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John's Story

Spend an hour with John Nitanga and you'll be inspired. His family survived the genocide in Rwanda and spent 13 years in a refugee camp in Tanzania. After enduring deplorable conditions, John's family had the opportunity to come to the United States. Arriving here as a young student, John had never spoke English before. Soon, he enrolled in the Bring It! program that he credits with changing his life. He learned the English language, benefited from the specialized program for refugees and excelled in soccer.

After graduating from high school and becoming a United States citizen he became a Loaned Executive for Granite United Way. "I am happy to give back to the community that gave me so much," said John. "There are many stories like mine. I want to make sure there is access to programs and services so that other young people have the opportunity I did."

He's not showing any signs of stopping. This fall he's enrolled to obtain his Bachelor's degree at Southern New Hampshire University. We can't wait to see how bright John's future will be.

 

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HealthFirst Family Care Center: A Partner Agency

Rick Silverberg of HealthFirst Family Care Center, a long time partner agency of Granite United Way, is a passionate donor and advocate for our mission. Rick has a long history of supporting United Way in the Central Region and has always believed that we can do more together than we can individually.
 
“I grew up in a blue-collar industrial city in Connecticut where the United Way helped to fund much-needed services for my family, our neighbors, and our friends, proving to be a pillar of the community,” said Rick.
 
His father worked for an agency that received funding from United Way and was on their local Board of Directors. Fresh out of graduate school, Rick continued the family tradition by working for United Way-funded agencies, joining local committees, and eventually working for the United Way of Greater New Haven, Connecticut. When Rick moved to New Hampshire in 1980, he became involved with United Way projects, first in Merrimack County and then in the Lakes Region.
 
Rick’s advocacy for Granite United Way also takes place inside the very organization he works for. He is proud to say that HealthFirst Family Care Center has been a United Way partner since their inception twenty-three years ago. “Our organization has been part of several large-scale United Way initiatives and at present, it partners with the United Way in the delivery of expanded substance misuse disorder and behavioral health services.”
 
Even as a small employer, with a staff of 54, HealthFirst Family Care Center runs a workplace campaign. “Our staff see the needs of the individuals in the community, and we know that they largely benefit from United Way-funded services,” said Rick. “Together, HealthFirst, Granite United Way, and other funded partners positively impact the Lakes Region and communities like it.”

 

 

 

 

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A Volunteer Story: Pastor Shannon Keeney

Senior Pastor Shannon Diana Keeney of First United Methodist Church in Littleton, NH views Granite United Way as “one of those organizations that stands out as a positive force in our communities.” She sees United Way as the backbone of many non-profits.
 
“As a clergy, I notice that Granite United Way has taken some of the roles the church used to hold and has become a place of refuge and support. Today is a different, complex world, and we need so many entry points to address the overwhelming obstacles people face. Addiction, poverty, illiteracy, the list can be overwhelming, but United Way is about more than surviving, it is about thriving. The very name "United Way" reminds us we cannot make our neighborhoods better on our own; we need each other to thrive.”
 
Pastor Shannon began her journey with United Way by volunteering. When serving on the Board of the Littleton Chamber of Commerce, Pastor Shannon heard an engaging presentation by a local United Way representative. Upon learning about United Way's work, Pastor Shannon realized that she wanted to be a part of its mission to bring hope to the North Country.

Pastor Shannon’s volunteer experience with United Way furthered her understanding of the network of social systems in our communities. “Sometimes as a leader of a care organization you forget you aren’t in this alone. Granite United Way says ‘let us help you’, which can be a shock to a non-profit. United Way has, once again, reminded me that we are parts of a body and it isn’t our job to ‘save everyone’ but together we can ‘help quite a few.’”
 
Working on Granite United Way's Upper Valley CIC has brought much joy to Pastor Shannon. “To be able to give money instead of always seeking money is refreshing. It is so soul nurturing to listen to how people and groups are giving back and to say ‘yes, we need to help fund their cause.’ The CIC allows the other board members and me to share in the joy.”
 
