Building on Hope 2014: Opportunity Networks

How a New Hampshire community came together to help a worthy cause in need



Do-gooders.

The term sounds dismissive, even a bit frivolous. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with doing good. It’s just that for some people it’s like an identity. That can be a little off-putting, threatening even. After all, if someone else commits a big part of his or her life helping other people, what does that say about those of us who don’t?

Maybe they are just born that way.

The big photo above was taken just a few weeks ago at the Opportunity Networks offices in Amherst — a facility and a haven for people with disabilities to find work, training, meaning and friendships in their lives. The people in the photo are do-gooders. I know this because that’s me standing with them. I’m the big guy with the beard, leaning against the sign like I belong there. I suppose I earned the right to be there since I’ve been with the Building on Hope organization since the beginning, but of everyone in that photo, I probably had the least to do with the story that photo illustrates.

This year I was just too busy with other things to really help out, but the others don’t mind that I’m there. Do-gooders are generous like that.

The Building on Hope “reveal” of the remodeled and refurbished headquarters of Opportunity Networks was the first chance for clients and volunteers (like those pictured here) to see the results of their work and their dreams. The 10-day build produced about $300,000 in improvements.

The others? I don’t know most of their names. Besides, it would take more room than just this story or even this magazine to go into each of their backgrounds and contributions. Let’s just say that it’s a merry band of adventurers about to set out on an impossible mission to completely transform a dark, sad old building and turn it into a magical place filled with light and color and joy and healing power.

That’s a bit over the top, but not much, as the pictures in this story illustrate.

Some of those people know what’s about to happen, they’ve seen it happen before. Others are there on faith alone.

I’m going to single out a few of those people that I do know as I try to tell the tale of Building on Hope and Opportunity Networks. First, I have to confess that in singling some folks out, I’m breaking a rule. Call it the law of the do-gooders.

Building on Hope was founded with an understanding that it would not be about the individuals doing the work. It would be about the people they were working to help. They don’t hand out special recognition to a select few, even to that select few who tend to do the most work and give the most money. After all, who’s to say who is really giving the most unless you know what each person or organization is going through at that time? Sometimes the person giving just a little is really giving all they’ve got. (And no, this is not my way of rationalizing why I was on the sidelines this year.)

Anyway, all that anyone who signs up to help is promised is that his or her name will be added to the list of those who volunteered on the Building on Hope website and at the end of this story — in alphabetical order.

This is a problem for me as an editor. I know you can’t tell a story without using names. You have to call some people out or an organization is faceless. It’s hard to care about something without a face and people should care about their organizations. Put the right people together in an organization and that’s when the miracles start to happen.

The Creative Room was designed to “bring out the artist in everyone,” says designer Renee Rucci, with bright colors, ample supplies, a special potter’s wheel and a “living wall” of real plants to keep things fresh.

No one knows that better than Rocky Morelli. In the photo, he’s the big guy with the bigger smile in the green sweatshirt off to the right. His whole life is about getting the right people together.

Morelli studied psychology in college and got into human services as soon as he graduated, working for the PLUS Company of Nashua helping developmentally disabled people find jobs. He was so good at it that soon he got an offer to be the executive director of his own company doing that kind of work. That company is now called Opportunity Networks of Amherst, i.e. the sad, old building in the photo. Their clients have disabilities of all types, but they all share one thing. They want to be connected, needed, helpful and creative. ON assists some of their clients with finding jobs. Others need help while on the job. Others are still just trying to connect with the people or the world around them. When asked what he’s good at doing, Morelli chuckles and admits that in the end he’s best at helping other people to succeed.

It’s an ironic twist, but he’s happy, loves to come to work every day, loves the variety of challenges, loves seeing his clients find meaning and purpose in their lives. In 1988, another bit of irony: Morelli was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, adult onset, chronic, scarring his brain and spinal cord. People ask if the disease is why he got into human services and he tells them no, but he adds that it does give him perspective. “It helps me understand what my clients are going through, not getting caught in the traps of feeling sorry for yourself,” he says. It also changed how he looked at work. “I want to get better at what I do, but not make career advancement a goal,” he says. “I know that any week could be my last. Helping other people is where I get my drive.”

