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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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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In Defense of Mission

The January 15 edition of the Boston Globe includes a story about Dan Pallottta and his Cambridge, Mass non-profit the Charity Defense Council. How does a non-profit group get a 1,100 word story (with several full color photos) included in the Business section of the Boston Globe? Simple really-they think differently.

The January 15 edition of the Boston Globe includes a story about Dan Pallottta and his Cambridge, Mass non-profit the Charity Defense Council.   How does a non-profit group get a 1,100 word story (with several full color photos) included in the Business section of the Boston Globe?  Simple really-they think differently.

Dan and his non-profit advocate for other non-profits with the motto “We fight for the people for fight for the people.”  He contends non-profits could do even more charitable work if they spend more on overhead. Yes, you read correctly MORE on overhead.

The Charity Defense Council has billboards around Boston that read “Don’t ask if a charity has low overhead.  Ask if it has big impact”.   For those concerned that this is poor use of a non-profit’s funds-the design for the billboard was donated as was the space on the billboards.

As a New England owned company, at Provider Power we have nearly 100 partnerships with non-profit organizations.  In Maine and New Hampshire, through our Power to Help initiative, when a new customer enrolls with us they can select from our list of partners.  We give $5 to the partner the customer selects.

In April of 2014-Electricity Maine-a Provider Power Company, contributed $160,000 to 7 of their Core Power to Help partners.  Throughout the year partners receive additional financial, marketing and web support.
In April of 2014-Electricity Maine-a Provider Power Company, contributed $160,000 to 7 of their Core Power to Help partners. Throughout the year partners receive additional financial, marketing and web support.

These partners also have a presence on our websites, we have a close- “virtual” relationship with them-sharing stories via social media.  We also have a close personal relationship with them,  attending their events, meeting with executives, board of directors and volunteers.   Taking the time to truly understand their goals, mission and objectives is important.  We do our own vetting process-not based on financials alone, of far greater importance is their social impact.

It is with that in mind that we agree with Dan and the Charity Defense Council’s philosophy.  Companies who build corporate giving and partnerships into their culture have good business sense. These companies know that a strong non-profit, run similar to a business, should invest in experienced and educated leadership.   Organizations who invest in things like IT, marketing and other resources are better suited to meet the challenges of today’s non-profit marketplace.   If investment does not come at the expense of mission and accomplishing objectives, the notion of non-profits spending money on “self” should be embraced.

At some point in time charity watchdog groups decided that non-profits should spend no more than 1/3rd of their budgets on overhead.  There is little explanation as to why 1/3rd  is the optimal number.

As pointed out in the Boston Globe article, the legal website Nolo advises that when it comes to spending, non-profits have two choices.  Spend as much as you need or as much as looks good.

Being a bunch of optimists, at Provider Power we trust the organizations we partner with and believe they know best what it takes to accomplish their goals.   To judge impact we talk with the people who benefit from the services and programs the non-profit is involved with.  It is certainly appropriate for a business to ask how a non-profit spends their resources-however it should not be the only lens in which to look through.

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Emerson & Bird Street Collaborate to Bring Hope to South Boston

After an awful tragedy struck, Emerson College found a way to team up with Bird Street Community Center to help reduce violence in the area. The results of this project were (and still are) amazing.

After the Sandy Hook shootings, Emerson College President Lee Pelton challenged his students and faculty to find ways to help stem youth violence.

Professors Gregory Payne and Spencer Kimball reached out to the Bird Street Community Center, a neighborhood hub reaching over a thousand at-risk youth in the South Boston area, soon creating the Emerson/Bird Street Civic Engagement Project.

What started as a seven-week project in May and June of 2013 has evolved into a multi-year collaboration that continues to benefit both the Emerson students and the Bird Street young people, says Professor Payne.

“What we have found is that there’s been a cascade of opportunities – when we finish one project, we open up another,” he said during a recent interview.

Over the past year and a half, Emerson students have met weekly with teens and pre-teens from Bird Street, sometimes at the civic center, other times on the Emerson campus.

During the initial project, the Bird Street students were given a camera to film their lives. “After looking at [their footage],” says Payne, “We were all dumbfounded by the fact that of these students, all of them have either family members or close relatives that either were victims of shootings or have been involved in some kind of altercation with a gun.”