“United Way isn’t afraid of being positive. There are too many groups which send people away and it is nice to see a team that welcomes them in.”

 

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A Champion of the Northern Region

One of the Northern Region’s most consistent advocates has been Corinne Cascadden, who recently retired as Superintendent of the Berlin School System. Her dedication and spirit inspired students across the community to embrace education and leverage the opportunities it brings.


Corinne is a strong partner with Granite United Way, and worked diligently to bring the innovative silent reading program, Reading Plus®, to middle and high school students across the district. This program has been incredibly successful in improving literacy skills in students, with hundreds of students improving two content levels. In just one academic year 20 students went from off-track to on track in reading.


Corinne served the region as an elementary school principal for over 20 years and as superintendent for 10 years. This year Granite United Way proud to present Corinne with the LIVE UNITED Award during their Northern Region Celebration.


“Granite United Way is fortunate to have such an advocate for education in our Northern Region,” said Laura Boucher, Northern Region Manager. “Her dedication to education and the students in our community will undoubtedly affect generations of Northern Region families.”

 

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Joe Kenney: Teaching Leadership Across Generations

Meet Joe Kenney.


He is a husband, father of three, and a Penacook resident with a long professional career in banking. Do not let his title as a Senior Vice President, Commercial Lending Officer at the Provident Bank fool you, Joe is no stranger to understanding what it takes to drive youth success and community well-being for residents in Merrimack County. With more than thirty years of giving back and volunteering with United Way, Joe has kept his thumb on the pulse of complex community needs and is committed to being a part of the solution by volunteering his time and talents. He has seen how United Way has grown and adapted over the years to continually improve the way it serves and supports residents of Merrimack County, much like his own personal journey as a volunteer. 


Joe gave his first gift in 1996 and got outside of the office to volunteer at a local nonprofit during United Way’s “Day of Caring.” Joe volunteered at the Penacook Community Center where he developed a profoundly new and meaningful perspective of the service it provides and how many people it supports. The Penacook Community Center provides high-quality education and development programs for people in every age and stage of life.  He was shown that there was a deep need for these programs in his home community and that the Center continued to serve more and more people, even when facing very limited resources. For Joe, one day of volunteering evolved into a longer-term commitment to the organization and a position on the Center’s board of directors. 


Becoming inspired and invested in the mission of a nonprofit begins to reveal how significant volunteers, donations, and grants are to the sustainability of the organization. Joe could see how his contributions to United Way changed and improved the lives of families who relied on the community center. He then volunteered for two years as a United Way campaign chair, helping to educate, connect, and grow the number of people and businesses who support local nonprofits by contributing through Granite United Way. Joe then moved on to volunteer on United Way’s Community Impact Committee, where he joined a team of volunteers who oversee and determine exactly how the United Way will steward and strategically invest Merrimack County’s contributions so that it can make the most meaningful impacts in the community. 


What began as simply contributing a gift and signing up for a day of volunteering blossomed into an entire lifestyle committed to understanding and addressing the complex issues for an entire community. Joe shared with us that he has seen how Granite United Way has shifted its working model to focus on building collaborative partnerships that drive impact and long-term solutions. He see’s his role on the Community Impact Committee as being a trusted investor of the community’s grant dollars and takes the responsibility of using those dollars to change people’s lives for the better, very seriously. 


His commitment must be contagious, because Joe’s daughter, Logan, crafted her senior high school project to volunteer on Granite United Way’s grant review team. She spent many hours reading grant applications from local nonprofits and attended meetings discussing Merrimack County’s community needs and the merits of each application. Joe did not participate in that year’s grant review team and was proud that his daughter committed to the process. He shared that the experience gave her a new perspective on the needs in her community and gave her valuable insight when she later worked in a WIC dental clinic. 


