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From Hurricane Katrina to Hilltop Golf Course, Card answers the call

PETERBOROUGH — It’s raining hard, the kind of summer downpour that forces everyone to run indoors with their arms over their heads in a futile effort to protect themselves from a soaking.

The rain doesn’t let up, but it provides Annie Card a respite from her outdoor work as owner of the Hilltop Golf Course. The property abuts The MacDowell Colony, the world-famous artists retreat founded in 1907 by composer Edward MacDowell and his wife, pianist and philanthropist Marian MacDowell, who are buried just off the course’s second fairway.

“The rain’s good for the course, for the greens,” says Card, 57, as she sits in the cozy clubhouse. Built in 1932 during the depths of the Great Depression, the clubhouse reflects the style of that time, with dark wood paneling that originated from pines and hardwoods felled in the forests nearby. Old photographs and framed, faded newspaper clippings on the walls depict golfers from earlier eras, their clothing offering a clue to their vintage. One particularly special photo is prominently displayed; it’s of the “Sultan of Swat” Babe Ruth teeing off, although it’s uncertain if its provenance is on the Peterborough course.

Up until 2017, the place was known as the Monadnock Country Club.

Short in stature and exuding energy and warmth, Card explains how she ended up running the golf course.

“I’ve said yes to a lot of things in my life,” she says. “The place was in trouble, bankrupt. They closed in October 2016, at the end of the season.”

But Card’s friend and fellow tennis player, Vickie Brock, managed to rally some Peterborough residents to buy memberships, and the club was kept open by the skin of its teeth for another season in 2017 and renamed Hilltop Golf Course.

“Vickie learned that if the course was let go, it likely would never be recovered,” Card says, the fairways and greens reclaimed by the inexorable forces of nature.

MacDowell’s resident director, David Macy, had been searching for an individual or group to take up management of the golf course, according to a March 2017 article in the Monadnock Ledger-Transcript.

“I jumped in to help,” Card says, putting together a business plan that she presented to the board of MacDowell, which owns the land and buildings.

“I was nervous when I presented my plans to them,” she explains, “and they said yes.”

Card bought the defunct business last year and leases the land and buildings from MacDowell.

‘I like to fix broken things’

The course has a long history, originally opening in 1901. Edward MacDowell was instrumental in its founding and later wrote a section into its bylaws allowing artists-in-residence to play for free, though that’s cashed in on “maybe once or twice a year,” Macy said in the 2017 Monadnock Ledger-Transcript report.

Coincidentally, Card says, “Yesterday, a half-dozen colony residents wandered over here. They had never played golf, so I gave them a bucket of balls and some clubs. They had a great time.”

Card’s plan concentrated on two goals — to make the course more profitable and to promote its sizable function hall as a year-round venue for weddings, retirement parties, anniversaries, company banquets and other special occasions. It has already hosted a number of such events.

“I like to fix broken things,” she explains. “I can see clearly when there’s something I can help.”

Card understood that taking on the responsibilities of resurrecting the business would require quite a bit of work. “I’m up mowing at 5 a.m., and last night, I shut off the sprinklers at 9:30. I have high expectations for this place.”

In golf parlance, Hilltop is what’s known as a “short course” of nine holes. “I like to say we’re a perfect golf course for busy people.”

‘I left without a plan’

Born and raised in West Haven, Conn., Card is the seventh of 10 children of the late Harold and Lorraine Card. He was a firefighter, and she a nurse and homemaker. Card describes the home where she grew up as happy and full of activity — easy to picture with that many siblings. “There were bunk beds everywhere,” she says, smiling. “We’re still a close family.”

Card graduated with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and photography from Boston University and moved to New Hampshire after graduation.

Her connection to the Granite State started during her junior and senior years at BU, through an internship at Yankee Publishing of Dublin.

She was hired by Yankee full-time after graduation and ended up working there for 16 years until 2000, serving as its photo editor for 11.

“They were the most generous and kind mentors, editors and art directors,” she says of the company, mentioning such names as former editor Judson Hale and current editor Mel Allen. “How patient they were with me when I was learning and making mistakes.”

Eventually, Card left the job because she felt it time for a new challenge. “I recall the day before I left Yankee, Jud Hale asked me what were my plans. I said it depends on the weather. He said to me, ‘That is so you.’ I left without a plan. I left Yankee, but the door never closed behind me,” she says, and she still occasionally does projects for the company.

