By Vivian Siempos Photos by Paul Blackmore
Andrew Todoroff spends his days driving around the Cape, ensuring that Cape Abilities’ businesses and partnerships are running smoothly. As director of business development, Todoroff says that his goal is to turn Cape Abilities’ businesses into destinations because of the quality products and services they provide.
The Cape Abilities Farm on Route 6A in Dennis “is a treasure for the local community,” says Todoroff.
Cape Abilities is a nonprofit organization that focuses on empowering individuals with disabilities to fill valued roles in the community. Since its founding in 1968 by parents who believed their children deserved to have a meaningful life, the group has brought about change—from helping people with disabilities to believe in themselves to changing communities’ perceptions of people with disabilities to ones of acceptance and respect.
Today, Cape Abilities has taken its original vision and expanded its operations well beyond the farm. The organization runs Cape Abilities Vending, Cape Abilities Farm to Table Market & Gallery in Chatham and Cape Cod Saltworks Sea Salt, among many others. The nonprofit organization is also in partnership with Centerville Pie Company, which employs 50 Cape Abilities adults, and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, offering opportunities in the science and technology field. A new collaboration began this year with the Chatham Bars Inn, where they operate the inn’s farm stand in Brewster. One hundred percent of the proceeds goes to Cape Abilities.
“These partnerships are critical to Cape Abilities,” says Nancy Noble, director of community development. “They create jobs for individuals and allow for community outreach and engagement. The businesses who hire Cape Abilities employees feel a great appreciation to them as hard workers and to Cape Abilities for allowing them to the opportunity to realize that people with disabilities have many wonderful abilities. It’s really a win-win for the individuals and the businesses.”
Larry Thayer, executive director of Cape Abilities for 25 years, retired this fall. In his time at Cape Abilities, he diversified and expanded the organization, increasing the amount of businesses that employ individuals, boosting partnerships across the Cape, and focusing on entrepreneurship with Cape Abilities businesses. He also increased the amount of services that Cape Abilities offers, casting a wider net where he saw a void, particularly in terms of people with traumatic brain injuries and those on the autism spectrum.
Cape Abilities’ growth can be attributed to the dedication of its employees, the board and to the hard work and perseverance of its participants.
Hannah Smith moved from Chesterland, Ohio, to Cape Cod to attend the Riverview School. When Smith completed her education, she applied to a position at the Cape Abilities Consignment and Thrift Shop. When she started four years ago, her skills were limited but she had a willingness to learn. Over time, she learned to work in a fast-paced retail environment. While on the job, she learned about punctuality and reliability—skills she continues to master. In the time she’s been with Cape Abilities, Smith has also completed a program at Cape Cod Community College and obtained her driver’s license. “This kind and sensitive young woman has taken the word ‘able’ to new heights,” says shop manager Maggi Tyson.
Cape Abilities takes a holistic view of the individuals they serve, realizing that they cannot only offer day programs and employment, but also must provide transportation, housing, education, training and support, the basic needs to be successful.
For people on the Cape and even for those visiting, Cape Abilities has become synonymous with both a good cause and a good product. “We focus on quality in everything we do. It conveys the respect we have for the people we work with,” says Thayer.
Hayley Doane, a member of the Cape Able group supported by the Cape Abilities Life Skills program, joined Cape Abilities two years ago after graduating from the Riverview School in Sandwich. As part of Cape Able, Doane has volunteered making meals for the Noah Shelter and animal treats for the Boston Animal Rescue League, helped with food drives for the Yarmouth Food Pantry and with baby supply drives for A Baby Center. She gives back to a community that has given her so much, helping her overcome her shyness, make friends and feel confident in her abilities. Because of these milestones, Doane recently started working at Chatham Farm to Table Market and Gallery where she has excelled at her responsibilities of stocking shelves, selling products and keeping customers happy. “Any business would welcome that type of commitment and ability,” says Glenn Loomis, administrator of day habilitation.
“The true story of Cape Abilities is found in the individuals that are served and their growth,” says Noble. “The off-shoot is the realization of their contribution to the community and of acceptance within the community.”
You Can’t Miss the Bright Green House
Cape Abilities launched Chatham Farm to Table Market & Gallery in 2011. The owner, Hilary S. Foulkes, who lives in the United Kingdom, had originally bought the building in the 1800s to restore it. Unfortunately, the zoning board had other ideas and blocked his restoration project. Foulkes decided that if he couldn’t use it as intended, he would donate the space, rent-free. “An organization that promotes inclusiveness and tolerance is unique in today’s society,” says Foulkes, speaking of Cape Abilities.
In the 1800s, the building was forest-green but when considering the long, drab Cape Cod winters he decided more cheerful colors were in order, hence the bright green and yellow exterior. The colors make it easy to spot, so directions are easy to give.
Inside, you’ll find an enthusiastic staff ready to help with any questions, as well as an assortment of items for sale, including paintings and pottery, T-shirts and hats, refurbished furniture and kids’ toys. You’ll also find jarred goodies like honey, salsa, pesto and olive oil, pies from Centerville Pie Company, as well as plants and fresh produce from the Cape Abilities Farm. It also has corner-store items like milk, eggs, bread, local cheeses and cans of soda. In the summer, they hold a pie-eating contest every Wednesday, a huge hit for all ages.