A motivational teacher. Two young entreprenuers. A superstar singer. A conductor and performer who share a love of music education. They are among 12 people highlighted in this year’s people to watch feature. Since last January, I have clipped newspaper articles, kept a close eye on trends through Facebook and Instagram and talked to people at various events throughout the year. On the following pages, you will meet inspiring individuals who are either fulfilling their dreams or trying to make the Cape a better place. And in many cases, both apply. I enjoyed meeting everyone on this list and will look forward to following their accomplishments in the new year. Each individual opened my eyes to fresh ideas and meaningful, inspiring work. It gives me great pleasure to share them with you.
Before she became an overnight sensation, Meghan Trainor played trumpet and sang in the Nauset Regional High School jazz band. She also played percussion in concert band. She performed at venues such as Guapos in Brewster, the Jailhouse Tavern in Orleans and the Jetties Beach Bar & Restaurant on Nantucket. Life for the Nantucket-born Trainor, who turned 21 in December, has certainly changed since her high school years. Her first single, “All About That Bass” has ruled the Billboard charts since last June. Trainor, who now lives in Nashville, credits her family for her huge success. As a child, she was exposed to a variety of music, from Motown and soul music to soca rhythms. Her dad is a musician and taught music and Trainor says her mom entered her “in a million songwriting contests at age 11.” “I miss Nantucket and the Cape a lot,” writes Trainor in an email interview. “I definitely keep in touch with people from there through Snapchat and Instagram.” When she does find time to visit, Trainor says she enjoys a girls’ night out at Sushi by Yoshi on Nantucket or Double Dragon Inn in Orleans. She also enjoys Sam’s Deli in Eastham for takeout. She says she also used to love shopping at Forever 21 at the Cape Cod Mall. Her parents, Gary and Kelli, continue to operate their shop, Jewel of the Isle on Nantucket, which they have owned for 28 years.
Her father, Gary, still can’t believe his daughter’s success in such a short time. “I am scratching my head. It is amazing. Somebody is doing something right,” Gary said in a telephone interview. For 2015, Trainor will be very busy. She just kicked off a tour in December to promote her debut album “Title,” which also features her second single “Lips Are Movin.”
The first year was a bumpy ride for Wellfleet Sea Salt Company. “Actually, it was a failure,” says Zachary Fagiano, with a laugh, as he stands in one of his solar evaporators, where the sea salt is created. This past year, they couldn’t get the salt in the jars fast enough. After completing their third summer, founders Hope Schwartz-Leeper and Fagiano are finally calling this past year a success story. We brought 800 jars to Wellfleet OysterFest in October and sold out of many product lines on the first day, says Schwartz-Leeper.
The pair started the company in their junior year at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. After entering a business plan competition, they won $5,000 to start Wellfleet Sea Salt Company. Why sea salt? Fagiano called his parents, who are food professionals, and asked, “Is sea salt a viable industry?’ And they said, ‘Yes, it’s a huge trend right now.’” That was all Fagiano needed to hear. To produce the salt, they pump water from the bay into tanks on the back of their pickup truck. They bring the saltwater back to one of three custom-built evaporators, where the water will eventually form into crystals. As long as there is sunshine and a little breeze to help carry out the saturated air, it will eventually form into crystals,” says Schwartz-Leeper. They have expanded to flavored salt, too: Smoked salt, citrus salt, and seafood blend. The duo is also working with Truro Vineyards to produce a spiced rum sea salt. Their salt is available in stores across the Cape. “By around next June, our goal is to be in 150 stores,” says Fagiano. “We are in 75 now.”
The Cape Cod Museum of Art has gone through some turbulent times, says new director Edith Tonelli. But before she stepped into the position last May, she was happy to see that it was turning around and moving forward. “I wanted to be a part of that, to try and lead it into its next phase,” says Tonelli, who is working on a long-range strategic plan that will articulate the museum’s vision. A former director of larger art institutions, including the museum at the University of California at Los Angeles (now the Armand Hammer Museum of Art and Culture Center) and the University of Maryland at College Park, Tonelli says she has big dreams for the small regional museum.
For instance, Tonelli wants to offer more outdoor events in the sculpture garden, where patrons can watch an artist create a piece, walk inside of it and interact with the artist. The art historian also envisions a multimedia art experience with video, sound and light inside the museum. “Art can be a transformative experience for people, but sometimes it’s hard to get them in across the threshold and enjoy it,” says Tonelli, a 14-year resident of the Cape. “Art museums can be intimidating.” That is why she intends to offer more Free Fun Fridays (now held only once a year) and more family-oriented events.
