Interview with Wide-Open World’s John Marshall

After reading and reviewing the well-written and thoughtful (as well as, thought-provoking) Wide-Open World: How Volunteering Around the Globe Changed One Family’s Lives Forever, I had a few questions for author, John Marshall. He graciously answered the questions that I sent him via email.

Marshall is a nine-time Emmy Award-winning writer, producer, and director. Mainers will recognize him from seeing him on local television stations, like WPXT and from his work writing and hosting a number of weekly television programs. Wide-Open World is Marshall’s first book.

How does a family know if they have what it takes for a journey like this? Were there any contingency plans in case you found out after four weeks that you and your family weren’t cut out for it?

For any family considering their own Wide-Open World adventure, you can always start small. Add a few days of volunteering to your next vacation and see how it goes. Most importantly, get every family member on board before you ship out. Dragging someone on a trip like this will not produce the best results. In our case, once we got the kids to buy into the idea, we committed to a six-month journey. The truth is…there were several times on the road that our kids asked to go home; difficult homesick times where a comfy bed, a hot shower, or a familiar face was all they wanted. Without a real commitment at the start, it would have been all too easy to pack it in at the first challenging stop along the way. For me, the length of the trip was as important as the individual volunteer opportunities, allowing the world enough time to have a deep impact on us all.

As a follow-up, are there certain types of people/families that are better suited for an adventure like this one? Any kind of prerequisites that you’d say help prepare you to take off for six months or more?

The #1 prerequisite is simply your decision to go. Not a passive dream of going or a desire to maybe get out the door one day, but your ironclad, set in stone, decision to hit the road. Once you make this decision, you can find a way to make a trip like this happen. As for prerequisites or certain types of people who might enjoy this kind of travel…it helps to be flexible. Things go wrong on the road. Buses are slow and uncomfortable. Accommodations are less than stellar. Where we went it was hot most of the time. One day in Thailand it was 125 degrees! And there are bugs and simple meals and toilets of every conceivable variety. If you are looking to judge every situation by Western standards and prefer room service to actual service, this might not be for you. That said, there is a world of difference between comforting a crying orphan and tipping your favorite bartender. So if you can be flexible, the rewards we discovered far outweighed the challenges.

Would you say that for most of us, getting outside of our “cocoon” in any type of fashion for an extended period helps change how we see the rest of the world? What was the biggest “aha” moment for you in that regard?

I think it’s easy to forget, at a very basic level, that we are alive. That our time is passing quickly. The routines of life are very hypnotic. They put us to sleep, in many ways. But travel is the opposite of routine. Every day is new. Every new experience requires your full attention. So this is one powerful reminder we discovered on the road. Additionally, volunteering in the developing world is a jolt of reality. It’s easy to sit at home and talk about the poor, to be sad in a general sense about world hunger or global poverty. But when I actually met real people who are poor and hungry…they were not what I was imagining. As for “aha” moments…orphaned children had the most profound impact on me. Before leaving home, I thought of them as some general, faceless mass of regrettable humanity. But when I got to know them, one on one, as children, it’s impossible for me to return home and live as if they do not exist.

I thought you did a good job of portraying your children, not as saints, but as typical suburban, middle-class kids, privileged compared to the children you met on your trip. You touched on it a bit at the end of the book, but how have Jackson and Logan continued to build on the experiences detailed in the book?

Yeah, a trip like ours can have a powerful impact on teenagers, and we certainly saw that in our kids. Our son Logan was 17 at the time and our daughter Jackson was 14. Today, Jackson is in college, studying to be a doctor and hopes to be a part of the Doctors Without Borders program, serving in the developing world. Logan has spent several years in South America, learning Spanish, volunteering and writing a blog about finding your inner superhero. Before the trip, they were already great kids and motivated people, but I feel the Wide-Open World experience magnified their best qualities and opened their hearts a little bit wider.

What were the deciding factors in traveling around the world, rather than picking a few locations, or even staying stateside?

Traveling around the world is a dream. It’s one of those long-shot bucket list items that a lot of people write down but few people ever actually do. Like running a marathon or bungee jumping in Australia. Wouldn’t it be amazing? For us, we were motivated to make it happen and so we went. But we are nothing special in that regard. If you’re interested in how to make a trip like this happen for you and your family, I wrote a chapter at the back of the book on how to volunteer your way around the world. Truly, if we can do it, so can you. If it feels like too much, try a two-week volunteer vacation and see if it doesn’t touch your heart. Or volunteer in your own neighborhood. In many ways, I believe volunteering is almost selfish because you receive so much more than you give. As I say at the end of the book: You will not change the world. But the world will definitely change you.

I understand that you’ve gone back and spent time in India at the orphanage you wrote about in the book. What was it about that place that drew you back?

I went back to India, thinking I would volunteer my way around the country, maybe write about it as a follow up book. But I ended up very sick at the start and went back to the The Good Shepherd Agricultural Mission (a large orphanage on the Nepal border), which was the only place where I actually knew people. Once there, it was the kids who really nursed me back to health, and I ended up spending most of 2014 living with them. From terrible beginnings and hopeless situations, these kids are now filled with incredible joy and an infectious love that is hard to describe. It was so inspiring to me in fact, I’ve launched a non-profit called New Orphanage that looks to find and support the best orphan projects worldwide. I also hope to have my next book be about my time at the orphanage. Like Wide-Open World, I hope it helps readers see the difference one person can make in the world. And the difference the world can make in each of our lives.