For the next couple of years, Card went on her own form of walkabout, including doing freelance photography, travel writing, a stint with Outward Bound and paddling 300 miles up Canada’s Coppermine River into the Arctic Ocean. She also became a ski instructor at Mount Sunapee and a wildfire fighter in Wyoming and Montana.

Then came Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and Card embarked on an experience that would become perhaps the high point of her life to date.

The ‘most important work’

Immediately after the hurricane hit, Card joined the Red Cross effort to help victims in Mississippi.

“New Orleans got all the media attention, but the storm hit Mississippi first, then New Orleans,” she says. “It obliterated the place.”

She worked with the Red Cross for a month and ended up moving down there, to a town named Pass Christian — nicknamed “The Pass” — near Gulfport and Biloxi.

After the Red Cross emergency help began to withdraw, Card and another woman aiding in the effort, Tammy Agard of Montana, began their own recovery initiative — a nonprofit organization named “Mississippi Home Again.”

“I asked myself how else could I help after the Red Cross,” she says. “I went to my friends in Peterborough.”

There, with the help of then-U.S. Rep. Charlie Bass and the local chapter of The Salvation Army, $30,000 was raised, and the new organization formed.

From that start, Card and Agard built a formidable recovery effort, eventually raising more than $3 million in cash and in-kind donations to help those devastated by the hurricane.

“People don’t understand unless they’ve been in a disaster zone, that it lasts for years. What people see in the news is for a week or two, but there is so much more death and suffering involved for a long, long time. Suicides, depression, financial devastation.”

Americans are very generous with money during a national disaster’s immediate aftermath, Card explains, but what victims need in real time are things like shoes, electricity, refrigeration, beds, food and water.

“Katrina was so broad and deep of a disaster that it was the first time international aid agencies came to our rescue,” she says.

In this type of disaster, “People are not better in six months or a year, or two years; they need help for a long time.”

Because of her experience in journalism, Card was able to generate national publicity for her effort, with coverage ensuing by such outlets as The New York Times and the network morning shows. As a result, money came in, but more importantly, companies donated what “Mississippi Home Again” needed most — refrigerators, stoves, washers and dryers, hot-water heaters, paint, building supplies and furniture.

“What people and media liked about us was the grassroots nature of our organization; we had thousands of volunteers,” she says.

Living out of a small trailer, during the day Card worked steadily on the rebuilding efforts, and stayed up late at night writing press releases that she sent to the volunteers’ hometown newspapers. More money and goods poured in, and eventually, the initiative grew to a 100-bed shelter and two large warehouses in Pass Christian.

“It was the best work and most important work I ever did,” she says of the experience. “What could even matter after that? It was hard to come back because as much as we helped, we left so many in need.”

‘I want to get things done’

In 2007, Card returned to Peterborough and formed Annie Card Creative Services, a marketing firm she still maintains.

She is, in essence, a problem solver.

Mel Allen, Yankee Magazine’s editor, recalls when Card showed up at the magazine as an intern.

“She so impressed us with her work ethic,” he says. “She became an indispensable member of the staff.”

Allen describes her as “having an enormously generous heart” with an ability to get things done. “She had to move mountains to get that aid to Mississippi. She is the kind of person that every community wants to have. She knows what her goals are.”

Card credits much of her success to a special chemistry in her makeup.

“I don’t have a very big ego, but I’m impatient; I want to get things done. I know I’m not the best at things, but I’m the best I can be. I’m not afraid to do new things and to ask for help.”

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Modeled on Vermont, fledgling Cheshire County program sees justice through another lens

BRATTLEBORO — About once a month, Annie Richards discusses crimes with the people who committed them.

Typically, Richards and other volunteers get a quick briefing on someone. He or she enters. There are intros and small talk. Then the group holds an open-ended discussion of the actions that got the person arrested.

Panelists “try to draw out how they came to the decisions they did, to do whatever it was that they did,” Richards said. “What were the circumstances behind it? How did those actions affect the other parties involved? Looking back, is there anything they could have done differently?

“And then ultimately, we get to a point where we say, ‘OK, let’s talk about where to go from here. How can we bring a resolution to this?’ ”

Richards is not a lawyer, judge or jailer. She’s a trained volunteer with a court diversion program that provides an alternative route through the justice system for people accused of low-level crimes.

In a traditional prosecution, attorneys argue over guilt and punishment. In Brattleboro’s court diversion sessions, the focus shifts to accountability and repairing harm.

