Downtown: Something for everyone in the Concord Civics Academy

  • Margaret Fogarty (left) and Ayi D’Almeida stand in front of the State House on Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2018. The two local organizers are putting on the 2018 Concord Civics Academy, now in its second year. Caitlin Andrews / Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Sunday, February 25, 2018

Before enrolling in the Concord Civics Academy last year, Jessica Pollack considered herself to be “pretty active in the community.”

She’ll also tell you she had no idea of how the local government worked. But after partaking in the Concord Civics Academy’s pilot program last year, the Concord medical professional said she could not only tell you how the city’s wastewater treatment plant works, but that she’s considered running for city council someday.

“I would never have thought of doing that before,” she said.

If you’re looking for a similar education and source of motivation, the 2018 Concord Civics Academy might be for you.

The program, now in its second year, is a crash course in how your local government works. Consisting of six sessions, with one session per week, the classes will cover everything you might want to know but may not know how to ask about – like how the Concord City Council makes its decisions, how the public defender’s office works or what goes into hiring a police officer.

This year, organizers are hoping to build on what made the first session successful – interactive elements and a diverse group of participants willing to learn.

“Even if you’re working in the community, there’s sometimes not enough time to pause and pay attention to what’s going on,” said Margaret Fogarty, co-director of the New Hampshire chapter of the American Friends Service Committee. “We assume there are people who are making the community a vital, healthy place to live, but we don’t know how it works.”

Fogarty said the group last year comprised a mix of residents both young and old, lifelong and new.

For Kathy Bush, a Penacook resident of a combined 26 years and the president of the Penacook Village Association, the mixture was a blessing.

“The youth were not afraid to ask questions because they were expected to not know things,” she said.

Their willingness to talk, Bush said, made it easier for her to fill in some gaps.

Bush said she joined the academy because her role with the Village Association is to help Penacook develop its own identity, but she felt she lacked an understanding of how the local government worked.

Nowadays, she still uses what she learns – and whenever she forgets something, she still consults her old notebook from last year.

Ayi D’Almeida, a grassroots organizing intern for the AFSC, is responsible for recruitment, and he said the residents who got the most out of the experience were those who were willing to learn. In particular, he’s been focused on bringing in young adults, but many of them have challenges to getting involved, like work or school schedules.

“I’ve been speaking to NHTI students, and a lot of them were interested, but if they live on campus and don’t have a car, that’s a problem,” D’Almeida said.

Some of the people he recruited have now become active members of the Change for Concord initiative, a local group that aims to improve the quality of life for young adults in Concord.

But you don’t have to be old enough to vote to enjoy the program. Just ask Pollack’s son, Andrew, who was 12 when he took the course last year with his mother.

“I had no idea how they have to keep the Capitol Center for the Arts open,” Andrew said. “They only get to keep up to 20 percent of revenue or so per show. They have to rely on a lot of community funding.”

Andrew, who said he is interested in politics, said it was rewarding to get to understand how the city works behind the scenes. When the class had its graduation last year, which culminated in a mock city council meeting, Andrew got to act as the mayor.

“It was really fun to make decisions and use the gavel,” Andrew said.

Interested parties should hurry, though – the deadline to sign up is Tuesday. Contact D’Almeida at adalmeida@afsc.org or (603) 460-4486 for information.

(Caitlin Andrews can be reached at 369-3309, candrews@cmonitor.com or on Twitter at @ActualCAndrews.)