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Book Review: Wide-Open World

John Marshall’s life had been tracking a predictable middle-class story line—a house in the suburbs, married to the same woman for 20 years, two teenage children—yet he sensed that something was amiss. There had to be more to life than what he was experiencing.

Rather than resorting to skirting around the edges of change, or even making a myriad of resolutions that are akin to a magic talisman or lucky rabbit’s foot—losing weight, joining a gym, or even finding a different job—Marshall’s prescription called him and his family towards something  much more radical.

Wide-Open World: How Volunteering Around the Globe Changed One Family’s Lives Forever, is the story about Marshall and his family spending part of 2010 traveling, volunteering in various places on what became a global odyssey. This experience broadened Marshall’s and his family’s perspective by taking them outside themselves and their comfortable surroundings.

By all measures, Marshall was successful in his work. An award-winning television personality in Maine, and at the time (2009), he was serving as a creative director at a Portland television station. And like many American men, Marshall had been socialized to ignore his intuition and tamp down his feelings. That left the usual default of work and digging deeper into his career.  Traca, his wife, was also experiencing dissonance. She sought meaning in yoga, shamanism, and Reiki therapy. Meanwhile, his two children, Logan, 17, and Jackson, 14, were immersed in the daily routine of high school, friends, and his daughter especially—the pull of the virtual world.

"Wide-Open World," by John Marshall
“Wide-Open World,” by John Marshall

A short yoga vacation with Traca to an ashram offered Marshall a glimpse of what might be possible. On the flight home to Maine, four words were on his mind:  a year of service. What would that look like, and was it even possible? They were about to find out.

Not to make light of the logistics, but they weren’t as challenging as most people think. In fact, Marshall does a great service to readers, by walking them through some scenarios at the end of the book. Ultimately, it’s about letting go and giving in to the possibilities. Soon, the Marshalls would be on their way, on a vacation trip different than any typical family vacation—this one built around service and volunteering.

The initial stop on their itinerary was the Osa Wildlife Sanctuary, an animal orphanage in the jungles of Costa Rica. It’s clear from the start that Marshall and family aren’t in suburban Maine anymore.

Marshall never comes across in his narrative as some kind of super-righteous, holier-than-thou moralist. Instead, he lends his own experiences to his readers, pointing them towards new possibilities.

At each subsequent location, Marshall along with his wife and children were engaged in volunteer work for a part of each day. In Costa Rica, it was feeding abandoned animals, raking paths, cleaning cages and helping out with tourists who visited on day tours. After their chores and activities were done, the family had the remainder of each day free to explore their new surroundings.

From Costa Rica, it’s on to New Zealand and work on an organic farm; next, a primary school in Thailand where they teach English to local students in Bangkok; then, an orphanage in India.

All good things must come to an end. After six months, it’s back home to the life they’d left behind in Gorham. Marshall is honest about what the return was like. All four family members were changed, but this didn’t mean that the return landing wouldn’t be somewhat bumpy.

Each family member learns new things about themselves during their time away. For John, it was time to face realities in his life that he’d been putting off and hoping, perhaps magically, that the time away might heal. This was also true for his wife, Traca. Jackson and Logan found meaning in serving others.

For anyone contemplating a radical life-change, and wrestling with the realities of making it happen, Marshall’s book is a great place to start.

When purchasing John’s Book we hope you’ll consider one the many local booksellers.

Longfellow Books

Gulf Of Maine Books

Nonesuch Books

(if we missed your favorite bookstore, please let us know and we’ll be happy to add it to the list)

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New Beginnings Announces Plans for New Youth Drop-In Center

New Beginnings, Inc., the Lewiston-based nonprofit serving homeless and runaway youth announced that they have raised over $1 million of the $1.25 million needed to renovate the former Jewish Community Center on College Street in Lewiston.

The announcement was made with over 50 members from the community on-hand on Friday, February 13th, in a noontime ceremony. This will now serve as the home of the New Beginnings Youth Drop-In Center.

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The announcement was made jointly with the Androscoggin County Chamber of Commerce. Chip Morrison, Chamber president, served as emcee during Friday’s ceremony. Morrison mentioned the special place that the Jewish Community Center holds for many local residents.

“So many people in this community have positive memories of this place—as a daycare, community center, and so much more,” said Morrison. “I am just thrilled to see that it will soon come back to life and serve families again.”

The new facility will house New Beginnings’ Outreach Program. It will also be a place where young people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness can come for basic needs—things like a warm meal, a hot shower, and a safe space off the streets. The Outreach program has outgrown their current space in downtown Lewiston.

Kristen Cloutier, Lewiston Ward 5 city councilor spoke to the successful fundraising efforts behind the capital campaign by New Beginnings.

“It’s impressive that New Beginnings has already raised $1 million of their goal of $1.25 million,” said Cloutier. “I’m happy to be here this morning celebrating a new beginning and a safe haven for countless youth in this community.”

New Beginnings purchased the College Street building at the end of 2011. Plans are for it to also serve as their new agency home and headquarters. There will also be space for community and nonprofit classrooms, and a full gymnasium big enough to accommodate a variety of services, events, as well as community-wide trainings.