Here at Granite United Way, we are thrilled to support a culture of philanthropy in New Hampshire and Vermont’s families and to provide the opportunity for any citizen to give back and get involved. This year Joe Kenney takes his next step in partnering with Granite United Way by joining our board of directors. Thank you, Joe, for your significant contributions and commitment to the United Way family!

 

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Velcro USA forms long-time partnership with Easterseals NH Thanks to Day of Caring

Day of Caring is about community connection and collaboration. The partnership between Easterseals NH and Velcro USA embodies the spirit of community that Day of Caring strives for.

“We have been collaborating with Velcro for over 10 years now.  The relationship first began when we were VNA Childcare and grew from there. It has been an amazing experience each year growing with the same staff from Velcro”, says Center Director at Easterseals NH, Kimberly McKenney.  

In the past ten years Easterseals NH has utilized Day of Caring volunteers from Velcro to complete projects that simply take a back seat to other priorities. For example, nearly all the classrooms and hallways have been repainted by the Velcro USA volunteer team. But the relationship and service are not just limited to Day of Caring. Many volunteers return on their own time to do more projects throughout the year or stay in contact with staff from the organization. 

These special contributions from Velcro USA volunteers over the years has saved Easterseals NH endless time and money. “These resources can then be put back into the program to support both the classrooms and the child.  They work in tandem with our maintenance manager and myself to discuss the needs of the program and never shy away from any task.  Not only have they donated countless hours over the years, they have shared their own resources and tools to support landscaping and building projects which include creating flower beds, wood benches for the playgrounds and bus pick up area, and a garden area”, says McKenney. 

The staff from Easterseals NH and Velcro USA have forged strong bonds and a mutual respect for the work the respective organizations do. Both organizations have benefited from lifelong relationships, an appreciation of both agencies’ work, and a unified goal to put children first as a team. Members from Velcro and Easterseals NH have both expressed how special Day of Caring is to them. Kimberly McKenney says after Day of Caring, “we all leave here beaming”.

 

 

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WISE Educates Youth on Cultivating Healthy Relationships

Domestic and sexual violence has been a part of our culture for as long as we can remember. Advocacy organizations, like WISE in the Upper Valley, have been long-standing partners in our community tackling these tough issues. But what hasn’t been around as long are prevention initiatives that work with youth to combat cultural norms that perpetuate gender-based violence.


WISE has collaborated with nine school districts in the Upper Valley over the years to incorporate their pro-social curriculum into existing classes. They began in 1994 delivering their message to high school students, teaching protective skills and strategies around interpersonal relationships. As their success grew with this age group they added curriculum suitable for middle schoolers and later grade school students as young as kindergarten. Their age-appropriate message centers on learning how to behave and communicate with others in such as way as to not perpetuate violence – they seek to change cultural norms that lead to unhealthy relationships.


What does success look like for WISE? “When working with youth, success means leaving students with the feeling that they have the power to overcome gender-based violence” says Kate Rohdenburg, Program Director at WISE, “Many student-led initiatives have come out of in-school trainings, such as: senior research projects, clubs, donation drives, and even the addition of new course offerings at school.”


Teen training classes are more than educational sessions, they are an opportunity to build a relationship with an advocacy organization that will be there for them beyond the classroom - 24/7. Such relationships have led to students connecting with WISE educators before they leave the building to head-off a potentially violent situation in their family or with a peer. “In one case,” Rohdenburg relates, “I had a student lead me to his mother’s office down the hall to talk to her about issues at home. Trust that was built in the classroom gave that student confidence to take action.”


WISE has been delighted with the rise in the interest of young people in addressing domestic and sexual violence and has strong hope for the future.


WISE is a Granite United Way Funded Partner. This year they received funding for three of their initiatives including: Crisis and Advocacy Program, Prevention and Education Program, and Emergency Shelter and Supportive Housing Program.

 

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Pammy's Story

The Upper Valley is home to a unique community initiative that is aimed at promoting workplace stability for low to moderate wage earners. Eleven companies have joined the Work United program, offering it as an added benefit to their employees. Workers have access to skilled, on-site, Resource Coordinators who are on hand to help them navigate life’s tougher issues that could potentially derail them on the job and put them out of work.