The Movement Room even has a basketball court.

He and the ON board had big plans for the organization. They wanted to push the boundaries, to help more people better. The problem was that people in a position to help can only be asked to give so much. Everyone in the non-profit world is asking for the same thing — compassion. It exists. New Hampshire is a generous state, no matter what the demographers say. But when people get tapped so regularly, they get careful, protective. There seems to be a limited supply of compassion, a fatigue in the charitable muscle. What ON needed was a big push. A quantum leap.

Meanwhile, in a boardroom in Manchester, Building on Hope was meeting to discuss their next project. They had successfully performed two “miracles” over the previous three years. Each one a bit like one of those Pennsylvania barn-raisings where the neighbors come and help put up the giant rafters, but in this case the neighbors were hundreds of volunteers, dozens of companies, large and small and a committee of about a dozen organizers pulling it all together.

Their motto is, “Many hands make light work.” (Which doesn’t mean it’s easy.)

At the end of each of those projects, no one could believe how things turned out, that so much could happen in such a short time, that so much money and supplies and labor could just be freely given by so many people, all to make a difference for a community in need.

They were miracles of do-goodery.

First, in 2010, they helped rebuild an intensive treatment facility, making it more of a welcoming home for boys in the Easter Seals NH program. Then, in 2012, they gutted and remodeled the Manchester Girls Inc. headquarters, a home away from home for about a hundred at-risk kids and their families. Calculating the cost of all the volunteer time plus the expert labor, equipment and supplies provided by the participants was hard, but conservatively more than a half a million dollars had gone into those efforts combined. 

The reception area features a six-foot-tall water feature (left) and centers on this elegant and efficient hand-built sofa, table and ottoman set that uses the space to full advantage. Designers Leslie Newman and Emily Shakra had photos of ON clients at work framed for the wall.

Now the Building on Hope board members were looking for their next target. They wanted to expand a bit beyond the Manchester area, and were open to a fresh challenge, but when word arrived about Opportunity Networks, they were dubious. It was different. And distant. One trusted member was convinced it was right. Emily Shakra, an interior designer from Bedford, is one of the founders of Building on Hope (in the big photo, she’s the pixie-faced woman to my left behind the sign). She had spent some time at ON, had met the clients, talked with the staff and she just knew that it was the next project.

How was she so sure?

It had been confirmed by angels, she said.

Do-gooders talk to angels, by the way.

Maple cabinetry, concrete and granite counters and top-of-the-line donated appliances have transformed the kitchen.

The decision still had to be confirmed by the committee, but co-chairs Jonathan Halle, principal of Warrenstreet Architects in Concord and Karen Van Der Beken, chief development officer of Easter Seals NH, couldn’t argue with Shakra’s angels. After a site visit and a vote, the die was cast.

Halle, by the way, is the kind-looking fellow in a jacket and tie on the left in the photo. He looks a bit like a coach and that’s not a bad description since it was his job to keep all the players motivated and in their places throughout the 10-day “build” of the Opportunity Networks project. He’s not a guy with a lot of free time on his hands, but he had already devoted hundreds of hours to the project when this photo was taken and things were really just getting started. In case you can’t tell, he’s already pretty exhausted in this photo, but he knew there was no turning back (not that a do-gooder like him ever would).

Karen Van Der Beken is the professional-looking woman in black behind the sign. As an Easter Seals VP, her profession IS helping people. But that doesn’t explain why she would be spending time, effort and goodwill on another group with a whole different mission. You’d think that after spending a long day with meetings and fund-raising and publicity for Easter Seals she might want to relax by playing tennis or knitting, not by diving into another set of meetings, fund-raising and publicity needs.

Do-gooders are crazy like that.

The Multi-sensory Room and Technology Theater features a 20-foot video screen and rows of seats procured from a 1935 theatre in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

I should make clear that Karen, Jonathan and Rocky (and Emily) each have a list of people they would rather have named than themselves. That’s why Building on Hope came up with that rule I mentioned. If we went down the path of naming names, a story like this would be nothing but names — a directory of people who care. Not great reading material.

