Oak Grove Cape Verdean Cultural Center poised for construction at long last

Jul 20, 2021

After more than 15 years of persistence and hard work, the Oak Grove Cape Verdean Cultural Center should be able to welcome visitors to its newly renovated space sometime in 2023, according to the community leaders behind the project.

The group has been working toward its goal of establishing a Cape Verdean Cultural Center at the Oak Grove School for years because of the location’s importance within the Cape Verdean community. The school, located at 314 Onset Ave., was built in 1913 and the vast majority of its students were Cape Verdean.

On June 16, after a few false starts and setbacks, the Town of Wareham announced it would be awarding the cultural center’s 501 (c)(3) nonprofit organization a 5-year lease on the building.

Tiny Lopes — who has been working on the project since its inception alongside many others — said the lease was “a long time coming” and that the process required patience and understanding. 

“It’s been a journey since 2003,” Lopes said. “It’s a relief. It’s ours. We’ve felt all along it’s ours, and the town has been very supportive in that sense.” 

Now, with a lease in hand, the group plans to renovate the basement of the Oak Grove School, where the cultural center will be housed.

The group has plans for a museum that will house and display cultural “artifacts and memorabilia” and also hopes to create a community space where ESL and GED classes and other mentorship and skills programs can be offered. 

“The Cape Verdean story hasn’t been told yet,” Lopes said. He explained that the museum would display historical items, art, photos, videos and more. “There’ve been many members of the community who’ve contacted us and said ‘Tiny, when you’re ready to get it I have this from the Old Country and that from the Old Country.’ [...] We could fill up the whole building with stuff,” he said. 

The goal of the cultural center is to keep the local Cape Verdean culture alive. “We just want to make sure basically that we don’t lose the culture and that we bring the youngsters in to educate and inform them,” he said. 

In addition, Lopes said the center will ideally act as a central, accessible hub for people to connect with various agencies that offer educational and employment opportunities. 

To support the renovation project, the cultural center will be fundraising and seeking donations.

“We surely need financial support,” Lopes said, noting that anyone who wants to support the cultural center can send a check made out to “Oak Grove Cape Verdean Cultural Center, Inc.” to P.O. Box 1100, Onset, MA 02558.

Construction work will only take place on the weekends until the project is finished, he added, so the educators and children at the Wareham Head Start program — which operates out of the main floor of the Oak Grove School building — will not be disturbed. 

Even as construction begins, South Shore Community Action Council’s Wareham Head Start child care program is more than welcome to continue operating out of the building, Lopes said.

He emphasized that the leaders behind the cultural center have no desire to see the program leave its home. 

“We appreciate and acknowledge what they do, because the community needs it,” Lopes said. “We want them to stay.” 

The South Shore Community Action Council submitted an application to lease the Oak Grove School from the town at the same time as Oak Grove Cape Verdean Cultural Center, Inc., and ultimately lost the lease to the cultural center. 

Lopes said the cultural center plans to offer the same lease terms to the child care program that the town had maintained. 

“The community needs to have that facility stay there if they can because most of the immediate community utilizes it,” he said. “We want them to know they’re more than welcome to stay.”

To keep up with progress on the Oak Grove Cape Verdean Cultural Center, visit www.oakgrovecvcc.org or find the group’s Facebook page by searching “Oak Grove Cape Verdean Cultural Center, Inc.”

Lopes estimated that it would take about two years to renovate the Oak Grove School’s 4,034 square foot basement and to open the cultural center to visitors. 

“We’re not going to let our community be forgotten,” Lopes said, steadfast in his commitment to building the cultural center after 18 years of work on the project.