In addition to one-on-one time with Resource Coordinators, Work United offers employees access to emergency funding through a Loan/Savings Benefit program. Employees in good standing (and having worked at least one year in the company) may borrow up to $1,000, to be paid back through payroll deduction. When the loan is paid off, unless the employee stops the process, their payroll deduction continues, funding a savings account for that individual. A thousand dollars isn’t necessarily like winning the lottery, but in an emergency, it can be a real lifesaver. In one case it not only saved a life but completely turned it around.

Three years ago a local worker, Pammy, contacted Work United Recourse Coordinator, Pru Pease, with a dire situation. She had recently been promoted in her job to a management level position and relocated to a new city. While she was doing quite well on the job, things in her personal life were dissolving quickly. Without warning, her partner of seven years broke off their relationship putting Pammy out of their apartment. Despite her success at work, she did not have sufficient savings to move into a new apartment nor did she have friends and family close by to help out. (Landlords typically ask for a deposit plus first and last month’s rent for new tenants. That can be a financial burden of over $2,000!) In the blink of an eye, Pammy was left homeless, living out of her car.

Fortunately, her employer was participating in the Work United program and Pammy was able to access an emergency loan of $1,000 to help her secure a place to live. With the housing crisis managed, she was able to maintain stability at work and continue to build a new life for herself. A year later she contacted Pru again to request another loan. This time was less dire but important, nonetheless. Her first loan had been paid off, but the housing crisis of the previous year left her in credit card debt and she hoped this new loan would be a way to pay down her cards and rebuild her credit. She was granted her new loan and began her journey toward a debt-free life.

This past summer, Pammy contacted Pru again to request what was to be her third loan. Pru was baffled – what could she need another loan for? Things seemed to be going well for Pammy – she’s rebuilt her credit. She’s paid off her debt. She’s thriving at work. What’s the problem? 

This time the emergency wasn’t a crisis, it a happy situation. This time she needed help paying for the incidental expenses that come from buying a new home. In just three years, Pammy went from homelessness to homeowner. 

You don’t need to win the lottery to win your life back. Sometimes you just need a little boost to get you through – when life happens.

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The Demers Family: Improving Their Community

Eric and Ashley Demers are known for rolling up their sleeves and volunteering in the community. Their family-owned business, Demers Property Maintenance, is in Berlin, NH. If running a business while raising four boys isn’t enough, this couple singlehandedly has made volunteering ‘contagious’ in their community.

Ashley serves on the Community Impact Committee for Granite United Way, and views volunteering as an opportunity to make change happen.


“If you don’t like something, volunteering to do something about it is the best thing you can do,” said Ashley. “We live in such a small community and a lot of people have great ideas. If we aren’t the ones doing something about improving our community, who will?”


The Demers also volunteer their time during Day of Caring each year, helping with projects from painting, clean up, and maintenance. 


“I love seeing everyone get involved during Day of Caring. It’s great to see the projects completed and know that you were a part of making that happen,” said Eric. “I’d encourage anyone to participate in the day and volunteer. Don’t miss the opportunity to improve our community.”


Thanks to all their generosity, the Demers were recognized with Granite United Way's Volunteer Award at the Northern Region Celebration event this past spring.


“We were proud to honor Eric and Ashley this year,” said Laura Boucher, Northern Region Area Manager for Granite United Way. “They are the first ones to raise their hands and help our community. They are the definition of a great volunteer.”


Thank you, Eric and Ashley Demers, for showing us how to #LIVEUNITED!

 

 

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Leader in Me Program

Gossler Park Elementary School Principal, Lori Upham, started receiving some unusual calls from parents last fall when the “Leader in Me” program was initiated at her school.

“They wanted to know what was causing their children to do their homework, help put away dishes, and clean their rooms without being asked,” said Upham. “It’s incredible what this program has awakened in these students – a sense of pride and ownership of their actions.”