Another thing that makes bad reading material (except maybe to some corporate lawyers and tax accountants) is stories about organizations. The very word suggests a row of green binders in a file drawer. But in the non-profit world, an organization is more like a wagon train being circled to create a defensive perimeter, to protect its cargo of souls and create a safe place to plan the next move.

Opportunity Networks is an organization that has circled its wagons around the hundreds of souls who rely on it as a respite, a training center, a meeting place and a source of inspiration.

Building on Hope, on the other hand, is barely an organization. It has no non-profit status or business license. It’s really just an idea that a group of people rallied around, becoming friends in the process, collecting more friends and then putting everyone to work on a crazy project every two years.

The Snoezelen Room has interactive wall panels, bubble tubes, an illuminated ball pit and weighted blankets for relaxation.

They collected friends like Greg Rehm, a Bedford contractor who became the foreman of the project spending whole days there during prime building season for his real company. Or the Turnstone Corporation of Milford, a Building on Hope convert that kept the momentum going through the ON project. Or the folks at Wal-Mart who gave more than $10,000 in grants from their stores, a couple of TVs, a shed and provided lunch during the week and food for the Big Reveal Party. Even groups that represent the state’s charitable impulse at the highest level have taken notice, like the NH Charitable Foundation, which contributed for the first time this year.

Halle explains, “The real story here is that this is our third project, with many returning designers and contributors that see the vision and the impact that BOH can and does make for the selected non-profit. Something happens that otherwise would not have happened.” In short, they become do-gooders, or else they have their inner do-gooder channeled onto the project at hand. “There is something great in doing a good thing for someone that cannot pay you back. People see the momentum, they see the unselfish loving embrace that the BOH event creates,” says Halle. “Paying forward is truly a magical event.”

The outside of Opportunity Networks also received some much needed attention.

Van Der Beken adds, “People have told me that, when I talk about Building on Hope, I’m smiling from ear to ear. That’s because BOH gives me such a good feeling — first, by helping a non-profit and ultimately its clients achieve something more than they could without our assistance and second, the gratification that BOH provides to volunteers once they have joined us. We are all busy, but a project like this lets you do amazing things for others and somehow you find the time. You juggle your priorities because others are depending on you. Failure is not an option!”

By the way, both Van Der Beken and Halle have agreed to chair Building on Hope again and start the planning for a 2016 project. If you know of a worthy organization, now would be a good time to reach out and let one of them know.

So who have I forgotten? Just about everyone. Literally hundreds of others gave as much as they could without any strings, but I can’t help but feel bad for not mentioning them. Good thing that do-gooders are a forgiving bunch. The complete list is on the last page of this story and on the BuildingonHope.org website if you are curious.

But just because do-gooders are generous to a fault and forgiving doesn’t mean that they aren’t realistic or practical. And it doesn’t mean that they don’t get anything substantial out of helping. They forge connections, learn names, work alongside people they are happy to know and do business with in the future. None of this makes their contributions any less gracious or meaningful.

So, yes. Do-gooders sometimes get a bad rap. They call such people dreamers, consider them idealists who defy the priorities of the “real” world to build castles in the sky. But what if the world has it backwards? What if these dreamers are the realists? What if they simply see what many do not — that in spite of all our differences of color or ability or beliefs, we really are one big thing, one family, one organism of which the individual parts either stand together or stand alone.

And people were not designed to be alone. No more proof of that is needed than to see the smiles on the faces of those in that original photo. It’s a portrait of a group of people who have gathered to reveal the wonders that can only be done by many hands, making light work.  


Building on Hope Steering Committee

Co-chairs Jonathan Halle, Warrenstreet Architects, and Karen Van Der Beken, Easter Seals NH;  Rick Broussard, New Hampshire Magazine; Emily Shakra, Nick Shakra Real Estate; E.J. Powers, Montagne Communications; Sam Maltais, SilverTech; June Vailas; Melissa West, LKM Design; Lorrie Determann, LTD Company; Tom Farrell, Easter Seals NH; Greg Rehm, Liberty Hill Construction; Cathy Duffy Cullity, Girls Inc; Jon Krygeris, Eckman Construction; Craig Liffner, Sullivan Construction, Kyle Barker, Barker Architects; Dave Waldman, B2B Video; Jeff Feingold, New Hampshire Business Review,  Susan Laughlin and Sue Bee.


