, the 2004 tsunami that killed nearly 228,000 people in 14 countries.
David Campbell, a Massachusetts resident and successful businessman, was touched by the reports of the devastating toll and was determined to help. He organized a group that traveled to the devastated region to help and eventually became All Hands, a relief organization.
In 2017, the group merged with the Happy Hearts Fund, a similar relief organization which had been formed by model Petra Nemcova, who was severely injured while visiting Thailand during the tsunami with her fiancé, who was killed.
Mattapoisett resident Erik Dyson was then the All Hands CEO and oversaw the merger, which led to the new organization being located in his hometown.
All Hands and Hearts is currently assisting in the aftermath of three U.S. national disasters: supporting residents in portions of Louisiana, which were hit hard by Hurricane Ida, doing wildfire mitigation in Paradise, Calif. and tackling rebuilding efforts in Kentucky following the tornadoes that hit parts of the state in December.
One of their largest and longest-lasting ventures has been taking place in Great Abaco, part of the Abacos Island chain in the Bahamas. The island was ravaged by Hurricane Dorian in September 2019.
Within weeks of the storm hitting, All Hands and Hearts stepped in to help.
The organization provided a range of relief services, including debris removal, home clean-up, roof repair and full rebuilding.
All Hands and Hearts representatives also helped to rebuild 172 structures on the island, including homes, schools and other community projects.
Eight schools were reconstructed, with four requiring a complete rebuild, including the area’s only school for children with disabilities.
The Every Child Counts Primary School, a 12,620-square-foot campus, consists of five buildings that will serve more than 60 students.
School principal Lyn Major credited All Hands and Hearts with not only rebuilding the school but also boosting the school community’s determination.
Because of their efforts, she said in a prepared statement, “a transformed campus has emerged from the rubble of Abaco. We cannot name everyone who helped us, but I would like to reassure you that their names are in our hearts and will remain there. Your support gave us the strength to continue.”
The work in Alabco is not done. With 1,100 homes still in need of repair, AHAH is currently fundraising to begin the next phase of reconstruction.
The organization hopes to raise $1 million, which will provide the necessary resources for approximately six months of work in Great Abaco.
Support provided by volunteers serves as a bedrock for the organization’s success, staff members said.
About 65,000 volunteers have donated their time to support these projects, including nearly 800 in Great Abaco.
When volunteers arrive at the natural disaster site, they are matched with local teams that train them on the work needed to be completed. Volunteers usually pay their own way to the location, although meals and housing, usually in communal team settings, are provided.
Everyone can offer something, Linton said. Volunteers range in age from young people to seniors and can arrive individually or in groups, such as co-workers or church congregation members, although the organization is not faith-based.
“We create a platform,” Linton said, in which “volunteers who want to help can help. You don’t need specific skills.”
Feedback from volunteers shows that as they help a community in need, they also receive a different form of boost in return, Linton said. For many, he said, “it’s a life-changing experience.”
Volunteering allows people who might view disasters on television and want to help with a means to do just that, Linton said.
“This is how you can help,’’ he said.
Those looking to donate, support, or learn more about AHAH can visit www.AllHandsAndHearts.org.