Participants must take responsibility for their behavior. They’re encouraged to confront the damage their actions have caused to individuals and to the community. They may hear from victims of those acts, either directly or through a statement. And, after discussion with the volunteer panelists, they agree to take certain steps in a bid to make things right.

If they follow through, the case is dismissed. If not, it lands back in court.

The idea is to keep people charged with relatively minor offenses from becoming needlessly entangled in the justice system, while still holding them responsible and nudging them to change their behavior.

It’s an approach volunteers hope to implement on the other side of the Connecticut River.

With the support of county leaders, the Cheshire County Restorative Justice Program started a couple months ago with a fledgling diversion program for a handful of minor offenses.

Volunteers and county officials have looked to Vermont as a model, with the all-volunteer Cheshire County program representing a tiny step in that direction.

The Cheshire County initiative, which is not funded, is authorized to handle only petty cases with no direct human victim — things like shoplifting and minor motor-vehicle offenses. It depends on prosecutors referring people to the program. No cases had been referred as of Thursday.

The practice is much more established in Vermont, where state law directs the Office of the Attorney General to administer court diversion programs in every county, targeted at people facing their first or second misdemeanor or first nonviolent felony. Generally, the presumption under state law is that such defendants qualify for diversion, unless a prosecutor explicitly objects. (Diversion is prohibited for people accused of serious crimes, including sexual and violent offenses.)

More than 2,300 adults facing criminal charges were referred to diversion in fiscal year 2018, representing 20 percent of misdemeanor cases filed in Vermont courts, according to statistics from the Attorney General’s Office. The program had a completion rate of 85 percent that year.

The state also has separate diversion programs for adults in need of substance-use or mental-health treatment, minors facing alcohol and marijuana citations and people with suspended licenses.

Justice through another lens

The diversion programs in both Cheshire County and Vermont rely on principles of a philosophy known as restorative justice.

Essentially, restorative justice views crime in terms of the harm it causes — to directly impacted victims, as well as the wider community. The idea is to think about who has been harmed, how they’ve been harmed, and how the person responsible can start to repair the damage.

“To me, restorative is the idea of when somebody hurts someone else, rather than looking at it as a violation of a law or a rule, it’s looking at it as affecting people and relationships,” said Mel Motel, executive director of the Brattleboro Community Justice Center, which provides some state-funded restorative justice programs. Through that lens, participants consider the needs of everyone involved and try to “make things as right as possible.”

An important component of restorative justice is getting people to take responsibility for their harmful actions, practitioners say.

“It’s about helping people learn how to be accountable, and not automatically expecting them to know what that looks like,” Leaf Seligman, one of the Cheshire County program’s organizers, told The Sentinel this spring. “And I don’t mean to sound like people aren’t capable. I just mean, sometimes people don’t have a history of accountability.”

Court diversion in Vermont began with youth-only programs in the 1970s, according to Willa Farrell, Vermont’s court diversion and pretrial services director. The state began funding youth diversion in 1980 and added adult diversion two years later, she said.

Today, nonprofit agencies run the diversion programs in most counties, with state funding; a handful operate out of municipalities or a sheriff’s office. Youth Services — an organization that serves adults as well as kids — runs the diversion programs in Brattleboro.

Court diversion isn’t the only place Vermont uses restorative justice. The Vermont Department of Corrections oversees a separate set of programs that work with people at different stages of the criminal justice process, from arrest to release from prison.

The corrections department’s programs go back to the 1990s. Amid public dissatisfaction with aspects of the justice system — including lengthening sentences, a tough parole board and crowded prisons — officials commissioned in-depth opinion research, which showed a desire for alternatives to traditional probation and incarceration, said Derek Miodownik, the community and restorative justice executive for the Department of Corrections.

The Department of Corrections created volunteer “reparative boards” to work with people who had pleaded guilty to low-level crimes. And a few years later, Vermont lawmakers explicitly made restorative justice principles a part of state law.

The Vermont Department of Corrections now funds 20 community justice centers across the state, each offering restorative justice panels and other programs drawing on a restorative justice model, according to Miodownik.

‘They didn’t know that other people actually cared’

At the Brattleboro Community Justice Center, people come to restorative panels in different ways, said Motel, the executive director.

Some participate after being convicted of a crime, as a condition of their sentence or probation. But police or prosecutors can also refer people directly at the time of arrest, as an alternative to court. Though similar in concept to court diversion, it’s a separate program and accepts people “pre-charge,” rather than at someone’s first court appearance.