Support for New Beginnings’ building campaign has come from local businesses, individuals, and private foundations—including the John T. Gorman Foundation and a $500,000 grant from the Next Generation Foundation of Maine.

“This impact of this grant is enormous for our agency and the 700 young people we serve each year,” said New Beginnings Executive Director Bob Rowe. “Before this award, we planned to complete the renovation in phases over several years.  We are so grateful to the Next Generation Foundation for allowing us to proceed with renovating the whole project at once, so that we can focus on our core mission of helping vulnerable youth and families.”

More Information about the project can be found at the New Beginnings website, or by calling Development Director, Rachel Spencer-Reed, at 207-795-4077.

New Beginnings is an Electricity Maine  Power To Help partner. As a Maine owned company, we share in the responsibility to build community.      In addition to financial support, Electricity Maine also provides other resources to help non-profits be successful, including technical expertise in areas such as marketing and IT, as well as volunteers for a variety of activities.

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Waterville Creates! Offers Up Arts and Culture

Downtowns in the United States began emptying out during the 1960s and early 1970s. This suburban exodus, encouraged by federal programs like urban renewal, along with the weakening of America’s social contract, left places like Waterville with urban-like infrastructure and buildings, but little economic vitality centered in its downtown district.

With two exits off Maine’s major north/west thruway, Interstate 95, Waterville looks just like countless other places located along America’s car corridors. Retail establishments and chain eateries with their ubiquitous drive-thrus make it all-too-easy for motorists to jump off, and never take the time to visit the rest of the city, including its historic downtown.

With the proliferation of strip malls and big box centers along Kennedy Memorial Drive and the section of Main Street near the interstate, Waterville’s once vibrant retail district bordering the Kennebec River was left with vacant storefronts and not much else to lure visitors. This accelerated downtown’s downward economic spiral. The trend towards sprawl development has continued unabated for the past 40 years in this Central Maine city, an hour north of Portland.

Like other mill communities located along the rivers of Northern New England, Waterville was once a textile center, its mills occupying prime real estate along the waterfront. During the first part of the 19th century, C.F. Hathaway saw that Waterville’s surrounding farming communities were a source of cheap labor. That and the loyalty of a workforce that was 95 percent female, kept America’s oldest men’s shirtmaker humming along after others had closed. Then, at the dawn of the 21st century, a globalized economy and the lure of even cheaper offshore labor deemed Waterville’s workforce and average hourly wages of $7.50 too costly for maximizing profits. The Warnaco Group, Inc., the company the bought it to squeeze out the last remaining profits, tried closing the factory in 1996. A group of investors was secured by then Maine governor, John McKernan, managing to limp along until closing for good in 2001, after 165 years.

Nate Rudy, the newly-hired executive director of Waterville Creates!, a downtown-based nonprofit focused on facilitating closer collaboration among the city’s arts groups, is bullish about the role of arts and culture in reviving downtown Waterville. He also touched on national trends and demographics that are once again viewing urban space and walkability in a favorable light. Millennials in particular want places where they can live and work in close proximity to one another.

“After World War II, people were looking to get as far away as possible from those dense neighborhoods that they grew up in,” said Rudy.

Rudy arrives at this new role in Waterville after serving for nearly four years as Gardiner’s economic and community development director. Waterville Creates! gathers a diverse mix of arts and community groups in Waterville, and across the Kennebec Valley region. The new organization was formed under the umbrella of the Waterville Regional Arts and Community Center (WRACC), a nonprofit group that owns The Center building at 93 Main Street, in what was once the former Sterns Department Store. Rudy, indicating that this a re-branding of sorts, also recognizes the importance of partnering more intentionally in Waterville.

“Technically, we are still the Waterville Regional Arts and Community Center—doing business as Waterville Creates!—so there’s no real change there,” Rudy said. “However, arts and culture have the potential to be a community and economic driver for the City of Waterville and the Kennebec Valley. The role of Waterville Creates! will be to promote the existing arts and cultural resources and organizations who are part of this community.”

Jennifer Olsen, director for Waterville Main Street, serves on the Waterville Creates! board. She is excited about this new emphasis on arts and culture, and the push to bring even greater vitality to the Main Street business district at the heart of Waterville’s downtown.

“I think Nate’s economic development background, as well as his passion for the arts make him an ideal fit for this new position,” said Olsen.

Waterville Main Street is a partner organization of Waterville Creates!. Their role since 2001, when the city was designated a Main Street Maine community, has been to advance efforts in developing downtown into a thriving and energetic commercial hub, centered on social, cultural and entertainment destinations.

“Waterville has some wonderful assets and arts infrastructure,” said Olsen. “We have the Opera House, as well as the influence and role that Colby (College) plays in promoting the arts,” she said.

Olsen mentioned that Waterville serves as a regional downtown, drawing people from across the river in Winslow, as well as from surrounding communities. She sees the city’s potential as a destination for historic architecture, with events like the Maine International Film Festival, entering its 17th year, and potential to expend the arts and cultural activities spearheaded by Waterville Creates!.