The program is based on Steven Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and was implemented at the Gossler Park Elementary School in partnership with the City of Manchester Health Department through the Neighborhood Health Improvement Strategy (NHIS), funded in part by Granite United Way and other local and national sources.

“Dovetail Leadership,” a similar program that establishes leadership skills, was implemented at the Beech Street School this fall. Both schools are Community Schools as part of the Manchester Community Schools Project. The NHIS has also brought other support into the school community like parenting courses and the “Hi-SET” program, a high school equivalency test. Four adults have successfully completed this program, and twenty more are in the process of it.

The Manchester’s Neighborhood Health Improvement Strategy continues to garner the attention of national funders, including playing a key role in Manchester’s recognition as a recipient of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Culture of Health Prize.

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Parkside Students Improve Literacy Skills (and hit some roller coasters!)

Granite United Way introduced the Reading Plus program in Parkside Middle School as part of its West Side Reads initiative. This innovative, online reading program has been a game changer in school districts, and the team at Parkside embraced it. On June 7th many of the students headed to Canobie Lake Park in Salem, NH to celebrate their literacy improvements.

“This investment in middle school literacy has blown us away,” said Patrick Tufts, President and CEO of Granite United Way. “Principal Ransdell and his team at have maximized this program to help students reach their full potential. We’re excited to see how the next two years of this partnership continue to strengthen our community.”

The numbers are impressive – over 600 kids in the program completed more than 12,000 instructional hours and almost 38,000 lessons. Over 200 students went from off track to on track in their reading skills, with the average increase of over 2 grade levels.

The West Side Reads initiative was funded in partnership with the Cogswell Benevolent Trust. Other partners are Manchester Community Health Center, Easter Seals, Parkside Middle School, and The Manchester Parks, Recreation & Cemetery Commission.

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Melissa's Story

Click here to view Melissa's success story!

When it came time for Melissa to purchase her first home she did everything right to make sure it was a solid investment. Unfortunately, she found herself in a bad relationship that nearly caused her to lose her new home. After speaking to a 211 NH call specialist, Melissa was connected to Home Help NH and the legal resources she needed to get back on track. Thanks to the help she received from 211 NH, Melissa sent in the final loan modification payment on August 31, 2017, and was able to save her home.

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Donna Tighe: The Importance of Volunteering

Donna Tighe, a volunteer and a new Southern Region Community Impact Committee (CIC) member, was first introduced to Granite United Way 29 years ago. As the Director of a new program in Derry, Donna met the CEO of Parkland Medical Center, who introduced her to the local United Way. One conversation led to another and Donna was encouraged to apply for funding. “That $2,500 grant was the first step in a decade’s long journey with United Way,” said Donna.
 
In 2015, Donna was invited to become more involved with United Way as a volunteer on the local CIC. She decided it would be interesting to gain a different perspective on how United Way operated.
 
Donna’s volunteer experience has changed everything about how she now thinks of a grant applicant and recipient. “The work of a CIC volunteer is grueling. The requests far outweigh the available resources, despite often compelling proposals, and each CIC member struggles with the decision-making process because we all know that not everyone will get what they have asked for or need,” said Donna. “It has been an eye-opening experience for me.”
 
As an agency director, Donna finds that she is more charitable in her own life and within her agency because she has seen first-hand what generous people can do. “Volunteering is outside of a comfort zone for some people because it is a commitment, but I encourage anyone to try it and see how they feel about themselves after the fact.” 
 
United Way has offered a path for Donna’s agency to break new ground, learn new ways of doing business, and become responsible caretakers of donated resources.  Donna credits the leadership and support of Granite United Way for involving her and her organization in the South Central Public Health Network a collaborative group providing leadership for the Public Health Advisory Council.

“I consider it an honor to have the opportunity to be a part of the change in public health in NH, and potentially improve the health status and well-being of residents in this region."

 

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