- Associated Press - Monday, June 26, 2017

CHATHAM, Mass. (AP) - In a quiet neighborhood off Main Street, a half-dozen women sat serenely on a wide front porch.

Friday’s breeze off Mill Pond helped set the mood. So did the sunshine.

But the circumstances of how these women, all from the Philadelphia area, came to be seated together seemed of utmost importance.

“I am absolutely happy to be back,” said Edith Cerebi, 65, a retired teacher.

Along with the house known as “The Porches,” there are two other historic houses on Water Street that Chatham native Avis Chase, who died in 1953, left as a place of respite for working women who are members of the Young Women’s Christian Association of Philadelphia.

The summer get-away program began in 1959, but the houses have been shuttered in the last three years during a lawsuit brought by the YWCA of Boston. A Massachusetts Appeals Court decision last year affirmed ownership of the houses by the Philadelphia YWCA, known now as the Avis Chase Women’s Association of Philadelphia. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court declined in April to consider an appeal by the Boston YWCA.

In 2010, the Philadelphia YWCA lost its affiliation with the national organization. Since 2012, the Boston YWCA has attempted to take over the Chatham houses and respite program, based on its being named a backup beneficiary in Chase’s will.

The court decision in April, though, elicited a sigh of relief from the women who have for years been driving up from Philadelphia for a week or two of relaxation. As the nonprofit group looks to the future, though, finding more like-minded women will be the challenge to help sustain the program for years to come, said president Wandra Powell.

“We just need some younger people,” said Powell, 64, a retired teacher and flight attendant.

For this summer, about 130 women have signed up, although the three houses can accommodate at least twice that, Powell said. The nonprofit had about $2.7 million in assets, from 2014 federal tax records, and the total assessed value of the houses is around $6.2 million. Each property is under a historic preservation restriction, town records showed.

While people from the Philadelphia area might typically go to Atlantic City and sit on the beach and maybe take a few spins on the boardwalk, the options on Cape Cod for sightseeing and eating out are without parallel, the women said.

“It’s really special,” said Molly Munsell, a retired medical transcriber who is also helping run the respite program this year.

Each woman invited to the Chase houses must be a member of the nonprofit organization, at $25 per year, and be at least 18 years old. The cost for one week is $250, with linens provided, in a room with two beds. There’s a washer and dryer available, and the women who stay in the house clean it before they leave.

“Very affordable,” Powell said. She has stayed at the houses one week every other year for the last 25 years, after first being invited by her now 85-year-old aunt. This year, Powell invited Margaret Zukoski, 64, a retired social worker, and Jeanne Ward, 69, a part-time teacher, whom others acknowledged as a designated cook for the week.

“I bought my homegrown organic kale, a big bundle, and we’ve been making smoothies all week,” Ward said. “That’s the kind of cooking we’re doing.”

To spend a low-cost week on Cape Cod, in the company of like-minded women, in “very homelike and comfortable” accommodations, produces a sense of freedom from responsibility, the women said.

“We find ourselves about every evening gathering around the kitchen table and talking,” Zukoski said.

There is a clear emotional component as well, Powell and Cerebi said. After her mother’s death, Powell’s friends brought her to the Chase houses. Likewise, of the group of women with whom Cerebi comes each year, many were first invited at difficult times, such as a divorce or death in the family.

“It was a time to get away and rejuvenate and talk about things that you might not talk about otherwise,” she said.

Plus, Cerebi said with a smile, there are places that must be visited each year, like Buffy’s ice cream store, a five-minute walk away.

Online: https://bit.ly/2tNTGzI

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Information from: Cape Cod (Mass.) Times, https://www.capecodtimes.com


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