BY: KELLY CHASE
PHOTOGRAPHY: JULIA CUMES

Giving Back

Six young community members find ways to strengthen the town they love.

A place becomes a community when people are willing to take care of it—and one another. That couldn’t be truer for the Lower Cape town that swells in the summer but still maintains a liveliness in the colder months. These six individuals are young, successful and dedicated to Chatham.

Ashley Bilodeau

Photographer and Owner of All Points Beautiful

Ashley Bilodeau is busy even in the “slow” season. She owns and operates All Points Beautiful, and works as a fine-art photographer. Bilodeau says it’s her nature to be a multitasker. “In order to grow as a creative, you have to do many things,” she says.

Bilodeau grew up in Chatham, and for 60 years, her family operated an optometrist’s office—Bass River Optometrics—on Main Street, where she logged a number of hours and learned how to work with customers. When the office moved to Orleans, Bilodeau had already launched her photography career, and she began to dream up a new kind of business that could occupy the storefront year-round.

The Main Street store is split into two—a beach-chic boutique with clothing, gift and beach items, and on the other side is a gallery with framed prints of Bilodeau’s minimalist seascape photography. The two halves make a whole for Bilodeau. “If it were just an art gallery, it would be too pretentious, which is not me; and if it were just a clothing store, there would be no soul,” says Bilodeau.

On the retail side, Bilodeau employs 12 local workers seasonally who share her philosophy of creating a positive shopping experience. “It isn’t about selling something to someone; it’s about having them leave with a smile, regardless of whether they bought something,” she says.

As a business owner and native Cape Codder, Bilodeau tries to give back when she can. This year, she raised money for Recovery Build, a nonprofit for teens in recovery. The program is especially personal for Bilodeau, who has been sober for 12 years. “The organization has early intervention programs and there are good counselors, and overall it’s a safe space for local teens,” she says. “My sobriety doesn’t define me, but it’s important to me to support organizations like this.”

Like her store, sometimes the Cape can feel like it’s split in two—the busy season and the slow season. For her fine-art photography, Bilodeau explores the latter. Her muse is the natural landscape and coastal pockets that empty when the weather turns cold. “I try to shoot in the off-season so I can show people it’s beautiful here year-round,” she says. “I also have to be in the mood to shoot. I go out with the mindset to just be a witness to our beautiful world, but I also have to feel positive and good, so that feeling translates into my work.”

Aaron Polhemus

Owner and CEO of Polhemus Savery DaSilva

Aaron Polhemus is owner and CEO of Polhemus Savery DaSilva (PSD), an integrated architecture and construction firm that his father, Peter Polhemus, began in Chatham more than two decades ago. The company has played a significant role in the community. Its most obvious contribution: The renovations to numerous classic maritime homes on the town’s historic roads.

However, PSD does significant philanthropic work as well. In 2010, the firm established the PSD Fund for Working Families, which provides assistance to those who face challenges living and working on Cape Cod. The fund also creates opportunities for PSD staff members to volunteer with local organizations. “We are very fortunate to live and work on Cape Cod and feel strongly about the importance of giving back,” says Polhemus. “Volunteering with local organizations is a great way for our team to engage with the community.”

Polhemus is on the board of WE CAN (Women’s Empowerment Through Cape Area Networking), a nonprofit organization with a mission to help women navigate home, career and educational hurdles. “As a Cape resident and business owner, I have a great appreciation for all of the work WE CAN does to support women and their families throughout the Cape, and right here in Chatham,” says Polhemus. “We live in a beautiful place, but the seasonal economy presents challenges for residents making WE CAN’s services particularly important here.”

olhemus is no stranger to the area. He grew up in Brewster and Chatham, and spent many summer days on job sites working as a laborer and carpenter in his teens. He left the Cape for college in Vermont, and while the mountains were a nice change of scenery, he made his way back to the coastline each summer—and eventually for good. “I bounced around through different aspects of the business, and in doing so, I gained a general knowledge of each,” says Polhemus, who worked briefly as a framer and as a carpenter, and ultimately found his way to operations, management and ownership. “I’ve always been fascinated by the business and the integration of architecture and construction.”

Polhemus and his wife, Courtney, decided to raise their two children along one of Chatham’s historic roads in a home that is a quick walk to the village. “Living in town has made us feel even more connected to the area,” he says. “Our kids will go down to the local coffee shop in the morning, and they’ll ride their scooters through the park. It’s just a great place to live and raise kids. There’s a real sense of community here.”

Shayna Ferullo & Manuel Ainzuain

Owners of Snowy Owl Coffee Espresso Bar

Tucked just off of Main Street through a garden path is Snowy Owl Coffee Espresso Bar, which opened in July of 2018. The store is owned and operated by the husband-and-wife team Manuel Ainzuain and Shayna Ferullo, and it is the couple’s second coffee shop on the Cape. “We always thought Chatham would be a nice spot for a coffee bar,” says Ferullo.

When the store opened, the goal was to maintain the quality of service of their Brewster location while adapting to the needs of downtown Chatham. They discovered a culture of coffee lovers as well as a strong sense of community. “I love being part of a place where people are walking around on foot. Also, the Chatham Chamber of Commerce and Merchants Association does such a great job of putting together events that help the local community, like Oktoberfest and the holiday stroll,” says Ferullo. “You can feel that there’s a great sense of community and deep love for this place.”

In 2013, the couple moved from San Francisco to Cape Cod to be closer to Ferullo’s family. They realized their shared dream of operating a coffee shop when they opened the doors at Snowy Owl in Brewster in 2015. Their mission was to brew good coffee for the community, but also to build a company that supported sustainable coffee growers across the globe and offer customers a peek into that world.