 

Thanks to the many hands that made the Opportunity Networks of Amherst 2014 Project possible

     

13 Steps

3 Form

A & E Flooring, Inc.

A.W. Therrien Company, Inc.

Academy Roofi ng

Acapella Tech

Ace Consulting

Ace Welding

ACS American Carpet South

Adam Lapointe

Adam Wood

Agnes Lindsay Trust

Alan & Nancy Orde

Alice Kysar

All Real Meal

Allegion

Alpha Graphics, Manchester

Altro Flooring

Amato Family Trust

American Carpet South

American Threadworks

Amerock

Amherst Bookkeeping

Amherst Orthodontics

Ann DeNicloa Trust

Ann Henderson Interiors

Anne & Dan Webb

Appli-TEC

Art & Joan Brault

Art by Danielle

Arthur Keyes Memorial Trust

Artistic Tile

Aubin Woodworking

A W Emboss LLC

B2B Video Solutions

BAE Systems

Bank W. Holdings, LLC

Barker Architects

Barker Foundation

Baron’s Major Brand Appliances

Bean Foundation

Becky’s Frame Studio

Belgard Hardscapes

Bellwether Community Credit Union

Benjamin Moore

Bickford’s Landscaping

Bill & Sally Long

Bill Cooke

Bingham Lumber

Black Forest Café

Bob’s Discount Furniture

Boy Scout Troop 88

BrieMarie Interiors

Bryan M Fournier Landscaping and Irrigation

Capital Kitchen & Bath

Cardoza Flooring

Carpet Products, Inc.

Central Paper

Charles & Camille Northup

Charles George Construction

Charron Inc.

Christophersen Construction Company

Clarke’s Hardware

Cobb Hill Construction

Coca-Cola

Cogswell Benevolent Trust

Comfortex Window Fashions

Company C

Compass Flooring

Cornerstone Painting Contractors, Inc.

Courtyard by Marriott

Dal Tile

Dann N. Batting, Architect

Dave Hanlon

Dave’s Septic

David & Sheila Strum

Defi ance Electric

Design Works

Desmarais Construction

Deventry Construction LLC

Devine Flooring

Distinctive Theater

Donovan Equipment

Door Control, Inc.

Doug Sneed & Company

Dr. Val Peline

Duralee Fabrics

Durgin and Crowell Lumber Co, Inc.

Easter Seals NH

Eckman Construction

ECO Stoneworks

Elon Tile

Emily Shakra

Emily Shakra Home Staging & Decorating

Esther Chaffee

Ethan Allen Home Interiors

Evelyn Barrett

Exeter Handkerchief Co.

F. W. Webb Company

FED Tile & Stone Work

First Choice Wire

Fitzgerald Tile

Flaghouse

Fluent, Inc.

Forbo

Friends of the Derry Public Library

FW Webb Company

Galaxy Glass & Aluminum

Gary Manoogian

George Smith Electrical

Girls Inc., Manchester

Goedecke Flooring & Design Center

Goffstown Hardware

Gourmet Painting & Restorations

GPR Masonry

Granite Group

Granite State Glass

Granite State Plumbing & HVAC

Greenfi eld Industries

GRK Handyman Services

Hampshire Fire Protection

Harley Davis

Harvey Construction Corp

Herman Miller

Hitchiner Manufacturing

HLD Tile

Home Depot

Home Staging & Decorating

Homework Drapery

Hunter Designs and Photography

Hutter

Image 4

Impeccable Nest

Interstate Electrical Services

Ipswich Clambake Company

J & R Langley Co, Inc.

J Lawrence Hall

Jamen Family Charitable Fund

James Martin

Jay & Antonia Dinkel

Jay Steel, LLC

Jayna Stevens

JBART Consulting

JDS Flooring Associates, Inc.