Mural-Downtown Waterville
Mural-Downtown Waterville

Rudy has concerns about the ancillary way that downtowns have been viewed by economic developers, some local business leaders, and policymakers. Regional economic decisions, like FirstPark, centered economic hopes on suburban business models involving one person driving one automobile—at the very same time that downtown leases were affordable and available. The suburban build-out that’s taken place over the past three decades bypassed tangible assets in the community.

“I think there’s been a real lapse in aesthetics in public policy in the planning and building of our physical environment,” said Rudy. “I think this is manifested—with the worst examples of this in terms of form and aesthetics—in the urban renewal that occurred during the 1960s.”

This was when economic vitality began leaving Waterville’s downtown, as well as former downtown districts across the state and nation.

The community’s mill structures, like the former Hathaway mill, and the death of textile manufacturing, also contributed to the hollowing out of downtown business districts like Waterville’s.

“Without sounding overly political on this—globalization played a role, as did cost-cutting, and corporate structures that were focused more on short-term profits, rather than people and workers and what was best for communities,” he said.

Assets like the ones downtown Waterville has could be leveraged in attracting a younger demographic to the area at a time when Maine is growing older by the day. Rudy ticked off several of these:

  • Waterville’s physical proximity to the rivers; the convergence of the Sebasticook and Kennebec Rivers (just east of the Carter Memorial Bridge, between Waterville and Winslow)
  • The mills and downtown’s historic architecture
  • The sense of place that Waterville’s past history represents, giving residents a sense of who they are
  • Downtown represents ties to that past, and the history of how communities were formed

Part of the conversation also broached an important topic when discussing “arts and culture,” and how sometimes, people feel that they don’t know enough about them to participate in events centered in that sphere. Rudy elaborated on this, especially in relation to the role Waterville Creates! plays in including, rather than excluding people.

“The challenge becomes how to create places that are inclusive and that attract people that aren’t necessarily all like one another,” said Rudy. “Too often, you have these ‘educated’ discussions that can be intimidating and leave many on the fringes of the conversation.”

Rudy thinks that while it’s essential that Waterville has these conversations, incorporating them into an array of arts and cultural events, along with education about “what is art, it’s equally important that they remain inclusive and open to everyone.

“I think these are important discussions to have in the community,” said Rudy. “I also think Waterville Creates! is the facilitator that can bring people together in having them.”

Waterville Creates! being able to facilitate this offers the potential of bringing new energy to Waterville’s downtown. There is also the real potential represented by this, because in our 21st century world, there are fewer and fewer places where this is happening. Also, downtowns like Waterville’s are attractive to both younger Mainers, seniors, as well as others, looking for places where they can live, work, and connect, without relying on automobiles to make this happen.

Waterville Creates!, focused on Arts and Culture in downtown Waterville.
Waterville Creates!, focused on Arts and Culture in downtown Waterville.

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Capitalists with Heart

The Business of Lighting

In 1918, Portland’s Herman Holmes opened Eastern Electric on Plum Street. Many homes were converting to electricity and the market was wide open. Three years later, Ronald, now president of the company, changed the name to Holmes Electric.

The invention of commercially viable incandescent lighting is credited to Thomas Edison. The year was 1879. Over the next forty years, most urban homes in the U.S. began installing electric lights. Darkness was banished to the corners of American life forever.

In 1918, Portland’s Herman Holmes opened Eastern Electric on Plum Street. Many homes were converting to electricity and the market was wide open. Three years later, Ronald, now president of the company, changed the name to Holmes Electric. This was the early incarnation of what we know as the House of Lights today. Now located just off Payne Road at Roundwood in Scarborough, the fourth-generation business is closing in on 100 years of providing lighting and lighting fixtures to illuminate homes in Maine and New England.

Family-owned businesses currently account for 50 percent of U.S. domestic product and generate 60 percent of our country’s employment. Studies have shown about 35 percent of Fortune 500 companies are family-controlled and represent the full spectrum of American companies from small business to major corporations. While it’s not rare to find an American business that’s family-owned, it is extremely rare to find one continuing into the fourth generation of ownership, like House of Lights. In fact, only about 3 percent of all family businesses operate into the fourth generation and beyond.

Successful businesses evolve with the times. What makes it increasingly rare for businesses to remain with one family is that leadership must be multifaceted, requiring adaptability. Also, the 21st century world of retail is ever-changing and highly competitive, with businesses like House of Lights facing new challenges all the time.

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I interviewed Cindy Holmes Andrews, House of Lights’ current owner, and the great-granddaughter of the company’s founder, just before Christmas.

Andrews told me that she never expected to be running the family business when she was growing up.

“Growing up, I was mainly an observer, watching my dad,” said Andrews.

Andrews’ father, Lloyd, also wasn’t groomed to for the family’s business, either.

“After high school, Dad attended Maine Maritime Academy—he actually wanted to pursue a career in portrait photography,” Andrews said. “His father died and he ended up taking over the business.”

Holmes may have been a reluctant business owner, after buying out his mom, Betty, but he grew into that role. Over the years, the company expanded, opened a wholesale operation, and then, in the mid-1950s, the Room of Lights opened on Cumberland Avenue. There were also showrooms in Bangor and Bedford, New Hampshire at one point.

Andrews told me that the Room of Lights was launched by Lloyd for his wife, Janet. This was in 1955.