Some of Tonelli’s more serious goals include building a substantial endowment, between $5 million to $10 million, to support the care of the collections and operating budget. Although it will take a few years, Tonelli is working on earning accreditation by the American Alliance of Museums, which will help the museum borrow items from other museums around the world. “I want us to be known not only on Cape Cod,” says Tonelli, “but beyond Cape Cod as well.”
“We have to get back to cooking food the way it was done 60 years ago,” says Nate Fanara, owner of Green Lotus Café in Hyannis, the first vegan and vegetarian restaurant on Cape Cod. “Stop using the microwave, learn how to use a knife, take a knifeskills class or take a class that teaches you how to sautee.” Green Lotus Café, located at 349 Main St. in Hyannis, features vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free items on the menu, including wraps, sandwiches, juices and smoothies. The Dennis native has built a loyal following since opening in the spring of 2013. Fanara begins his day at 5:30 a.m. to make fresh breads, muffins, soups and coffee before he opens his doors at 7:45 a.m. He even makes his own seitan, a substitute for meat, and he also cooks his own tapioca bubble tea. Fanara says there are a lot of exciting changes coming to the cafe this year, including plans of expanding into the space next door. “I want to create the spot everyone wants to be at,” says Fanara, who attended a plant-based culinary school in Austin, Texas. The former Marine and commercial diver who explored veganism for its health benefits is doing something right. He says one of his customers drives all the way from Quincy regularly, even in the middle of summer, to pick up a half-gallon of Fanara’s split pea soup. Says Fanara, “It’s a testament to what we are doing.”
Every inch of Michael Gyra’s classroom is covered with funny and meaningful phrases, such as “Change is inevitable, growth is optional,” and “The only constant is change.” But one thing stands out: Pictures of his students over the years. It’s clear he cares about every single one of them. So it’s not surprising that one of his former students, Russell Brilliant, nominated him for the Kennedy Center/Stephen Sondheim Inspirational Teacher Award. Brilliant submitted a 500-word essay on why Gyra deserved the award. His essay touched upon the study of astronomy, but, he wrote, Gyra also taught him about the importance of giving back to the community. The Barnstable High School astronomy teacher was one of only six educators in the U.S. to receive the honor last March. “It made me feel so happy,” says Gyra. “The fact that one day he just thought to write that in class; I was blown away by it.”
Gyra, who has been teaching for 26 years at Barnstable High School, is known for his “star parties” at Sandy Neck Beach, where he uses a powerful green laser to outline constellations while students munch on Double- Stuf Oreos. Gyra has also been instrumental in the development of Pathway of Discovery in the high school’s courtyard, which features sculptures of game-changers in history, such as Martin Luther King Jr., Amelia Earhart and Jackie Robinson. He says he wants students to appreciate the cosmos after taking his class, but he muses: “My sincere hope is that students develop ‘grit,’ pursue their passion, and leave more behind than they take on their life journey.”
Janell Burley Hofmann gained national attention two years ago after writing an 18-point iPhone contract for her then- 13-year-old son, Gregory. Among the rules: “Don’t ignore the phone call if the screen reads Mom or Dad” and “do not text, email, or say anything through this device you would not say in person.” The contract remains relevant today because it sparks “this great cultural conversation,” says Hofmann, during an interview at Titcomb’s Bookshop in Sandwich. “If you read the 18 points, there are ideas of respect, responsibility and the idea to live fully.” The Sandwich mother of five speaks three to five times a month on parenting, with a specific focus on technology, in the U.S. and around the globe. Most recently, the author traveled to Nagoya, Japan, to speak at Nagoya University. “It was my first time speaking with a translator, which was a whole other experience,” says Hofmann, the author of “iRules: What Every Tech-Healthy Family Needs to Know About Selfies, Sexting, Gaming and Growing Up.” And how does the contract apply to Gregory today? “He is 15, a freshman at Sandwich High. The contract shifts and grows with him,” says Hofmann. “He turns it off later now; instead of 7:30, it’s now 9 p.m.” At its core, the iPhone rules are a conversation about engaged parenting, says Hofmann. “We want to spend family time at the table without everyone’s heads down on the technology because childhood is so fleeting.”
As a teenager, Barbara Milligan enjoyed playing clarinet in the marching band. But she didn’t particularly enjoy selling boxes of candy bars for the band’s annual fundraiser. “My dad would buy the whole box so I didn’t have to sell them,” says Milligan, with a laugh. “Then I ended up eating the candy bars, which was the other bad thing.”