Jill Boehler

Jim & Ruth Stratton

Johanna Johnson Weick

John Benford Photography

Johnsonite

Julie Wood

June Vailas

K&L Insulation Company

Kaley Foundation

Karen & David Van Der Beken

Keim Landscape Consulting

Keith Carmen

Keith Jones

Key Stone Carvings

Knights of Columbus Council 3035

 

Knott’s Land Care

Kristen Goci & Kit Webb

L. Newman Associates

LaValley Building Supply

Lealyn P. Zurbank

Liberty Hill Construction

LKM Design

Longchamps Electric

Lou & Cynthia Dokmo

Louise Allard

Lowell Five Cents

LTD Company

Lunada Bay Tile

M.L.M. Construction

Manchester Redi Mix

Marchand Painting

Mark Allen

Mark Halle

Marvell Plate Glass, Inc

Matt & Lauren Conlin

Matt Harwood

Matt Johnson Fund

Mavrikis Upholstering & Furniture

McBride Design

MDC Wall Coverings

Merrimack Building Supply

Merrimack Seniors

Messiah Lutheran Church

Messina’s Flooring

Metro Walls

MI-Box New England

Michael Rodanas

Mike & Ann Goci

Mike Kerwan Carpentry

Milestone Engineering & Construction, Inc.

Milford Electric Supply

Milford Plumbing

Milford Rotary

Millican Nurseries, Inc.

Milton Sandborn

Molly Nettlesmith

Montagne Communications

Moriah Arrato Gavrish

Mr. & Mrs. Ron Allard

MTS Services

Nancy Carlisle Interior Plantings

New Hampshire Reupholstery & Douglass

Fabrics

New Hampshire Tile

NH Business Review

NH Charitable Foundation

NH Magazine

NH Reupholstery

Nicholas L. Shakra Real Estate

Noonan Brothers Painting

Nora Flooring

Offi ce Surplus

P J Currier Lumber

Pamela Hanson Architecture & Consulting

Panera Bread

Paradigm Windows

Paul Mansback, Inc.

Paul Spiess

Pelcon General Contractors

Phytek Industries

Pichette Brothers

Pizza Bella

Pleasant View Garden

Prana Design

Presidio

Prestige Auto Body, Inc.

Pro Con Inc.

ProQuip Equipment Rental & Sales

Puffi n Interiors

Quality Tile

Quality Toys

Queen City Glass & Mirror

RE Marble & Granite

Red Sauce Ristorante

Regency Mortgage

RH Laboratories

Rhode Island Tile

Richard & Theresa Fitzgerald

River Road Tavern

Rob & Courtney Smith

Rocky & Tammie Morelli

Rodney Thompson, Jr

Roma Tile

Rucci Bardaro and Falzone

Ruckus Wireless

Rumford Stone

Sam & Missy Ruddy

SAM Mechanical Services, LLC

Sandra Pelletier

Sarette Excavation

Savings Bank

Say It In Stitches

School Furnishings, Inc.

Schulter Systems

Scott & Lisa Winslow

Scott Burns Landscaping, LLC & Pavestone

Second Wind Water Systems

Shaw Contract Group

Sherwin Williams

Silver Tech

Simpson’s Painting

Single Digits

SL Chasse Steel

Sousa Signs

South River Road Tavern

Southern NH Concrete Foundations

St. Joseph’s Hospital

Stephen & Brenda Robinson

Stewart Porter Painting

Stibler Associates

Stratton Memorial Fund

Sue Bee

Sullivan Construction

Sullivan Framing

Susan Laughlin

Susie Lennox

Suzanne D’Amato Design, LLC

Tammi & Don Graff

TEC

Terrain Planning & Design LLC

Terrance McMahon

The Bee Family

The Common Man

The Constable Family

The Frame Depot

The Granite Group

The Leading Edge Drapery LLC

The Peterson Family

The Puritan Café

The Ultimate Bath Store

Thomas and Germaine Riordan

Tile Gallery

Tim & Gail Callahan

Tim & Liz Quick

Tom Welden

Triolo’s bakery

Turnstone Corporation

Tuscan Kitchen

Unilock

Universal Décor

Universal Direct Cabinetry, Portsmouth

UPS

Van Berkum Nursery

Visible Light

VPS Drywall, LLC

Wal-Mart

Warrenstreet Architects, Inc.

Water Structures

White Diamond Painting

William McKellar

Wilson Art

Worlds Away

You You’s Asian Cuisine

Zen Stoneworks, Portsmouth NH

 

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