Seeking to stem the culture of gun violence, the Emerson and Bird Street students collaborated on two Public Service Announcements (PSAs), one on bullying and the other on nonviolent problem solving, both written by Bird Street students Randy Boston, Astrid Vega, and Djamilson Daveigo, with Emerson students Siyang “Silver” Qi and Yuhui “Felix” Chen helping with editing and film production. Over the summer, the three Bird Street filmmakers brought their PSAs down to Washington, DC, where they presented them to lawmakers.

“I feel like it is a way to publicize the violence in Boston, give a witness to other local police so that they can help us,” Boston told an Emerson student journalist.

Payne says that Emerson and Bird Street students collaborate on projects several times a week, including negotiation, public speaking, sports coaching, and even pumpkin-carving. On April 2, Bird Street youths read essays they had written, inspired by the dreams of President Barack Obama, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, and President Nelson Mandela at the What’s My Dream Showcase at Emerson.

Most recently, about 25 Bird Street students partnered with Emerson communication studies majors and digital design firm Oomph, Inc. in a two-week intensive program where they learned how to design and code their own websites, says Payne. Not only does this create a vehicle to empower the young people and amplify their voices, it also taught them marketable skills—which they will use in paid internships this summer, he adds.

“This project provides a pathway for the Bird Street students to see the importance of education,” said Neil Harris, education coordinator at Bird Street. “This will allow the students to continue their momentum in moving forward and preparing for success in their careers and in life.”

To critics who say, “Well, this is a small program, how can you get so excited?” Payne responds, “If you change one person, one never knows how many people that person can change.”

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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

Mass

 

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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.

3346_ENH_Housing_Graphic_v1a

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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Teen Trendsetters: Promoting Early Reading in Maine

Teen Trendsetters, a program of the Barbara Bush Foundation For Family Literacy, matches seventh through 12th grade mentors with first through third graders. Older mentors and their mentees meet regularly to read and discuss what they have read. Part of the goal is to develop the habit and practice of reading at home.

Being able to read is critical to a child’s educational achievement, enhancing their potential and ability to be successful once they leave school. Studies indicate that acquiring the skills necessary to be a reader begins very early, often before school, but certainly in the first few years of formal education.

According to various published reports and studies, early grade reading proficiency tracks along socio-economic lines. A 2012 report published by the Brookings Institution indicates that less than half of poor children begin school with the requisite early math and reading skills (not to mention emotional and behavioral control), and other measure of well-being necessary for learning.

Working Towards a Solution

The Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy recognizes the gravity of the situation and its relation to literacy. They have taken a leading role in strengthening children’s literacy skills, while providing students with opportunities to succeed.

Teen Trendsetters™, a copyrighted program of the foundation, focuses on early reading and literacy.

The program was introduced at an initial pilot site in Maine three years ago, Teen Trendsetters is now being rolled out across the entire state, with 20 public schools launching the program this past September, at the start of the new school year. Funding for this is being made possible by the John T. Gorman Foundation, along with Electricity Maine.

Becky Dyer, director of planning for the Barbara Bush Foundation, is thrilled that Teen Trendsetters is able to expand their literacy efforts in Maine. She spoke about the funding and how it breaks down in growing the Teen Trendsetters presence in the state.

“Combined the John T. Gorman Foundation and Electricity Maine provide about half of the funding required to run the program statewide,” said Dyer. “Their funds support the purchase of the Brainstorm™ curriculum from Scholastic, provide supplemental books and materials for students (in developing their personal libraries), as well as stipends for teachers/advisors to cover administration and the entering of data on the foundation database.  “The foundation supports the costs of training, technical assistance, the development and deployment of the database, along with marketing, fundraising, and general administration.  There are also evaluation costs and liability insurance, too,” added Dyer.  “We’ve partnered with other organizations in bringing Teen Trendsetters to other states.”