Today, as president and chief executive officer of Cape and Islands United Way, Milligan’s outlook on fundraising has turned 180 degrees. “It’s not something that I ever thought I would do, but now I can’t imagine doing anything else,” says Milligan. “What other job is there where you can change people’s lives, impact your community, and change the lives of the donors? Giving is really something that is deeply meaningful.” Before she stepped into the position at United Way last June, Milligan spearheaded the $10 million restoration fundraising project at Highfield Hall & Gardens in Falmouth and previously served as executive director of the Cape Cod Children’s Museum in Mashpee. Her top goal in 2015? To better communicate who benefits from Cape and Islands United Way, says the Falmouth resident. “People know the brand, but they don’t know we raise money locally and distribute money locally.” In 2014, the organization funded 41 programs at 35 agencies totaling $600,000. The Cape’s greatest needs, Milligan says, are supporting families, nurturing children and supporting the over-65 population. At her office in Hyannis, Milligan reads a quote on her door that inspires her every day: “Fundraising isn’t about funneling money to organizations, fundraising is about transformation, organizational transformation and individual transformation. It is deeply sacred work.”
Nearly 20 years ago, Don Wilding’s life changed forever after he started reading Henry Beston’s “The Outermost House.” The 1928 book chronicles one year Beston spent in a 20-foot by 16-foot, two-room house built in the dunes on what is now Coast Guard Beach. “It’s unlike any other book I’ve ever read. The prose is absolutely magnificent,” says Wilding, co-founder and executive director of the nonprofit Henry Beston Society of Cape Cod and author of the book, “Henry Beston’s Cape Cod.” Beston’s words inspired Wilding, who has presented more than 100 lectures since 2001, to travel the state and educate people on Beston’s life and literary accomplishments through multimedia presentations. “The Outermost House” is an underappreciated book, says Wilding, yet it was so influential because it helped establish the Cape Cod National Seashore. Wilding has been hard at work on the documentary, “Henry Beston’s Cape Cod: Inspiration for a National Seashore.” Last October, Wilding presented a rough-cut screening of the film to a sold-out audience at the Orpheum Theater in Chatham. In 2015, his goal is to produce enough footage to present to a distributor, such as PBS.
Cheryl Bartlett stresses she is very much an on-the-ground- person. “I can’t go to another meeting where we talk about the drug problem on the Cape and Islands,” says Bartlett, who helped create the Nantucket AIDS Network in the late 1980s and later spearheaded the Community Action Committee of the Cape and Islands in Hyannis, an organization that helps low-income residents. “Policy is great, but after a while, I just want to say, ‘When will this really hit the ground in all the communities?’” In mid-December, Bartlett left her position as commissioner of the Massachussetts Department of Public Health to lead a new Cape program funded by Cape Cod Healthcare aimed at preventing opiate addiction. As the first executive director of the newly formed Cape Cod Regional Substance Abuse Prevention Initiative, Bartlett plans to assess the gaps, from treatment to recovery support, reaching out to other communities to come up with innovative solutions and educate people on how to change their lifestyle. Is she worried about putting ideas into action? “No, I think this community is really ready to do it,” says Bartlett, who has held 12 roundtable discussions with law enforcement and community leaders across the state after Gov. Patrick declared a public emergency around opiate addiction last March. “People are finally talking about it and not pushing it under the rug.”
If Stephanie Weaver had her way, she would ban music for a day on the Cape—no cell phone rings, no music in the car and no iPods. “What would a day without music be like? It’s so essential to life,” says the managing director of the Cape Conservatory. It would just heighten that awareness.” Ever since the Cape Symphony and Cape Conservatory merged five years ago, Weaver and Jung-Ho Pak, artistic director and conductor of the symphony, have broken down the wall between the performing arts and education. At each Cape Symphony concert, performed at the Barnstable Performing Art Center, for instance, conservatory students perform in the lobby to greet guests as they enter Barnstable High School. Another program involves the youth orchestra learning the same piece or arrangement that the symphony is working on and performing side by side on the stage during practice. Pak says the merger between the two groups is incredibly unique. It works so well, he says, because we are both teachers and we both share a commitment toward public education. “Part of our goal is to save, and it sounds so lofty, but to save our own humanity in our world where technology is deadening us to catastrophes in the world, hunger, disease, violence. The arts are one of the few things that can make us feel who we are.”