Martha's Vineyard In a Brand New Light by Kim Garrison

Seeing Martha’s Vineyard In a Brand New Light

by Kim M. Garrison

As I sat in the corner of my favorite MV coffee nook, I couldn’t help but acknowledge with a chuckle the meaning of the art hung above me. There, resided a painting of a mermaid with the transcription: “She knew some day the sea would call her home.” I recently returned to my childhood home on Martha’s Vineyard with my husband to raise my dear daughter. I also returned, nearing the end of my Ph.D. program, to find a professional space in the community where I might contribute to its overall well-being.  We made this decision to leave Rochester, NY after weighing out the pros and cons of leaving our jobs, our newly-built home, and the life we had made for ourselves there. This is how we make decisions- together and evaluatively. We expose our assumptions, our biases, our wants, and our needs; weighing each-and-every-one against the other to determine the best possible outcome. Ultimately, we chose Martha’s Vineyard.

I left my university job, my husband left his corporate chef position and we sold our dream home. Yikes! Our family, let’s just say, was a bit apprehensive. Though we knew that there would be struggles ahead—entering a difficult housing market, finding jobs that would make us happy and could provide us a solid income, and reacquainting ourselves with Island life—we didn’t just “follow our gut.”

Yet, returning here, I see Martha’s Vineyard as I’ve never seen it before. I see both the good and the bad through new eyes. I see it now as a parent, as a researcher, a program evaluator, and as a community member.

First, the good. I savor all that is Martha’s Vineyard’s beauty. Though, growing up here, I always regarded the Island as beautiful, I now see its beauty in stark contrast to the suburban life I left behind and the urban setting in which I worked. I see the safety that exists here as reassuring. I see the relative simplicity to life here as unique. I see the intimate community of people who truly care for one another as evident. Last, I see the progressiveness that lies at the heart of this community’s way-of-life as admirable. It is this beauty and this uniqueness that drew the Garrisons back to the Vineyard and I believe it is, in essence, what draws people here. Yet, I also now see the Island for its flaws, challenges, or rather what I would like to call its potential.

Yes, I said it! Martha’s Vineyard has flaws. But, in acknowledging flaws, lies opportunity and I find ultimate excitement in that possibility. In a sense this balance is like that of the Chinese philosophy of Yin and Yang. A true balance.

As a program evaluator, I find opportunities for improvement or solutions to complex problems by asking questions that can be used to gather evidence. In this way, evaluative thinking is the opposite of following your gut. Here then lies the first of a series of questions that I hope to ask throughout my time writing for EMVY Magazine. It is my hope that these questions serve as a way for our larger community to engage in a process of dialog, research, and evaluation about living on Martha’s Vineyard. I reiterate that I ask these questions to solicit opinions, facts, and anecdotes that serve as evidence for the questions I pose. Therefore, I hope my readers will embrace this series of articles as a way to start a larger community conversation; one that is rooted in candor, respect for differences of opinions and perspectives, and that acknowledges the value of finding solutions to complex problems through dialog.

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Here, in this literary space, I ponder the role of evaluation in the community that I grew up in to consider how the community can be better for my daughter, for your children, and for its own sustainability as a precious place? I believe there is an opportunity here to evaluate how people experience Martha’s Vineyard in order to ensure that they have access to fulfill their basic needs in an equitable and inclusive manner. I think that here lies an opportunity for a larger community conversation. I feel that this is why I was called back to the sea, to my home on MV, and I invite you to engage in a community-wide discussion that will allow us all to see the Vineyard in a new light.

Invitation to a Community Dialog

My first question for the Island community stems from an experience I recently had upon my return to MV. I had to run out and grab baby food. This happened in the first week of my moving back. I ran down to the Vineyard Haven Stop-and-Shop. I left my mother in the car with my infant and I ran into the store to quickly grab some food for baby G. Trying to maximize the use of this short period of respite from mothering an infant, I was going to also grab a short list of groceries for dinner that night. Now, time is of the essence here. I needed to be quick, as any parent of an infant would understand. I entered through the store’s main entrance. I passed by produce. Got lettuce. Check. I passed by the meat department. Got chicken. Check. I continued winding up and down the isles searching for the last of my items. Why did I have to search you may ask? There aren’t any isle markers. “Okay, now, where do I find baby food?” I asked myself. Time being of the essence, I found someone stocking shelves to inquire.

“In the back,” was the reply.

“Back of the store?” I responded.

“Back through the doors,” replied my guide with a hint of annoyance.

Those of you who have had the experience of shopping at the VH Stop-and-Shop know that the directions I received placed me in the store’s back hallway where you will find tall shelving units of stocked items wrapped and awaiting restocking, a loading dock for receiving shipments, a dark winding hallway without any signage of where it will take you, and an office door that—though wide-open every time I have visited the store—explicitly states that it should be closed at all times. Finally, though, you will wind up in the back store.

 Now, I do not tell this story to you as a complaint, but as an opportunity to contemplate the questions I pose about how the Island can be better or how the community can work to address its flaws.

Evaluative thinking means that I acknowledge my bias in asking such a question, which requires me to also acknowledge that my experience is not the only experience to be had. I was able to quickly get to the back store and adequately complete my mission. However, my thoughts led me to questions like: What if I used a mobility device like a wheelchair? What if I was an elderly person who found it challenging to get to the back store? What if I had my daughter with me in her stroller? What if I didn’t speak English? Are accessibility and cultural sensitivity values that the community enacts through its business practices? These are topics that constantly circle my mind as I consider how people experience Martha’s Vineyard. On the other hand, while also using evaluative thinking, I could ask questions like; in what ways is Stop and Shop missing opportunities for sales? What are the liability aspects to having customers go between stores in this manner? Isn’t there an increased potential for theft and injury?

Stop and Shop does provide customers an opportunity for satisfaction feedback. Use the code on your next receipt. I encourage customers to do so, and you may even win some money. 

I would also like to invite my readers to answer the following question by going to the following link.

To what degree are the business practices of food operations on the Island ensuring that the larger community’s food needs are met?

Food Sources on Martha’s Vineyard Survey

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Kim M. Garrison is a Ph.D. candidate in the human development program at the University of Rochester (UR) in Rochester, NY. Over the past six years, she has studied and worked at UR. Her roles included program evaluator for the Center for Educational Reform and Professional Development and graduate teaching assistant in the Inclusion and Disabilities teacher preparation program at the Margaret Warner School of Education and Human Development. Before attending UR, Kim taught special education at the Martha's Vineyard Regional High School. Kim’s research focuses on understanding how teacher and student well-being factors are related to school climate; specifically, she investigates topics such as social-emotional learning, teacher collaboration, and teacher burnout. Kim has also worked with community organizations and school districts to evaluate their programs and policies as a part of the school improvement and strategic planning processes. Most recently, Kim is working as an independent evaluator on a contract basis. Kim grew up on Martha’s Vineyard and has returned to MV with her family to raise her daughter. It is Kim's hope that the work in which she engages will ultimately give back to the Martha’s Vineyard community.