Janet Gibson, the driving force behind the treasured “House with a Heart“
After a devastating fire in 2012, the rebuilt house opens its doors on a new chapter
Text and photos by Patricia Abbate
Scituate – At first glance the new beach house is what one would expect to find on this glorious stretch of pristine shoreline — a large, comfortable home with modern appointments, plenty of room for an extended family, decks galore, a beach-inspired design, and a million dollar view of the Atlantic Ocean. But at its core, the home reveals much more. Once inside a peaceful, warm and loving vibe is almost palpable. As many past guests have noted, this is a house that has a heart and once you are virtually hugged by its essence, it’s easy to appreciate the transformative nature of the place. But without the vision, determination, and “can-do” attitude of Janet Gibson, the seaside lot might still be vacant.
Gibson has been at the helm of the charitable non-profit she founded, Alice’s House, since its inception in 1997. An oceanside sanctuary, it welcomes individuals, families, and small groups seeking a gathering place to heal, renew, and reflect in a quiet place by the sea. She created the organization after her friends and the property’s owners, Alice and John Feeney, passed away. They were role models for Gibson, having opened their home for decades to those who had no other place to go or to a friend or stranger who needed support and comfort. “I wanted their legacy to live on. They touched so many lives and created such a special place that I had to see it continue,” she says.
Until a catastrophic wind-driven fire consumed Alice’s House on a cold day in March, 2012, Feeney’s tradition was honored. The gracious old house provided a much needed retreat for many in times of emotional or spiritual need. Operating costs were covered by income from loyal summer renters while those seeking a healing respite were asked only for a donation – an operating system still used today.
Gibson reflects that over the years hearts have always been associated with Alice’s House. “I would find heart-shaped stones and rocks left behind…in the house, on the sea wall, on the porch, ” she recalls. It’s almost prophetic to learn that after the fire swept through the house the only remaining vestige left was part of a brick chimney, standing upright in the smoldering rubble with its silver liner melted into a the distinct shape of a heart.
Mobilizing the organization’s board of directors just months after the loss, Gibson moved forward with a major fundraising campaign to rebuild on what she considers “sacred ground” and to sustain their respite mission. For a small non-profit, this was a daunting task that took a clear vision, many months of planning and years of dedicated follow through. This past December, with much of the new house complete, Gibson hosted a “Holiday Homecoming” inside the new structure and outside within a heated tent. Momentum was building and a new chapter was starting to unfold for Alice’s House.
Just last month the house welcomed its first guests of the season, to Gibson’s delight. One of the first to come back to the special place on the beach was Dorothy
Keville, who has been hosting her ever growing family here for the last 20 years.
“It’s such a very special place and it’s given my family the space and opportunity to be with each other in a restorative, peaceful setting. We gather at the table, eat together, play together, talk and laugh. There’s nothing like it to renew and appreciate your family connections. I’ve seen my grandchildren grow up here, and the memories we share are cherished,”she says. Keville, a professional actor and model, lives in Boston and treasures her family time at Alice’s House. Next July she’s already reserved the same week for her clan to convene here, as she’s making plans to mark her 80th birthday on July 11, 2018. When asked how she finds her stay at the new house, responding brightly, says, “there are more bedrooms and bathrooms, but the same loving spirit is here. It’s the same magical place and it’s so good to be back.”
Pulling the total look of the house together is still a work in progress and has involved many volunteers. The inside walls of the house have become a unique gallery of sorts,as many noted area artists have donated their work. Large, colorful canvases and smaller
pieces from painters, photographers and mixed media artists add to the charm and creative spirit of the house. Some of the pieces will be for sale with proceeds being donated back to the organization. Artists include Mike Sleeper, Marcia Ballou, Sally Dean, Rita Berkowitz, Donna Rosetti Bailey, Maureen Spinale, Jo Killian Wildes, Mary Tennaro, Page Railsback, Peter Whitman, Liz Haywood Sullivan, Sue Kerrigan, Laura Harvey, Gail Loik, Dorothy Penthany and Maureen Brookfield.
Gibson notes that the organization is “blessed to have such a giving and talented group of supporters,” and she is eagerly awaiting the installation of the Alice’s House sign that will be affixed to the front of the house for the finishing touch.
As regular guests return again this summer, new heart shaped rocks are appearing. “It’s incredible,” Gibson remarks, smiling as she discovers a new treasure left behind.
Interested in reserving some time at Alice’s House this summer? There may still be a week or two available, but act quickly.
The three-story house has four bedrooms, central air, a great kitchen for cooking and gathering, a first-floor washer/dryer, an outside enclosed shower, a terraced wrap-around deck, fireplace, large open and airy living space with unobstructed ocean views, and of course, the nurturing spirit of the home that cannot be put into words, only experienced.
Gibson’s work is ongoing, as fundraising efforts continue in order to reduce the substantial construction debt. More events are in the works and friends and supporters have been generous with their donations. As with all charitable non-profits, there are always projects to fund.
If you’d like to reserve Alice’s House, or learn more about becoming a volunteer or donor, or perhaps you know of someone in need who could use the healing energy of this special place for spiritual or emotional support, please call 781-834-8993, or visit the organization’s website: www.AlicesHouse.org. for much more information and to enjoy stories from guests with amazing experiences to share. You’ll be inspired, and Janet Gibson will be there, welcoming you in her own special and heart-felt way.
Photos by Patricia Abbate
Reprinted from the South Shore Senior News August 2017 edition.