The mission of the Keene Young Professionals is to connect young professionals in the Monadnock Region with their peers and their communities.
Hosting regular get-togethers, the Young Professionals, created social, educational and service opportunities for its members.
That all came to a screeching halt in mid-March. Like so many other people in the Monadnock Region, young professionals suddenly found themselves with time on their hands.
“We now have this demonstrated low-risk, high-mobility group of people with free time,” says Mike Giacomo, Ward 3 City Councilor, chemical engineer at Markem-Imaje and the president of the Keene Young Professionals.
Giacomo brainstormed with Keene Mayor George Hansel and KYP members, Ed and Maggie Rice, and came up with the idea of enlisting the members of the Keene Young Professionals to make deliveries to people around the community.
“We built a website (www.keeneypn.com/community) for requests and driver signups,” notes Giacomo. “Maggie offered to do the day-to-day logistics of coordinating drivers with deliveries.”
If you need groceries or a prescription picked up, all you have to do is place and pay for your order at the grocery store or pharmacist and log in to the website and request a driver.
The Keene YPN COVID-19 Response Team, in partnership with the Monadnock Rugby Football Club, is also working with organizations that have collected staples for distribution and need them driven to homes in a half-hour range from Keene. They are also working with the Keene Community Kitchen to deliver hot meals.
“It makes sense for the Young Professionals to take this on,” says Giacomo.
Volunteers receive a background screening and are asked what type of vehicle they drive.
“We did a food pantry transfer to Jaffrey, and we needed a good vehicle for that,” says Giacomo.
The Keene Young Professionals now has 33 volunteer drivers making deliveries and will continue to do so until they are no longer needed.
“We don’t have an exit strategy because the nation doesn’t have an exit strategy,” says Giacomo. “We are definitely looking for more drivers. Thirty-three drivers sound like a lot, but the volunteers are working their own jobs while taking three or four requests per day.”
The Young Professionals ask that payment is made directly to the purveyor of goods to reduce contact between drivers and clients — but that’s not always possible.
“We would rather not have to handle physical currency,” says Giacomo. “We would like to keep this completely hands-off and only do pick up and drop off. But that’s not always possible, especially with EBT cards. It’s been tricky, but Maggie is doing a great job of working through those logistics.”
Giacomo, who grew up in Nelson and went to Clarkson University in upstate New York, first took a job with Exxon Mobil in St. Louis in 2004 selling lubricants.
“Their philosophy is it’s easier to teach an engineer how to sell than it is to teach engineering to a salesman,” says Giacomo, who admitted that approach didn’t work out well for him. “I was terrible at customer sales … absolutely, abysmally bad. But I was good at building customer relations.”
When he decided it was time to find another job, he learned from his father that Markem-Imaje was looking for a chemical engineer.
“I took a pay cut to come back to Keene, but I was able to live at home and pay off my college debt,” notes Giacomo, who has been with Markem-Imaje for 14 years. He’s been a member of the Keene Young Professionals since 2007, eventually becoming a board member and then its social chairman. He’s been president of KYP for the past two years, through a transition period that included a new board, a new website and a new mission.
By volunteering, the members are building relationships and strengthening the community, says Giacomo.
“What we have found is people really trying to be upbeat through this,” he says. “It’s really incredible to see this; the sense of community and the lengths people are willing to go to support each other is just incredible. We are living in a place that really values community.”
Giacomo thinks the Monadnock Region can learn from the pandemic and come out ahead.
“Keene is out of the way,” he says. “We’ve lamented it for many years. It’s hard to attract businesses when you’re a half-hour from the nearest highway.”
At the same time, says Giacomo, a relatively isolated region can be stronger because of the connections needed in normal times. In pandemic times, it can even add up to fewer COVID-19 infections.
“Places like Keene stand to benefit if we frame it to attract a whole group of people who thought they had to live in or near a big city,” says Giacomo, who believes his own experience leaving and then coming back is characteristic of people seeking a rewarding career in a tight-knit community.
“The end result is one of the best things to happen to me in my life,” he says. “My wife moved here in 2017 from Portland, Maine, and I can’t tell you the number of times she has said to me this is a really great town, a good place, with really good people.”
To learn more about free delivery from the Keene Young Professionals, email KeeneHelpers@gmail.com.
Robert Audette writes from Swanzey, New Hampshire.