Windham County State’s Attorney Tracy Shriver said her office refers people both to the pre-charge program and to court diversion, depending on the individual case. The pre-charge program, she said, is “really for offenses that lend themselves to the community justice, restorative justice approach, or are so minor that we’d like to deal with them outside of the whole machinery of the criminal-justice process” — say, somebody stealing a sandwich.

Diversion essentially starts that machinery up but then hits pause. Shriver said that can be appropriate when defendants need a higher level of intervention, or if a formal appearance before a judge will impress upon them the seriousness of the situation. But it’s always a case-by-case decision, she added.

Miriam Dror, a mental health counselor in Dummerston, Vt., has volunteered for the Brattleboro Community Justice Center for more than a decade. She said openly confronting one’s own behavior can have a powerful impact.

“It’s given them a chance to change their behavior, because it’s come out into the open,” she said. “Where (before) they felt like they could hide things that they were ashamed of, but didn’t see any reason to stop until they got caught. They didn’t know that other people actually cared.”

While some Vermont programs use restorative justice as an alternative to the criminal justice system, others supplement a traditional prosecution and punishment, or are outside the legal system entirely, said Megan Grove, a member of the Brattleboro Community Justice Center’s board who wrote a master’s thesis on restorative practices in the state.

“There’s really a continuum of things that are partly restorative,” she said. “Or there might be something more punitive and then a restorative option alongside of it.”

Advocates argue restorative justice can reduce recidivism, and there’s some evidence of that. A 2012 study looked at thousands of people put on probation in Vermont between 1998 and 2000, and found those on reparative probation were less likely to be convicted of another crime than traditional probationers. Similarly, a recent study commissioned by the Vermont Department of Justice found that first-time offenders who participated in diversion had a lower recidivism rate than those convicted in the standard court process.

Local practitioners acknowledge restorative justice, at least as an alternative to prosecution, won’t be appropriate or effective in every case. And while it should, ideally, facilitate dialogue between the person who caused harm and the person who suffered, victims rarely participate, at least in person, according to some volunteers in Vermont.

Shriver said her office sometimes stops otherwise qualifying cases from going into diversion, depending on such factors as the nature of the allegations, the defendant’s criminal history and input from the victim. But she said restorative justice can often be more meaningful than a traditional prosecution.

“When you go into the criminal justice system, and you just pay a fine, and it’s not that impactful for you to pay that amount of money,” she said, “what have we really done?”

‘Eventually, the state gets on board’

On a recent Wednesday morning, county officials, Brattleboro-based restorative justice practitioners and others interested in the topic sat around a conference table in the Cheshire County complex in Keene.

Motel, of the Brattleboro Community Justice Center, and Sally Struble, director of restorative justice programs at Youth Services, described the programs they oversee, kicking off a freewheeling, often philosophical conversation about traditional criminal justice, alternative approaches and the merits and limits of both.

The three county commissioners, all Democrats, signaled support for moving in the direction Vermont has.

Seligman, one of the Cheshire County organizers, has said she envisions using restorative principles beyond a diversion program, such as post-prison re-entry. She would also like the diversion program to expand to some misdemeanors that involve harm to an identifiable human victim — for example, a bar fight in which no one’s seriously hurt, or a theft from a family member.

Cheshire County Attorney D. Chris McLaughlin says he’s not opposed to those sorts of steps, in theory. But he has pointed out practical obstacles, including the already high caseloads of his office’s two victim/witness coordinators.

And, as county officials discussed, New Hampshire does not have the legal framework or state funding for such programs that Vermont does.

“In New Hampshire, everything seems to start at the county level, and eventually, the state gets on board,” McLaughlin said.

While New Hampshire law does mandate juvenile court diversion, adult programs are limited. At least two other New Hampshire counties, Strafford and Merrimack, have their own adult diversion programs. Valley Court Diversion Programs, a bi-state nonprofit agency based in White River Junction, Vt., runs a diversion program in lower Grafton County that serves some adults. Executive Director Ellen Wicklum said the organization has strong relationships with a couple of local police departments, which sometimes refer people as an alternative to prosecution.

Grove said the practice got off the ground in Vermont because of support from both officials and the public at large.

“That’s one of the things that is incredibly important with restorative justice,” she said, “is that there’s buy-in from multiple levels and stakeholders involved in the process, and that it doesn’t feel like something forced.”