Antrim Community Board members reflect on first two years
Published: 01-26-2024 8:19 AM
Modified: 02-08-2024 11:19 AM
The Antrim Community Board (ACB), formed in 2021, was the first community board in New Hampshire, and it is still the only one.
“We’re just special,” joked Helene Newbold, who has been on the ACB since 2022.
New Hampshire law allows cities and towns to create community boards to “enhance the public health, prosperity, quality of life, safety and general welfare of all citizens.” The ACB was the brainchild of longtime Antrim resident Gordon Allen, who wrote the warrant article proposing the creation of the group in 2021.
Allen, a former state legislator who has served in senior roles in multiple nonprofit organizations, also wrote the original state legislation supporting the creation of community boards in New Hampshire. The current board includes Newbold, Allen, Jennifer Adams, Rose Novotny, Leslie Moenter and Katelyn Goodington.
“The point is for cities and towns to learn how to take care of people in their own communities instead of always seeking help from the county or the state. It’s to try to teach communities to take care of themselves as much as they can,” Allen said.
The ACB is based on a model of asset-based community management, which focuses on the human capital in a community.
“Asset-based community development is an international movement; it’s had some remarkable successes in some very dysfunctional urban neighborhoods. In any neighborhood, there are going to be people with real skills and knowledge, people who can contribute. If you’re going to build a community, you need to look at what you have for resources before you start,” Allen said. “It might be individuals, or it might be groups. In Antrim, we started looking at the organizations that already existed in town and we found there whole layers of assets, from formal groups like the Lions Club, to informal networks of people.”
Newbold said the ACB is filling a need in the community.
“The ACB is filling a void left by other community groups which have gotten smaller, or they don’t exist anymore, or they have aged out. There used to be a lot more groups in town who helped people. The church congregations were larger; there were other groups such as Masons, the Eastern Star who helped a lot of people. The community board is filling that gap,” Newbold said.
After getting the go-ahead from Antrim voters to form the ACB in 2021, Allen gathered the first board of directors. The group’s first action was to create a detailed survey for town residents, asking their interests and skills.
“We have five people who said they were button collectors, and we put them all in touch, and that was a great success,” Allen said of the initial survey. “We don’t care what the connections are. It could be anything; we just want to connect people.”
The ACB used the surveys to start creating a database of community members who were interested in volunteering or willing to help with specific projects. The group also organized “kitchen table meetings” to encourage residents to get involved.
“We have people reach out to their neighbors, invite people they know. It’s much more effective to have people interview one another for the survey. Just talking to people you learn a lot more, go a lot deeper. People found out new things about one another,” Allen said.
Adams had just moved the Antrim and signed up for the ACB’s “Bucket Brigade,” volunteering to help residents who needed assistance in an emergency, when she unexpectedly needed assistance herself.
“No sooner had I signed up when I fell off my roof,” Adams said. “I had just moved here, and all of a sudden I was in a wheelchair, and the Bucket Brigade came and shoveled my snow and brought food, and all these people helped me.”
One the ACB’s first community projects was to reopen the swap shop at the Recycling Center, which had been closed for years due to lack of staff, to help organize the donations and problems with traffic flow, which caused safety issues. The ACB analyzed the layout of the recycling center and created a new map, showing residents where to park and how to access the shop. The swap shop is now open and staffed by volunteers in summer and fall.
“The swap shop is a tremendous spot for social interaction in town,” Newbold said. “People just want come in an chat for 15 minutes and see people.”
Allen noted that the swap shop also has an environmental mission.
“The most important thing is the swap shop keeps stuff out of the landfill. Items are repurposed and reused,” Allen said.
Other ACB projects include the creation of Antrim Welcome Bags for new people in town. ACB member Lesley Moenter organizes the project, which provides new families with tote bags, donated by Perry Dental, loaded with information about Antrim organizations and local businesses. Antrim Town Clerk Diane Chauncey and Assistant Town Clerk Crystal O’Brien help identify new residents as well as steer them toward the surveys available in the town offices.
In May, the ACB organized “Get To Know Antrim Bingo,” a one-day event with prizes and pizza in which residents could tour every town department, including the police, fire and highway departments.
“People could walk almost everywhere but the lake and the sewer department,” Adams said.
Last June 3, the ACB and the Antrim Newcomers Club helped sponsor a community fair. The Antrim Newcomers Club, an independent offshoot of the ACB, was founded by Adams, Mary Devine and Jenine Rubin.
“We had 23 different volunteer groups present, so people could find out where they could get help in Antrim. I kept hearing that the volunteer groups had just as much, meeting other volunteers in the groups! We had a great turnout – it was busy the whole time. It was surprising how many groups there were,” Adams said.
In summer 2023, Allen approached Bill Nichols, a longtime member of the Antrim Players, Antrim’s 100-plus-year-old theater group, about reforming after several years of dormancy. Nichols said that while Antrim had a wealth of actors, the group needed backstage help, including lighting and set design, to relaunch. The ACB hosted two well-attended workshops to identify back-of-house volunteers, and the result was a Christmas relaunch of the Players.
Other recent projects include supporting the Festival of Trees, sponsoring a community supper, supporting Antrim in the Evening events, providing volunteers for Antrim Home & Harvest and supporting The Grapevine.
Looking ahead, the ACB has requested funds from the town to assist with postage and flyers. The group’s goals for 2024 include facilitating communication between the town’s committees, departments and organizations, creating a list of Antrim-based businesses and helping facilitate new groups residents have expressed interest in, such as a garden club.
“The community board is tying to find the best ways to get all the information out there and connect different groups. The question is: What is the best way?” Adams said.
Allen said the board’s top priority for the coming year is to gather more surveys from residents and continue to build the database of community assets. He notes that this database will never be shared publicly and that no names will ever be shared without permission.
“There are so many factors driving people apart these days,” Allen said. “Our goal is to bring people together.”
“As soon as I moved to town and heard about the community board, I started volunteering,” Adams said. “That’s how I met most of my friends.”
For information about the Antrim Community Board, visit antrimnh.org/antrim-community-board.