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'Homegrown stimulus' continues, pouring thousands into area restaurants
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The Local Crowd (TLC) Monadnock, a Keene-based fundraising organization, has bought another $7,000 in gift cards from area restaurants, bolstering its recent efforts to stimulate the local economy during the COVID-19 pandemic.

TLC Monadnock launched The Monadnock Restaurant Project earlier this year, purchasing 610 gift cards — worth a combined $10,000 — from more than two dozen area eateries and giving them to staff at several large employers in the region.

Calling the project a “homegrown stimulus effort,” TLC Monadnock aimed to encourage spending at those restaurants and reduce the pandemic’s financial hit to that industry. Project organizers expected people to spend twice the value of their gift cards and said the stimulus’ overall boost to the local economy could far exceed $20,000, TLC Monadnock program manager Jen Risley told The Sentinel in January, citing a 2014 economic-impact study.

The organization is now collecting data from its partner restaurants to examine the restaurant project’s initial impact, Risley said Wednesday. She expects to have that information by the end of April but said feedback from restaurant owners has been positive.

The project included distributing nearly $500 in gift cards from Yahso Jamaican Grille in downtown Keene, according to owner Gail Somers.

In addition to encouraging one-off spending, Somers said the TLC Monadnock program may also expand eateries’ clientele. She said some people have already used the gift cards from Yahso and that, based on past customer behavior, she expects their spending exceeded the cards’ value — but added that it has been hard to track that data.

“I’m definitely anticipating that people spent more than the gift cards,” she said.

Backed by a recent fundraising push, TLC Monadnock has purchased an additional 600 gift cards and began distributing them to local employers last week, according to Risley.

This second phase of the restaurant project will include many of the same eateries from the initial round, all of which were in Keene. However, organizers have also added several restaurants in nearby towns, including Stuart & John’s Sugar House in Westmoreland and Jeanne’s Family Diner in Swanzey.

“We want to see this money get to work as quickly as we can,” Risley said.

TLC Monadnock purchased the latest round of gift cards with proceeds from a crowdfunding campaign that raised more than $30,000, it announced earlier this month.

More than 100 local residents donated to that effort, as did at least a dozen local businesses and organizations, Risley said. Savings Bank of Walpole and the downtown Keene artist studios 17ROX matched contributions, she said. (The Sentinel also donated to the project and participated in its first phase with a gift-card giveaway for readers.)

TLC Monadnock has spent nearly $17,000 on gift cards across the entire stimulus effort and plans to put its remaining funds toward other programs backing the local food industry, according to Risley.

In addition to the direct impact of that investment, the restaurant project has also inspired other area businesses to launch similar programs.

The Richards Group, a Brattleboro financial and insurance agency with an office in Keene, bought gift cards from local eateries and donated them to front-line workers in the region, Risley said. The Historical Society of Cheshire County, the Northern Lights cheerleading academy and Clark-Mortenson Insurance have also given restaurant gift cards to area residents.

“We really wanted to spur a movement,” she said. “We knew that our $10,000 initial goal wasn’t really going to do all that we wanted it to do without community support, so that was really the best thing to happen.”

The employers distributing gift cards to their staff for the restaurant project’s second phase are the American House senior-living community; Cheshire Medical Center; Home Healthcare, Hospice & Community Services; the Keene Fire Department; Mascoma Bank; the Monadnock Shopper News; Savings Bank of Walpole; 17ROX; and WKKN/WTHK The Peak.

Even as the second round of its stimulus effort gets underway, TLC Monadnock is eyeing future projects.

Some of its funds will help local restaurants cover the cost of participating in the inaugural A Taste of Keene Food Festival on June 5, according to Risley. The Central Square event, organized by the city and the Keene Young Professionals Network, is meant to help eateries struggling during the pandemic.

TLC Monadnock may pause the restaurant project in the summer, Risley said, since eateries will be able to offer outdoor dining and may draw more diners as vaccination rates rise.

She added, however, that restaurants may still need financial support as they ramp up operations that have been limited during the pandemic.

“It’s not … like they’re going to immediately burst back into life,” she said. “They’re kind of going to have to dig themselves out of a hole.”

The organization plans to work with Walpole residents who are interested in starting a similar stimulus effort in that community, Risley said. Project organizers may also reconvene next fall and discuss ways for local restaurants to thank the community for its support over the past year.