“Mom enjoyed her traditional homemaker role,” said Andrews. “The House of Lights was a nice outlet for her and she worked there part-time in the retail showroom. Mom was also really analytical and organized. She ended up taking on the role of the company’s Fortran computer programmer and worked full-time getting the system up and running,” Andrews added.

House of Lights has had a long run as a local retailer, selling quality lights and lighting. However, the company’s more important legacy might be its role in the community, giving back in various ways.

Andrews mentioned that her father recognized that as a business leader, he needed to get involved in more than simply running a business. Also, Holmes had developed a friendship through his involvement in Junior Achievement with another owner of a family-owned business—Leon Gorman, of L.L. Bean.

“Dad met Gorman at Junior Achievement,” said Andrews. He understood about being involved in the community, but Gorman’s influence really made an impression. This was the start of House of Lights being so active out in the community.”

Lloyd Holmes would serve on Junior Achievement’s board of directors from 1970 to 1977. In 1978, Mr. Holmes created the first United Way run, a fundraiser for the organization. In 1987, he received the United Way of America’s Alexis de Tocqueville Award, the organization’s highest honor for voluntary service to community and country.

Succession Planning

Andrews met her first husband, Bert Andrews, when both were students at Bates College, in Lewiston. After graduation from Bates and getting married, Bert spent a year working at Bowdoin in their chemistry department, while furthering his education and then, the couple moved to Hanover, New Hampshire where Bert completed graduate school at Dartmouth. Then, they returned to Maine and her husband began working for her father at Holmes Distributors, a wholesale electrical business that her father had started.

Reflecting on the challenges of being part of a family-owned business, Andrews spoke about the career path that leads you to joining the family business.

“What a lot of people don’t know about is that for many, this isn’t their first choice for a career. Both Bert and I were biology majors at Bates. He had to learn new skills when he went to work for my father,” she said.

Once he settled into the business, however, Andrews said he was a natural fit with her father.

“When Bert first got involved with my father, it was a very positive development,” said Andrews. He and my dad got along very well; they were like father and son. At the same time, as well as Bert and my Dad got along, it was hard for my father to sit back and watch Bert running the company (he became president in 1987) he had been at the helm of for so long. So there are those tensions related to family businesses,” she said.

After being a stay-at-home mom to her four children, Andrews was forced into a new role, when Bert passed away from cancer in 2002—taking over and running her family’s business.

“Remember—my background was biology—I’d also been a stay-at-home mom. I also didn’t have a lifetime of experience like Dad, or Bert’s experience, either,” said Andrews. “I also knew next to nothing about the lighting industry.”

However, Andrews assumed her role and has relished the experience over the past several years. Not only has she taken the Scarborough showroom in a whole new direction, she’s also continued the legacy of community involvement begun by her dad and carried on by her first husband.

“Being out in the community and doing community service was something that Dad advocated for with Bert and I,” said Andrews. “I was a loaned executive for United Way, and Bert followed in Dad’s footsteps by being active on several community boards.”

The United Way continues to be an important nonprofit partner for House of Lights. House of Lights is also involved with the Toy Fund, Habitat for Humanity, Preble Street Resource Center, Maine Cancer Fund, and the Animal Refuge League.

When you walk into the House of Lights showroom, however, you are witnessing Andrews’ influence and personal stamp she’s put on the company.

“For me, so many lighting stores looked like ‘hardware stores for lights,’” Andrews said. “The lighting didn’t reflect what it might look like in their homes or other living areas.”

She’s worked diligently to create vistas and actual settings that reflect what various lighting looks like in the kitchen, the office suite, the entranceway, etc

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“This was a challenge for me,” admitted Andrews. “I hired architects and designers to create a unique space to see, touch, feel, and experience lighting.”

When you visit the showroom, you’ll notice that right away.

Ongoing challenges

Businesses don’t run by themselves, even businesses that have been around as long as House of Lights has. There are always new skills to master for a business owner like Andrews.

Andrews reflected on how Bert, going through a similar secession process that her father had gone through with his own brothers—having to buy out her father.

“From the outside, people thought ‘the son-in-law (Bert) had it made,’ yet, he had to work twice as hard to prove himself and show that he had what it takes to make company successful,” said Holmes. “It’s a huge financial step, buying out a partner.”

Particular areas that have been a challenge to Andrews from her own experience, have been dealing with the personal side of managing people, especially when the business is a smaller one, like House of Lights.

“You always have different personalities,” said Andrews. “Then, you have the challenges of being an owner and having to learn so many different things about business and managing people. We’re also a small business and like a family, really,” she said. “I feel the responsibility to our employees—I want our company to remain strong because of them—they are valuable.”

And then, there is the ever-present competition faced by small retailers coming from big box stores that don’t have the same community roots that House of Lights has. Remaining viable in the 21st century world of large corporate chains and online retailers remains an ongoing struggle.

Andrews is ready to take that on head-on, however.

“Buying local is important. Local businesses keep our money circulating in the local economy,” said Andrews. “We focus on customer service—plus, with our new showroom, customers can come in and touch, and see the lighting, what it will look like in their home—they can’t do that online, or even at the big box stores.”