With the new Chatham location, their goals haven’t changed, but they have noticed a shift in the local caffeine culture. “People didn’t usually ask where their coffee came from, but with the local movement, people are starting to ask,” says Ferullo. “We work with growers all over the world and I love when I have the opportunity to give customers a deeper look into how their cup of coffee comes about.”

Ainzuain and Ferullo know that coffee culture can be intimidating, so they’ve worked hard to foster accessibility. “If you go to bigger cities, small-scale coffee roasting has really blown up. It’s become nuanced and snobby and unapproachable. We want to maintain approachability. You can ask questions about our coffees and you’ll get an educated answer, or you can just order a cup of coffee, too,” says Ferullo.

With the second location, Ainzuain and Ferullo were able to offer more shifts to their employees. Snowy Owl employs 24 individuals in the summer months, and 13 in the off-season. “We take the responsibility of giving people career paths seriously,” says Ferullo. “We invest in our staff, send them to trainings and give them opportunities to travel. We want to help foster passion if it’s there.”

In addition to providing stable, fulfilling jobs to locals, Ainzuain and Ferullo also support the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy, an organization that they feel is critical to tourism on the Cape. They donate a portion of the proceeds from their shark tooth gear to the AWSC. “The scientific research is important to preserving the economy on the Cape,” says Ferullo. “People come here to go to the beach so we have to figure out how to maintain that while keeping everyone safe.”

Emma Carroll

Operations Manager of Chatham Clothing Bar and Chatham T Kids

Emma Carroll has worked for Chatham Clothing Bar and Chatham T Kids for close to 16 years. In fact, it was her first job ever. “When [owner Sandra Wycoff] first interviewed me, she asked me what I liked about retail, and to be honest, I had no idea. I just needed a summer job,” admits Carroll. “Now I’ve learned so much about retail, but also what it takes to run a successful small business in a seasonal area.”

Carroll left the Cape for college, but always returned to work at Chatham Clothing Bar on breaks and in the summer months. When she graduated, she wasn’t sure what to do next. “I had majored in sociology and I didn’t know what I wanted to do,” she says. Then Wycoff offered her a full-time position to manage the children’s store and she jumped at the opportunity to live and work on the Cape full time.

Today, Carroll can be found on the sales floor helping customers, but she also oversees the inventory department, manages the stores’ schedules and interviews new hires. Her career has taken her full circle, but working at the store made her realize her love for the place she’s called home for most of her life. “From my perspective, the community has changed since I started working here—I viewed Chatham just as my hometown, and now I view it as something completely different.” Now she sees her small town as a close-knit, hard-working community that she’s grateful to be part of. “It’s a beautiful area that we live in. When I was younger, I didn’t appreciate it, but now I feel fortunate to live here year-round and I like that it’s still a small community,” she says. “My mom managed the Candy Manor forever, and my dad does boat carpentry and they have been in the community since they were in their early twenties. I love walking down the street and recognizing people and getting into a conversation.”

Chatham Clothing Bar has relationships with a number of community organizations that Carroll helps manage, including the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy, Chatham Anglers, and the Atwood Museum. Fundraisers vary from year to year, but the shop is always looking for ways to give back.

Wyatt Sullivan

Teacher at Monomoy Regional Middle School

Monomoy Regional Middle School’s seventh grade English teacher Wyatt Sullivan has all the necessary credentials of a good teacher, but he has something else that has proven to be useful when it comes to teaching young Cape Codders—he was born and raised on the Cape. His regional wisdom helps him relate to the students who occupy his classroom each year. “Growing up on Cape Cod presents its own unique set of challenges, and unless you grow up here, you don’t understand what those challenges are,” he says.

One of the greatest challenges—finding a way to make a living on the Cape. The seasonal culture has its limitations, and Sullivan believes that creating a student population that is innovative and adaptable is essential. “You have to diversify yourself and your abilities,” says Sullivan. “You can’t do one thing and one thing only. You have to work various jobs and explore various interests. You have to be adaptable and flexible.”

Sullivan has taught for two years at Monomoy and the adaptability lesson comes up over and over in his curriculum. The students who are most successful are open to new ideas. “My goal is to encourage students to keep an open mind,” he says. “Keep an open mind when it comes to reading a novel, especially when it comes to something that they’ve never read about or that they wouldn’t normally read about.”

Sullivan’s students read “Beyond the Bright Sea,” a novel by Cape Cod author Lauren Wolk. The curriculum for the book was developed by Sullivan’s colleague and mentor, Sarah Cortese. The story is about a 12-year-old girl, Crow, who was adopted, and she is trying to learn about where she came from. “The majority of students find Crow to be annoying because she asks so many questions and pesters people, but the majority of my students also aren’t orphans or in foster care, so I try to get them to think about why Crow is the way she is,” he says. To Sullivan, it’s the unfamiliar perspectives and experiences that are essential to explore. “As a teacher, it’s my job to help students develop empathy for other perspectives,” he says. “We all have other viewpoints, but understanding one that differs from your own is paramount.”

Sullivan has quickly become a popular teacher at Monomoy, and his students’ success is obvious. At the beginning of the year, he has students write a paper, then they write another at the end of the year. For many, their growth is measurable, and Sullivan is quick to point out his students’ achievements to them. “I love showing kids what they think they could not do,” he says. “I love showing kids what their potential is and how capable they are of amazing and great things if they stick to it.”

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