“I call her my shining North star,” Lori J. Pinard, Sandwich resident and president of the board of directors for WE CAN, said of the organization’s brand new executive director, Lisa C. Guyon.
WE CAN stands for Women’s Empowerment through Cape Area Networking. The organization helps connect women with legal and social services, offer career counselling and personal growth support, and financial planning. According to its website, WE CAN “empowers Cape Cod women with unique services that inspire hope and bring increased opportunity, self-sufficiency, and stability.”
The women that the organization serve are often in transition following a challenging life event, such as divorce.
Ms. Guyon, a Cape Cod native who has been a friend and donor to WE CAN , left a job as director of community benefits and grants administration for Cape Cod Healthcare to become WE CAN’s executive director.
“It is the only position for which I would have left my previous job,” she said.
Ms. Pinard said, “Lisa has such good connections with Cape Cod people and organizations, and her mindset is to collaborate. She comes from a place of wanting the greater good for everyone involved.”
Volunteer Mary Beth Deehan, who has known Ms. Guyon since before she took the job, said, “She is without a doubt one of the most caring, kind people I have ever met. Whatever she gets involved in, she does it with passion. She’s real.”
Volunteer Myra Killeen said, “Her personality, energy, understanding, and warmth are amazing. She is such an asset for our organization. I work in the office and have been able to witness Lisa’s affect on the staff. She does everything with a nice touch and a sense of humor, and with incredible leadership skills. I have big hopes for the future.”
Ms. Guyon had been on the job just over three months now and in that time she said she has met “thousands” of women in the community “brave enough to share their stories with her,” the short version of which is, “WE CAN saved my life.”
Since 2001, WE CAN has been providing services for women undergoing challenging life transitions. The office, which Ms. Guyon calls “WE CAN World Headquarters,” is in Harwich Port. Currently, 14,000 women call or visit the office each year looking for support and services.
“The pillars of our service are intake navigation and direct referrals,” Ms. Guyon said. “Some women have never used social services before and don’t know where to start. Some, we can serve directly through our free, confidential, services and programs,” she said, naming the Pathmakers mentoring program, personal development workshops, and the Grow program, which supports women-run businesses, as examples.
“We see a lot of women who need legal services. There is a real gap in affordable legal help on the Cape for women in the low-to-moderate income range,” Ms. Guyon said. “We have 47 pro-bono attorneys who volunteer their time.”
Volunteer attorneys, financial professionals, and work support counselors offer WE CAN participants free, one-on-one consultations on a wide range of matters. About 300 volunteers work in the office, run workshops, perform outreach, and act as mentors.
Women who use WE CAN’s services are called “participants,” not “clients,” because the model is participatory, Ms. Guyon said. Volunteers are called “ambassadors”.
“Our services are pretty unique. They empower women to change and stabilize their own lives by giving them the tools to do so,” she said.
As WE CAN gets serious about expanding its services to the four Upper Cape towns, enthusiasm for Ms. Guyon’s experience and leadership abilities seems unanimous.
“Oh my God, she is just wonderful,” Teri L. Cavanagh, chair of the Upper Cape Outreach Committee, said of Ms. Guyon. “She does things from her heart and has an amazing brain. She’s got it all. We are so fortunate.”
The Upper Cape Outreach Committee was formed two years ago with two women from each of the four Upper Cape towns who all had a connection with WE CAN.
“The WE CAN way is to form partnerships, and our goal is to find out who our strategic partners on the Upper Cape will be,” Ms. Cavanagh said. “We offer services that don’t duplicate others on the Cape.”
When looking to expand into a new geographical area, like the Upper Cape, Ms. Guyon said WE CAN looks to see “who is doing what? Where do we fit in? How do we promote WE CAN and complement other organizations?”
Forty percent of the year-around population of Cape women live in Falmouth, Bourne, Sandwich, and Mashpee.
“The need is great; the number of women served increases every year,” Ms. Cavanagh said. “Our committee is not looking to fundraise, but to get the word out that WE CAN is on the Upper Cape.”
The outreach committee is also recruiting a new group of professionals on the Upper Cape, such as attorneys, bankers, and financial planners, to volunteer their time.
To draw participants, ambassadors are distributing flyers and posters where women are likely to shop or have appointments and where they have a presence at the Bourne Food Pantry and Christ the King Food Pantry in Mashpee, Ms. Cavanagh said.
WE CAN has been partnered with the Falmouth Service Center since 2015, a partnership Ms. Guyon called “organic and natural.”
“This is the third full year and our relationship with WE CAN and it has been amazing” Kerin S. Delany, deputy director of the service center said. “They are a huge resource.”
“We are increasing our efforts on the Upper Cape,” said Ms. Cavanagh, who lives in Bourne. “There is a real need for space to hold workshops and for one-on-one consultations.”
Starting this July, free legal consultations will begin at the Jonathan Bourne Public Library once a month.
Ms. Guyon said, “WE CAN seeks to co-locate its services with other non-profits where we share populations, to expand and complement the services.
“The co-location model breaks down barriers by putting services in one location, and is the most cost-efficient way,” she said, adding that partnerships take effort, and that they work best when everyone is invested in the same way.
Falmouth resident and WE CAN board member Beverly Tilden said, “I have to say that Lisa has already made a huge difference, in her ability to move people to work together and focus on which real goals they want to accomplish.
“WE CAN is almost 20 years old. Moving services to the Upper Cape is new. Lisa is helping us take the organization to the next level,” she said.
Ms. Pinard, WE CAN board president, said this year’s SandwichFest provided an opportunity for WE CAN to forge a new relationship with the Sandwich Women’s Club in a first collaborative outreach effort.
At the last minute, WE CAN asked if there was a way for them to have a presence at SandwichFest.
“The Sandwich Women’s Club welcomed us with open arms to share their booth. The club’s president, Danielle Moore, got us a table and chairs. We were stronger doing outreach together. It was such an easy collaboration,” Ms. Pinard said.
This fall will see the start of “friend raisers”—small, informal, gatherings at people’s homes or women-owned businesses that Ms. Guyon will attend with the intention of enlarging the core of WE CAN’s ambassadors.
“We are very excited to continue to build the model, which is to serve women from the bridges to Provincetown,” Ms. Cavanagh said. “We are putting down deep roots to realize that vision.”
Ms. Pinard said, “With Lisa leading our organization, the expansion we foresee on the Upper Cape is more viable than it would be with someone less involved. The women we serve are in challenging places. To get them from point A to point B strengthens everybody in the community.”