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Harboring A Passion for Helping Our Women (HOW)

Reflections on Retirement

by Irene Rabinowitz

Like so many other Cape Codders who came from elsewhere, when I moved to Provincetown during the winter of 1986/87, there was no real plan for the future.

I'd lived in New York City for sixteen years with a succession of jobs that were mostly about hunting, gathering, and sustenance. There was one job that evoked passion and that was one that I had for two years at the Fortune Society, a non-profit that worked with ex-offenders.

It was the beginning of the AIDS epidemic and a period with high youth crime and I could see that the work we did helped pave the way for better lives for clients, or for some provided a path to death with dignity. Moving here, however, I believed that opportunities for work on the Cape would bring me back to jobs that were solely about making a living, and that I would have to find passion outside of work on the beaches and in the dunes.

But I was wrong.

Now, retiring after more than eighteen years in a job that I truly love, I can look back on the passion that drove me to stay as steady as possible while doing work that can be volatile, heartbreaking, and frustrating, sometimes all at the same time. But in the end, work that nurtured me in a way that jobs rarely do.

When I was hired by the Board of Directors of Helping Our Women, in 1995, it was after working at the AIDS Support Group of Cape Cod (then the Provincetown AIDS Support Group) for six years at the height of the epidemic. I was exhausted by the deaths and the internal strife that shook the organization and the AIDS community.

Swearing off another position in human services, I worked in a music store, did some free-lance editing and resume writing, worked as a drone in a real estate office, and was the absolute worst ad salesperson ever at Provincetown Magazine.

The publisher was a good cheerleader and was very kind despite my terrible production rate.

But then my phone rang with an offer.

The idea that an organization could be created to assist women living with serious illnesses was one that sprouted among a group of visionary women in the early 1990's.

Inspired by one woman's life with cancer, to which she eventually succumbed, the founders looked at the obstacles to wellness and consistent health care for women with life changing diagnoses who resided on the outer Cape: transportation to medical appointments, access to information, isolation, and poverty.

When I was hired the Board gave me free rein to create programs responsive to the needs of those we were serving. That last part is important…responsive to those we were serving.

The model for social services agencies has long been based on creating an organization based on needs, but with program design and implementation in the hands of the staff with little client input. The AIDS epidemic changed that model and this was another opportunity to put the power in the hands of those who were most affected by illness.

This job made me a better listener and taught me how to respond with empathy, not pity, to those who were asking for help.

Women are tenacious; we are resilient, we are the caretakers. When we become sick, we try to figure out how to deal with it on our own. As a person living with diabetes, I do the same.

Self-empowerment is a great word and for some it is the answer; but for most of us, when we are ill or becoming frail due to disease or age, there is a time when a little help can make for an easier life. And that's what we needed to do as an organization; we could not remove the disease, lessen the physical ravages, but we could provide some relief for the practical and emotional challenges that are impediments to maintaining a manageable life.

After eighteen plus years in this position, I am choosing to retire at the age of sixty-six. My Board would have supported any decision I made and they have worked hard to hire a great successor. Helping Our Women will do great and thrive as an organization with values that go beyond any one individual's leadership.

But me? I have always disliked the "next chapter of your life" phrase, but find myself thinking about it. This job, and my years at the ASGCC gave me passion for the mission and the challenge of doing this work on the outer Cape.

Helping Our Women (HOW) is a 501(c)3 community based non-profit organization located in Provincetown, serving Eastham to Provincetown for women with chronic, life threatening and disabling conditions. Services include weekly support groups, financial assistance for income eligible clients and transportation to medical or social service appointments.

We also have an open door policy to assist members of the community with resources, referrals and advocacy.

For more information call 508-487-4357 or email

We live in an area with many folks over sixty, some retired and volunteering many hours based on their passion for a cause and the desire to do something different than the work they did prior to retirement. And there are so many of us oldsters still in full time jobs, running businesses, serving on committees and generally trying to make the Cape a better place for us all.

The freedom that comes from not having to be at a desk every day comes with a tiny bit of dread caused by the unknown. For many of my generation, the passion we found in our work might not be matched. But then again, it might be in unexpected ways.

An open heart, an open mind, and the wonders of life on Cape Cod make that more than a possibility.

Irene Rabinowitz has been a Cape Cod resident for 27 years, working for two local non-profit organizations for most of them. She is a Rhode Island native who spent 16 years in New York City before moving to Provincetown. Since retiring from Helping Our Women, Irene has launched a small consultancy working with non-profits. She is a blogger and writer who hopes to spend part of every year in Israel.

Presently she is blogging periodically for the Times of Israel and will be writing for the Provincetown Banner about her travels this winter. She can be followed on Twitter @irenerabinowitz or can be reached by email at