Teen Trendsetters matches seventh through 12th grade mentors with first through third graders, who they meet with weekly. The younger mentees have been identified as struggling with reading. Together, the older mentors and their mentees read and discuss chapters from a science-based curriculum, an age-appropriate, three-part curriculum, originally created in collaboration with Scholastic. Mentees also get to choose a selection of books for their own libraries at home, collecting about 15 books each. This dovetails nicely with the research, which supports parents reading with their children, as well as developing the habit and practice of having books in the home.

Dyer spoke about the primacy of parents in the development of literacy skills, and how Mrs. Bush has long been an advocate of that role.

“Mrs. Bush likes to say that ‘parents are the first and most important teacher,’ and Teen Trendsetters involves parents in reading with their student,” said Dyer.

What The Data Is Telling Us

This echoes what others have been saying about the importance of reading in a child’s growth and development, including best-selling author, James Patterson, who has been outspoken about the role that parents play in the process. In fact, Patterson has been hammering home this same refrain in various public appearances and on his website, ReadKiddoRead.com, saying that “it’s not the school’s job to go and find books for your kids.” Patterson places responsibility for kids reading on parents. But this is just one side of the equation, albeit an essential one. That’s why the work of the Barbara Bush Foundation becomes important in places like Maine.

Dyer indicated that parents of students participating in Teen Trendsetters are required to sign a contract, whereby they agree to read to their children participating in the program. Another area of concern that Dyer mentioned that might be even more profound for researchers and other literacy professional is the “word gap.”

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“Higher-income parents spend nearly a half hour more each day engaged in direct, face-to-face time with their children (including reading) than low-income parents do,” said Dyer citing articles like “Early Catastrophe: The 30 Million Word Gap by Age 3,” which appeared in American Educator originally. Dyer, with her background in education, recognizes the importance of Teen Trendsetters, and it’s why she’s so passionate about being able to expand the program in Maine.

“This article (and the report it’s based on) shows how 86-98% of a child’s vocabulary by age 3 is derived from their parents,” said Dyer. “While Teen Trendsetters can’t make up for this word gap, we believe that the program does help support improvement in some of the early language and learning gaps,” she said. “We don’t believe that this is the only strategy—or that it replaces good teachers—but we believe it’s a good supplemental strategy and makes a difference; that’s why we’re supporting it.”

Teen Trendsetters in essence, helps level the playing field.

Dyer went on to mention that Teen Trendsetters “is a mentoring program, first and foremost.”

Windham High School and Windham Primary School was Teen Trendsetters’ initial site in Maine. They piloted the program back in 2012, and ran it last year as a full-fledged program.

“We’re really excited about Windham, which was our initial pilot site. From our reports, we found that the mentees started at a mid-kindergarten level and by the end of the year, they were reading at grade level.”

Pilot launch in Maine

Amy Denecker is a librarian at Windham High School. In her role, she knew about the data and young students struggling with literacy issues. Denecker recognized that students in the early grades who fell behind would end up struggling all through school.

Before learning about Teen Trendsetters, she began looking for funding and grants that would allow her to launch a literacy program that involved older students mentoring younger students.

“I was committed to launching a literacy program in Windham,” said Denecker. “As I began my research and made initial attempts to get something going, I recognized how difficult it was going to be. Then, I found out about Teen Trendsetters—it was exactly what I was looking for—it was like someone had handed this ready-made package to us,” she said.

Windham is now in its third year of programming with Teen Trendsetters. Denecker says that while there are glitches from time to time, this year everything is really coming together. Given that the public school day runs according to tight schedules, without a lot of flexibility, what Denecker has been able to model to other school systems is worth paying attention to.

Windham High School student reading with a first-grader.
Windham High School student reading with a first-grader.

“Each year, our numbers of participants has grown. During our initial pilot year, it was difficult getting all the high school mentor’s schedules coordinated with study halls, in order for them to walk over to Windham Primary School. It’s gotten better each year,” said Denecker.

At the start of the 2014 school year, she has 21 high school mentors participating in one-on-one mentoring to an equal number of first graders.

“A key for us last year was locking in a set time at the primary school,” said Denecker. We go over first period from about 8:15 to 9:05.”

The mentoring component is invaluable from Denecker’s perspective. She mentioned how the younger students have really bonded with her high schoolers.

“Our first-graders really look up to our high school students. They ‘adore’ the older students and our older students are great with the younger ones,” Denecker said. “The bonds form very quickly, and our high schoolers also benefit from this.”

