Chris Perry Column: It’s a Very, Very, Very Fine House

Chris Perry •

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Tuesday’s opening school bell was a welcome relief for many across the island. But there’s one more opening bell to ring and that will take place this coming Wednesday when Pauline Proch opens the doors to “Our House.”

“It’s an exciting time of the year for all of us”, said Proch, who serves as executive director. Proch, along with property manager Ed May joyfully plan to welcome any Nantucket student with a place to feel safe and free to develop lifelong skills.

“This is our second year,” Proch said. “In year one, we learned patterns, got our feet wet, and quickly realized there was a growing need for this type of after-school environment where high school kids feel comfortable. We know life can be overwhelming at times and ‘Our House’ is a very different environment from anything that has ever been tried before.

“This is a community effort,” she added. “These young adults will take ownership and have the opportunity to learn recreational, social, and educational skills necessary to succeed,” Proch said with a smile which everyone around Nantucket is familiar - especially those assisting Proch during her 10-plus years at the Community School.

However, behind that smile, there is a story to be told of a lifelong dream - a family dedicated to an idea - and a random conversation with a friend in a parking lot that helped bring “Our House” to fruition.

Most everyone is familiar with Tom and Pauline Proch and their two boys - Cody and Michael - now 24 and 26. Their boys grew up on Nantucket; but roughly eight years ago, “It was Cody who started the conversation about the need for a place where high school kids could go - feel safe - and have adults listen,” added the proud mother.

From that conversation, “We just couldn’t let the idea go away. Oftentimes, we talked about a vision at the dinner table but we could never truly take the next step,” Proch lamented.

“After my father died, I was having lunch in town with a good friend, Teckie Shackelford. We were standing in the parking lot getting ready to leave when I mentioned this idea to her. It had been festering in my mind for years. The next thing I know, Teckie has me over at 5 Wherowhero Lane and meeting with the owners, Jacques Zimicki and Joan Stockman, who had decided to put the property on the market during the early part of the summer in ’21,” reminisced Proch.

The property had some sentimental value to Tom and Pauline Proch. Their son, Cody, had volunteered during the summer as a counselor at a camp for adults struggling with cognitive and physical limitations at the same Wherowhero address. Fondly known as “The Big House” or “The Wedding House,” little did Pauline know that the property also held some sentimental value to the owners too.

Fast forward several years later when the property went on the market and interested buyers lined up immediately. Severa offers over the asking price were made to Zimicki and Stockman, but at the same time, Teckie put her wheels in motion. With very little time to officially organize a true, formal offer, Shackelford presented Proch’s dream to the owners and they loved it. Jacques and Joan opted to pull the property from the market and sit down with Pauline to hear her vision in more detail.

“Frankly, there was no rhyme or reason why this was all happening”, said Proch thinking back fondly of the generous turn of events.

“I think I went to the house two or three times with Teckie before things really got serious. Teckie and the owners loved the idea and together, they worked to put the property under agreement at less than what was previously offered. There were some legal hurdles to work through such as securing a not-for-profit status, but simply put, Teckie bought the property and eventually transferred it over to our LLC at no cost. And on Octo. 3, 2022, we quietly opened the doors to ‘Our House’.”

After touring the two-acre site, it was clear “Our House” is “Everyone’s House.” Proch’s original idea has quickly mushroomed into a unique opportunity for Nantucket’s youth to take advantage of something never seen before on-island. While open to all, it is primarily geared toward the high school population that is looking for a safe, after-school alternative.

Ironically, it appears that bits and pieces of some of the earlier, unsuccessful attempts to fill this void have provided Proch and company with some valuable information. Additionally, the traditional appeal of the Nantucket Boys & Girls Club and its effective style - which is more popular for middle school-aged children - has positively influenced the unique course “Our House” has chosen to follow.

But it’s clear: Proch wants more for Nantucket’s youth.

“I feel we are on a good path in year two. There will always be adults on campus - 24/7. In fact, we will have five Nantucket teachers mostly in their first or second year of teaching staying in rooms in the main house. As part of their ‘rent’, they will give back via tutoring, mentoring and helping us develop successful partnerships. We will work with counselors at the high school. We will pick up kids at school and drop them off at home; and if they want to stay for dinner, we encourage that too,” Proch said, barely taking a breath as she ran through a litany of opportunities available to those who come by the site only a short distance away from the public school campus yet quietly hidden off South Shore Road.

Proch went on: “We have over a dozen break-out rooms for music, art, studying, media, computers, or just a quiet place to go and read. Speakers have been invited to address the kids. Some of the school athletic teams have been to ‘Our House’ for dinners. We have partnered with EZIA Athletic Club and Next Level Water Sports to expose the kids to these types of activities and career opportunities. One of the things we are working on now is a type of investment club where the kids learn to build a portfolio, learn about financial planning, credit and debit cards, scholarships, and grants for college. In fact, if you need help with college applications and transportation to a college interview, ‘Our House’ can assist.”

As I walked around the site with property manager Ed May, who was inspecting some deck repairs, I noticed a J. Brown Builders truck swing into the parking lot and unload some much-needed furniture.

Ed quickly pointed out: “Yes. That’s the community coming through again. Whether it is assisting with the carpentry or having Marine Lumber and Shepley Lumber donate materials, we have been blessed with some terrific community-wide support”.

May continued: “We have had bikes donated. Nantucket Golf donated a van to help us transport kids around the island. Westmoor Club has helped. We are always looking for more but the response has been overwhelming”.

It did not take long for Proch to jump back into the conversation.

“Let me give you a perfect example. Mark Correia stopped by last week after hearing about ‘Our House’. He is a neighbor too, just around the corner. It is his goal to partner with us and develop a kind of ‘trade school’ where local contractors and subcontractors volunteer their services and expertise to help mentor Nantucket kids. He has already secured a number of his fellow tradesmen and it is this type of local support that makes me think we are going to make a difference,” Proch proudly added.

Obviously, there are expenses, hurdles, and a stigma that may be associated with “non-traditional” after-school programs. Proch along with the Our House board is actively fundraising, but they need to get the word out to the entire community more effectively.

“Teckie is our founder. Clearly, she shares our vision. But we have also made a point of wanting a local influence on the board that represents our school district as well as having seasonal residents who care about kids on Nantucket.”

Proch continued, “It is important to remember that 45 percent of the local population is living at or near what is considered ‘poverty level’. We need to have a voice for them. To date, the response has been overwhelming and I can’t thank everyone enough.”

As we all know, it takes a village to raise a child. Thanks to Proch and many others who have helped along the way, the youth in Nantucket’s village now have a house.

It’s their house…

It’s “Our House.”

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