While Andrews isn’t sure which one of her children might be interested in stepping in as a fifthgeneration owner, she’ll continue working to ensure that House of Lights remains vibrant, and a local business committed to the community where it resides.

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Capitalists with Heart

Atayne: Sports Apparel With a Progressive Twist

When Mainer Jeremy Litchfield launched Atayne as a sports apparel startup, he decided to make the environment a key element and a foundational value of his venture. Atayne would manufacture high-performance, progressive performance apparel made from recycled polyester, derived from used water bottles. His focus hasn't shifted care for the environment continues as one of the core values of the company, now in its seventh year of operation.

Bottled water is convenient and something Americans take for granted. Get thirsty and grab a bottle of clear and pristine spring water. However, the end result of our fetish for convenience—roughly 50 billion plastic water bottles end up in U.S. landfills each year—that’s 140 million every day!

When Mainer Jeremy Litchfield launched Atayne as a sports apparel startup, he decided to make the environment a key element and a foundational value of his venture. Atayne would manufacture high-performance, progressive performance apparel made from recycled polyester, derived from used water bottles. His focus hasn’t shifted,  care for the environment continues as one of the core values of the company, now in its seventh year of operation.

One thing is obvious when you talk to Litchfield about Atayne—values are at the heart of everything that they do. While there are obvious shortcuts that other similar companies take in becoming profitable, that’s not what Litchfield is interested in.

Visit Atayne’s website and you’ll find Litchfield’s personal story and the beginning of his progressive foray into sports apparel. It began one hot and humid morning in Washington, DC, in May, 2007. That became the seed for his belief that there had to be a better way—one centered on local manufacturing of environmentally-friendly products, for active people.

Litchfield offered up his version of sports apparel 101. A crash course on how polyester became the fabric that most manufacturers use, and why.

“In sports apparel, the primary fabric is polyester. The reason why is that polyester doesn’t absorb moisture,” said Litchfield. “On the other hand, cotton (a natural fabric) absorbs water, and it takes a long time to dry. When you’re running and you’re trying to regulate your body temperature, you want to stay dry.”

It was about 15 years ago that certain companies began pushing the parameters on innovation and using new materials, especially in terms of being more environmentally responsible.

“One of the leading companies was Patagonia,” explained Litchfield. “They started making fleeces out of plastic bottles. The technology is now advanced enough so that materials made out of recycled products are now indistinguishable from those made from virgin polyester.”

A window of opportunity opened for Atayne.

Technology is an important element in the genesis of the company. So is a book that Litchfield read while attending Bowdoin College, in Brunswick. Ben & Jerry’s Double Dip: How to Run a Values Led Business and Make Money Too, written by two very successful entrepreneurs named Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield—we know them as the founders of Ben & Jerry’s, the iconic New England-based ice cream giant—changed Litchfield’s understanding about business, as well as its role for positive change and influence.

“Cohen and Greenfield made the point that business is an incredibly powerful machine,” explained Litchfield. “It [business] can be used for bad, but it can also be used to create a lot of good. It opened my eyes to the idea that I could have a business that’s about making profits, but also about driving positive change.”

Matt Jacobsen is currently the executive director for the Maine Lobster Marketing Collaborative, but met Litchfield during the early days of Atayne, when he was with Maine & Company. One of Jacobsen’s roles was in helping new businesses during their startup phase. He was impressed by Litchfield from the start.

“Beyond the obvious with Jeremy—his philosophy and concern for the environment—you don’t often see the kind of commitment that he has to not just his company, but also to the community and his customers,” said Jacobsen.

Jacobson mentioned how Litchfield and Atayne helped a group of Maine-based cyclists that he’s involved with (Jacobson is a competitive tri-athlete) with t-shirts and promotional gear.

“Jeremy set us up on his website, helping promote what we are doing and with fundraising,” said Jacobson. “This is an example of the support and sustainability that Atayne typifies.”

In today’s world of business, greenwashing and false claims about environmental stewardship aren’t uncommon. A company that might actually have a lousy environmental record, with enough capital and a savvy PR firm, can convince customers that they’re “green,” and get away with being duplicitous.

Recognizing this and in order to assure Atayne’s customers of their very genuine commitment, Litchfield sought voluntary certification as a B Corporation, or B Corp.

“Becoming a B Corp was us putting our money where our mouth is. You have to go through a very rigorous process that occurs every two years,” said Litchfield. “You have to certify the claims you are making. You also get a score based upon how you are evaluated.”

The company’s certification details, verified by an independent third party are out there for anyone to see when they visit the B Corp site. Clearly, Atayne is a business that cares about the community, its customers, and making a difference.

“What I love about the whole B Corp movement—and you don’t need to be certified to believe this—you’re applying the principles of business and the positive principles of community, with the heart and mentality of a nonprofit.”

It’s always tempting for consumers to buy products that are cheaper. But, there is an inherent cost in doing so. There’s also the multiplier effect of buying sports apparel from a local manufacturer like Atayne, rather than at one of the big box chain stores.

Litchfield recognizes a major challenge he faces is being able to tell Atyane’s story in a way that connects with consumers, helping them understand the difference between price and cost.

Making his case, Litchfield offered that “We pay our contractors a living wage. We’re not outsourcing our production to countries and manufacturing that is hard to certify whether or not they are engaged in ethical practices.”

