Hometown Heroes: Neighbors look to make lasting improvements to community

  • The Kearsarge group that helps residents with many supplies and tasks including wood for the winter. Front left: Beth Greenawalt, Nancy Lindsey, Gene Lindsey, Steve McGrath and Steve Allenby. Back row from left: Ron Clark, Mike Heffenrnan, Micah Allenby and Camden Allenby. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • The Kearsarge group works on straightening the wood pile that they will be distributing to local residents in need. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Gene Lindsey of the Kearsarge group straighens he wood pile that they will be distributing to local residents in need. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • The Kearsarge group that helps local residents with many supplies and tasks including wood for the winter. Front left: Beth Greenawalt, Nancy Lindsey, Gene Lindsey, Steve McGrath and Steve Allenby. Back row from left: Ron Clark, Mike Heffenrnan, Micah Allenby and Camden Allenby. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 7/31/2022 8:03:15 PM
Modified: 7/31/2022 8:00:06 PM

Growth is one of the greatest joys in life, and Kearsarge Neighborhood Partners facilitates much of it in the Kearsarge region.

Just last month the non-profit provided a car to a local couple, and later that week they volunteered to drive over 300 miles taking people to doctor’s appointments.

Since February 2020, when they were established, there have been countless other stories in the more than 15,000 volunteer hours and 215 “neighbors,” as they call themselves, helped.

KNP differs from many other charitable organizations in that they never do things that one couldn’t do for themselves. That, to the group that now sits at around 250 volunteers, is the key to building sustainable communities.

“Our mission and our vision is to build connections through our principles, which are really important to us,” said President Steve Allenby. “One of our key principles is that we don’t do for others what they can do for themselves. A lot of charities or nonprofits want to fix things or people who want to help people want to fix things, and that just keeps folks in the same loop. They haven’t figured out a way to get themselves out.”

KNP’s founding group employed these principles long before the 501c3 was established, mainly through Kearsarge Regional Ecumenical Ministries, a multi-Church charitable organization. However, many noticed that it was largely the same people who were consistently coming to KREM for aid.

KNP, as evidenced by its mission, was the answer to that problem.

“We became concerned that what we needed to do with many of these individuals was not only to help them through a financial crisis or whatever it might be, but to understand what was going on with these individuals,” said Vice President Cindy Johnson, a retired ordained minister. “We needed a space to provide them with a longer-term relationship, not just to help them survive, but to somehow lift them out of needing help on a pretty regular basis.”

The main way KNP realizes this is through the advocate program, which Johnson co-chairs. It connects volunteers with neighbors to help them address issues on a deeper, more enduring level. The key to this is establishing a rapport to help connect a neighbor with services that are most beneficial to their long-term prosperity.

“It is the arm of us that was a huge part of the motivation for KNP to get started,” she said. “We realized that there is a real important link between struggle and lack of connection and/or lack of relationships, and we believe connecting neighbors with committed volunteers would really empower them and help foster ways that they could find stability and security.”

KNP also aids the Kearsarge Region through short-term, more concrete events called “Flash Missions.” These tasks usually last around two or three hours and range from anything to transportation, yardwork or cooking a meal for a hungry neighbor.

“The flash missions are where we can help neighbors through simple, quick things to make someone’s day go a little smoother,” said Beth Greenawalt, the volunteer coordinator.

She is the one responsible for taking requests and matching up neighbors with the right programs and volunteers. This makes her the de facto “voice” of KNP, a role that has allowed her to see the life-changing work the non-profit does on a daily basis.

“We all have our different strengths, and they all come together to build such a strong network in this community,” she said. “I’ve had several people reach out from towns outside of our region asking if there is an organization like us near them, and as far as we know, there isn’t. But they wish there was.”

With cold New Hampshire winters, one of the most common flash missions is wood stacking, facilitated through KNP’s wood ministry. The stacking takes place during the warmer months, and then supply is delivered as needed in the chilly months. The ministry was an offshoot of a similar project by First Baptist Church in New London, which current coordinator Nancy Lindsey was also involved with.

“It’s very enriching work. There are so many people who want to help, and they do it joyfully. It’s pretty remarkable,” said Lindsey, who, along with her husband Gene, was a founding member of the group. “We came from the Boston suburbs, where everybody’s just so busy, and maybe it’s because many of us have retired or that we have more time, but I’ve never lived in a community like this. People really reach out with open hearts to help people. It’s been very, very rewarding.”

The final cog of KNP revolves around community partnerships through programs like Victory Gardens or Tray it Forward. At the heart of both is F.E.E.D. Kearsarge – Food Expansion, Education and Distribution – which connects KNP with Colby Sawyer College, Spring Ledge Farm and myriad local food pantries. These organizations come together to help combat food insecurity through grassroots food growing.

The Victory Gardens, a term that originated during World War II when Americans were urged to grow their own food to ease the supply chain, started months after KNP was established. Their main purpose was to help manage community food shortages at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic through cultivation education. Today, there are three Victory Gardens located at food pantries in Warner, Bradford and on the Colby Sawyer campus.

“The biggest thing is educating people about how easy it is and how cost-effective it can be to grow your own vegetables,” said Andy Jeffrey, a KNP board member and instrumental voice in the organization’s fight against regional food insecurity. “In the fall when there are bountiful harvests that are beyond the capacity of people to pick themselves, we’re able to bring all that excess food to the Kearsarge Food Hub, which in turn distributes them out to the pantries. It’s been a wonderful collaboration.”

Jeffrey also helps orchestrate the Tray It Forward program, where KNP, Spring Ledge Farm and Colby Sawyer College work together to deliver seedling trays to people in the region. They also provide compost and instructions on how to plant the seedlings to ensure a quality return.

“This year was our third year and we distributed 400 trays of vegetable seedlings to people within our region with food security issues,” he said. “Each tray contained 24 vegetable seedlings that were fully sown and ready to be planted, which all was done by Greg Berger up at Spring Ledge.”

One of KNP’s newer programs, Kars for Kearsarge, started this past October after advocates saw a consistent need for transportation among neighbors. It sees KNP partner with KREM and other community members to help give neighbors a vehicle.

“If individuals can get a car, it makes them much more able to stay employed and so many other things,” said coordinator Becky Rockwell. “To have that sense of independence. To not have to depend on people to go get groceries. Things like that.”

So far, Kars for Kearsarge has provided five cars to the community through donations. The work isn’t over once the car is delivered, though. Advocates will remain in touch with the recipient to make sure that it’s enhancing their life rather than becoming another burden.

“We maintain contact with them because we definitely want the car to be a blessing and we don’t want it to be a negative in their life,” Rockwell said. “Like ‘oh my gosh, I can’t afford the gas. oh my gosh, I need to have an oil change’ or whatever. We want to make sure that their situation is such that a car would be a positive in their life.”

KNP’s future may lie in housing projects and other initiatives, but the end goal is simple: stopping.

“My idea of success is that so many connections are created in the community that we’re not needed anymore. I’d be thrilled if we weren’t needed and we just went away because everybody’s talking and connecting and caring about each other,” said Allenby. “I think in our vision we said that we want a community where people have spiritual, relational and financial or material wholeness. That’s the goal.”

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