Two mentors from Windham High School, Kris Dow and Chantelle King, mentioned why they’ve chosen to participate.

Dow, who is now in his third year, after being one of Windham’s first mentors back in 2012, talked about the rewards of seeing how his young mentees grow as readers.

“It’s really rewarding for me to participate,” said Dow. “I’ve seen my mentees struggle at the beginning, and then, when they start to get it, it’s such an awesome feeling.”

Dow, an avid reader (he mentioned John Green as a favorite author of his), indicated that helping first-graders access reading has also helped him see how important reading is for everyone.

“Reading and words are how we access information. Even online, you have to be able to read,” said Dow.

King touched on the relationship she’s built with her mentee.

“I love going to the primary school every week. My student is always excited to see me,” said King. “They’re all so adorable.”

When asked about what she’d tell other schools about Teen Trendsetters and why they should consider it for their school, Denecker dispensed the following advice.

“If you can see your way through the initial challenges—getting through the scheduling and all those types of things—then you’ll be fine,” Denecker said. “Also, try to make connections with advocates in your school—those that know the what and why of the program. There will always be others that aren’t as supportive, and they’ll become allies for you.”

Added Denecker, “It’s still a challenge, but it’s so rewarding, too!”

A new program in Lewiston

Teen Trendsetters launched a brand new program in September at Longley Elementary School in Lewiston. The school historically has housed the city’s poorest students—recent Census numbers indicate that 96 percent of Longley students live in poverty. Additionally, many begin school lagging other students their age academically. Add to those to issues that the school has the highest percentage of immigrant students learning to speak English, and one could understand the challenges that the school faces to ensure their students receive a quality education.

Recent efforts at Longley to engage parents and involve them in their children’s education bode well for the addition of programs like Teen Trendsetters, which enhance and support the daily curriculum, and build a positive school culture.

Jenn Carter serves as Lewiston Public Schools’ 21st Century Program Director. She is also the new coordinator of the Teen Trendsetters program at Longley.

When asked about why Lewiston decided to launch Teen Trendsetters, especially at Longley, Carter said that the program “fit well with previous programming that they began on their own, last year.”

“Last year, we ran a similar program where we did read aloud sessions with our younger students; we also gave away books to promote reading at home,” said Carter. “We called the program ‘Read Across Lewiston.’”

Similar to Denecker in Windham, Carter mentioned how going out and locating and then writing small grants to support literacy programming was time-consuming, along with all her other duties each day.

“Through Teen Trendsetters, everything is provided for us, which makes the program easy to implement,” she said. “We heard about the program from one of our assistant principals at the high school, Joanne Dowd.”

When asked about how the program was going seven weeks into the school year, Carter was enthusiastic about things so far.

“The program is going great! We currently have 30 high school mentors and 30 younger children, mainly first graders at Longley,” said Carter.

Carter cited the qualities related to mentoring, especially having younger kids having fun with reading, and connecting with older mentors. She also related how her high school students also benefitted from the program.

“The younger kids get to have fun reading with an older student and earn books to take home,” said Carter. “Another benefit is that our older students end up building their reading skills too, and it gives them experience working in a leadership capacity that they can use for future college and career opportunities. “

Teen Trendsetters in action at Lewiston’s Longley Elementary School.

In addition to the Teen Trendsetters program, Carter is also offering monthly leadership trainings for her high school mentors.

Like in Windham, Carter mentioned a few challenges she’s faced in getting TeenTrendsetters off the ground in her school.

“There are the challenges of coordinating students who are going to stick with the program and not come once and then not show up again.  We have told our students that this is like a job—they have to be there every day!”

Carter added, “The greatest benefit of this program is that our students are able to use their positive relationships with younger children in the community (as brothers, sisters, neighbors, etc.) to promote literacy.  Getting kids (both big and little) to love reading is the first step to building their skills,” she said.

Making sure that students acquire the necessary building blocks to be successful is the core of what education ought to be. Because of the efforts of the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy, Teen Trendsetters is supporting literacy programming in Maine schools, helping them create foundations for success, and ensuring that reading is one of the essential building blocks.

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