Building on that narrative, Litchfield articulated that difference, and why his products aren’t the cheapest products on the market.

“If consumers buy products at a retailer that sells products made elsewhere that is killing jobs in my community, then there is a cost related to that product that doesn’t always show up in the price,” explained Litchfield. “However, we’re all paying a ‘tax’ on that cheaper product. That’s the hard part—getting consumers to see that. It’s hard to think at that level, but those decisions have a big impact at a much higher level than just the purchase.”

Atayne also partners with various organizations and supports the Polar Bear Tri, the Pirate Tri, Old Port Marathon. They have provided cycling jerseys for the Dempsey Challenge, the Maine Lighthouse Ride, the Bicycling Coalition of Maine, the Maine Cancer Foundation and the Tri for a Cure and their Twilight 5K.

So, if living wages matter to you, and you are serious about using recycled products that otherwise would be clogging our landfills, not to mention want to support businesses that give back to the communities where they’re based, then these are just a few of the things that might make you want to buy a running shirt, or other sports apparel from a retailer like Atayne.

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Seacoast United: Healthy Living and Youth Sports

Seacoast United has remained true to its mission—to advance the physical and social well-being of children and young adults through youth sports. Through their foundation, Seacoast United also make sure that any athlete, regardless of financial situation is able to participate.

Physical activity is important in the healthy development of children. Most of us know this, but children are less active now than ever before. The National Association for Sport and Physical Education notes that only one in three children are physically active every day.

Increased physical activity delivers physiological, psychological and social benefits. This is especially important during the developmental years, and it carries forward into adulthood. This latter factor is borne out by organizations like the American Heart Association, which indicates that increased physical activity leads to increased life expectancy and decreased risk of cardiovascular disease, along with other health benefits.

Seacoast United, founded in 1992 by Paul Willis, began with a simple mission—to advance the physical and social well-being of youth and young adults through sports like soccer. For the past 22 years, this organization has been true to that mission, one that has been getting young people up and off the couch and onto athletic fields in New Hampshire (and now, Maine). They’ve recently expanded into other sports, also.

According to James Peterson, director of sales and marketing for Seacoast United, Willer’s vision was for Seacoast to be both an exclusive soccer training program, but also an inclusive one. What this means is that while there are a myriad of opportunities for highly-skilled players to play at the upper echelons of competition, Seacoast will never turn anyone away from their programs due to economics or if they aren’t an elite skill-level player, which is unique for a program like this one.


SeacoastUnited
“Seacoast started with just two youth teams, and now, we have more than 5,000 athletes enrolled in our various programs,” said Peterson. “We’ve also branched out from soccer and are now offering team sports like baseball, softball, field hockey, and lacrosse.”

Peterson mentioned that while the focus is always on getting kids introduced to soccer (and other sports), the sports programming has continued growing and evolving.

“We now have select, elite, and professional level teams,” Peterson said. “Our summer college league (minor league) team is a nationally-recognized program. Last year, they won their league, which is part of the Premier Development League (PDL),” he said.

Peterson mentioned that Seacoast affiliates itself with outstanding coaches.

“50 percent of our staff has international experience,” Peterson added.

Peterson himself came to Seacoast after a stint with Oxford United, a premiere club program in Great Britain.

He talked about the important life lessons that sports offers those who choose to participate, like the “three P’s.”

“Sports is a great tool for young people to learn about teamwork, discipline, dealing with adversity—all things that are important for success in life.”

According to Peterson, Seacoast also has a significant number of players progressing up through their ranks.

“We had a case study done that indicated that 60 percent of our junior academy players went to our premiere and select division teams,” said Peterson.

Seacoast isn’t just a New Hampshire-based program any longer. While they have a state-of-the-art 70,000-square-foot indoor facility in Hampton and a four-field outdoor complex in Epping, they’ve expanded their soccer and baseball programming into southern Maine, as well as now having Seacoast affiliates in Portland, Topsham, and Bangor.

The Seacoast Foundation holds fundraising and charity events to support the overall goals and programming of Seacoast United. Much of the funding generated each year provides scholarships for athletes who may not be able to afford to participate with town club teams, or go on to elite level competitions. This includes traveling to national and international tournaments.

Peterson mentioned that they hold two major fundraisers each year.

“We have our annual soccer-a-thon, which takes place over a 24-hour period in April. We start games at 4:00 pm on Friday and these go continuously through Saturday at 4:00,” said Peterson. “These take place at our indoor facility in Hampton and the fields in Epping. We raised $70,000 in 2014,” he said.

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Peterson added that Seacoast included participants from the Special Olympics in this year’s soccer-a-thon.

“They has such a great time and it was gratifying to have them participating with us.”

Another fundraiser Peterson mentioned was their Annual Gala held at the beautiful and historic Wentworth-by-the-Sea, in New Castle, New Hampshire. This is hosted by Ocean Properties, a business sponsor for Seacoast.

“All the proceeds from this go to our scholarship fund,” said Peterson.

All three Provider Power company’s , support Seacoast United’s Foundation through our Power To Help Initiative.  When enrolling with ENH Power, Electricity Maine or Provider Power Mass  customers select from a list of non-profit partners and we make a contribution to that organization.  

To learn more click on the link from the state you live in:

Maine

New Hampshire

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Affordable Housing-Energy Efficient As Well! Thanks to AHEAD In N.H.

AHEAD takes on the housing crisis with affordable and energy efficient housing in Northern New Hampshire.

America is in the midst of an affordability crisis in housing. The issue isn’t new and has been ongoing for the past 25 years, so says the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC), in their recent report, Out of Reach 2014: Twenty-Five Years Later, The Affordable Housing Crisis Continues.

When NLIHC’s first report was published in 1989, the nation was reeling from the affordability crisis affecting home ownership, and the attendant increase in homelessness that it caused. Now, 25 years later, America is still falling short of paying on the promises contained in the 1949 Housing Act, which sought to provide all Americans with “a decent home in a suitable living environment.”

For 7.1 million American households, even a modest rental home is unaffordable and unavailable. In New England, a 795,000-unit shortfall exists in affordable rental housing, according to Housing New England, detailed in their 2013 report, Affordable Housing: A New England Perspective.   For those in New Hampshire who are in search of energy efficient, affordable housing options the market is very tight.  However, there is hope.

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AHEAD, a community development and social services agency, has been engaged for more than 20 years, providing residents of the North Country—a region of rural northern New Hampshire that includes Coös and northern Grafton Counties—with affordable housing options. AHEAD’s goal is to be the preeminent provider of quality, affordable housing in New Hampshire.

I spoke with Sally Ayers, AHEAD’s director of operations about the scope of the agency’s reach relative to needs and affordable housing.

“We have a variety of components to our work,” said Ayers. “We provide property management, develop real estate (for new projects), which leads to new construction.”

Ayers mentioned that AHEAD owns and operates 14 North Country properties with more than 300 affordable apartments for families and seniors.

“Currently, we’re working diligently to retrofit properties, making them energy efficient,” said Ayers. “Any new properties that we build will also have state of the art heating systems and components.”

AHEAD has launched a new program called Better Homes Ahead. The goal of Better Homes Ahead is providing high-quality, energy efficient, factory-built homes at affordable prices for low-and-moderate-income families.

Better Homes AHEAD
An example of one of the homes available through AHEAD’s Better Homes AHEAD program. For More information about this program visit http://betterhomesahead.org

“Funding for this has included Community Block Development Grant funds, as well as funds like the Founders Fund and other fundraising efforts,” said Ayers. “We’re looking to replace older homes, particularly pre-1996 mobile homes with newer, safer, more efficient places to live,” explained Ayers.

Affordable housing in New Hampshire’s and the lack of it in the state has been well-documented. While rural New Hampshire’s issues aren’t as dire regarding high rents and real estate prices like pricey Rockingham and Stafford counties, rural New Hampshire has been plagued with fewer jobs and jobs paying wages that make housing beyond the reach of the working poor.

“Housing is essential for strong families—AHEAD looks to provide support to families and individuals, helping them build and preserve assets for the future,” said Ayers.

While AHEAD is recognized statewide for their affordable housing efforts, according to Ayers, they are also member of the national NeighborWorks America network, which is as a leader in affordable housing and community development nationwide. As one of 40 of the nation’s best community development organizations, AHEAD can access a wider network structure, which helps to assist in building skills, while supplementing and amplifying the effectiveness of agencies like AHEAD.

Ayers said that education and financial literacy has become a big part of what AHEAD does.

“The education component is important and we are looking to involve the whole family including children, too. They see mom and dad taking money out of the wall at an ATM, but they don’t know what’s involved in money and finance,” said Ayers. “We try to do this training together with parents and children.”

“Foreclosure mitigation is another big part of our work. During the recession, our numbers were way up with families calling, panicked about losing their homes,” Ayers said. “Foreclosure is so stressful for families—they often don’t know where to turn. We provide a counselor that can help them and point them in the right direction and provide them with support.”

Like other similar New England northern New England states, New Hampshire’s population is aging, so senior housing continues to be in demand. AHEAD recognizes the demographic shift and is focused on addressing issues related to housing for aging residents in the northern reaches of the state.

In Berlin, where people over 65 make up 23 percent of the city’s population, AHEAD will be opening a new 33-unit senior housing project.

“We’re very close to opening,” said Ayers. “It’s in the former Notre Dame High School, an important part of the city’s past and history. We’re pleased that we could reclaim and renovate the building and offer this kind of housing for seniors.”

She explained that the Notre Dame Apartments are based on a service-enriched housing model. The model seeks to integrate a social support system for residents into the operation and management of the housing that will be provided to seniors. Seniors will either have necessary services provided, or be linked directly to them. The model also helps reduce resident isolation, build neighborly relations, and promotes resident pride in their home community.

Additionally, the building will have four energy-efficient wood chip boilers for heat. There are also plans for solar panels for hot water and electricity.

Ayers indicated that funding for this project came from a Community Development Block Grant, Historic Preservation tax credits and New Hampshire Housing Financial Authority low income housing credits.

To learn more about affordable housing and other efforts to provide housing options in New Hampshire’s North Country, visit the AHEAD website.

ENH Power, part of the Provider Power family of companies, supports AHEAD through our Power to Help initiative.  Each new ENH Power customer can select a Power To Help partner for us to support on their behalf.  To learn more visit www.enhpower/ahead.

 

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