Risley said TLC Monadnock is interested in using the “homegrown stimulus” model to help businesses weather future crises, like another public health emergency or a fire.

Somers praised TLC Monadnock and the local organizations that launched their own stimulus efforts, saying the programs were “very heartfelt.”

“The initiative ... speaks volumes to the community support,” she said. “It’s really appreciated.”

The restaurant project’s organizers also include Culinary Journeys, a scholarship program for culinary arts students run by the Cheshire Career Center, and Food Connects, a Brattleboro nonprofit that supports local farms and food producers.

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On next year's curriculum: building an electric car

PETERBOROUGH — Recently announced grant funding is providing a jolt to the curriculum at the Region 14 Applied Technology Center, where students next year will work together to build a street-legal electric car.

The career-education center — which has programs at ConVal Regional High School in Peterborough, Conant High School in Jaffrey and Mascenic Regional High School in New Ipswich — received roughly $50,000 to purchase a reusable electric car kit from The Switch Lab, a California-based company.

“And that includes the textbooks and workbooks for the students, all of the equipment and supplies, as well as professional development for the instructors,” Jennifer Kiley, the center’s director, said. “... And the great thing about the Switch electric car is that it’s similar to very complex Legos, inasmuch as once the students build it, they’ll be able to take it apart again, and students will be able to re-use it the following year. But each time they are building a road-worthy car.”

The Region 14 ATC applied for the grant in late January, Kiley said. The project is funded by federal money that the state sets aside for career and technical education.

Kiley said she expects the kit to arrive in late June or early July, giving the center’s instructors time to familiarize themselves with the project before students begin building the car in the fall. And while the center’s automotive program, housed at Mascenic, has the most direct connection to the project, Kiley said she envisions the process as a collaborative endeavor for nearly all of the roughly 300 students enrolled at the Region 14 ATC.

For example, she said, students taking computer programming and networking classes will work on some of the car’s onboard systems, and engineering and manufacturing students will build a body for the vehicle, which comes with only a frame.

“And then our graphic design kids are going to design a skin for the car, so that when it is road-worthy, we can advertise with it,” Kiley said. “And the business students are going to look into the possibility of seeing if any local businesses might want to place an ad on the skin.”

These sorts of links highlight the collaborative nature of the electric vehicle project, she added.

“Some of the kids who would be in the business program wouldn’t necessarily see a connection with the automotive program, but this is going to make it seamless and very easy for them to see the concrete connections,” Kiley said.

And that’s exactly what this project aims to do, according to Eric Frauwirth, administrator of the N.H. Department of Education’s Bureau of Career Development, which oversees the state’s career and technical education system, including 28 regional centers.

“As electric vehicles increase in popularity, it is important that our graduating students are equipped to work in that field,” he said in a news release last week from the education department.

Kiley said the electric vehicle project has the potential to make a significant impact on all the students who work on it.

“I think that this could be a pivot point for some of these kids, that they can see that technology, and automotive technology, isn’t just being a grease monkey,” she said. “It isn’t just somebody who is changing oil and rotating tires, but that it takes all of these different skills and all these different programs coming together in order to create the transportation that we’re going to be using in the future.”

Three other CTE centers in the state — the Mount Washington Valley Career and Technical Center in Conway, Dover Regional Career and Technical Center and Nashua Technology Center — also won grants to purchase electric vehicle kits from The Switch Lab. Co-founder and CEO Peter Oliver said these will be the first kits in New Hampshire schools, though the company has sold about 140 of them nationwide since its founding in 2013.

Oliver added that Switch expects the electric vehicles to last at least 10 years, which is exactly what the Region 14 ATC is looking for out of the project, Kiley said.

“It’s going to be a trial-and-error situation next year, of course, because it’ll be the first time doing it,” she said. “But my hope is that we will be able to continue doing it year after year.”

Kiley expects the electric vehicle project will encompass the entire academic year. The school will have to consult with its lawyers before determining who will be able to drive the car once it’s street-ready, she said, but ideally it will become a valuable marketing tool for the center.

“I’m hoping that we’re going to be able to drive it around in our communities, just to make folks more aware of what it is that we do here at the ATC, and to allow the community to see that the students are exposed to really state-of-the-art technology,” she said.

Ultimately, Kiley said, the grant that is funding the project comes at a key moment for the students who will be learning from it.

“It was really important to me that our students got this grant so that they could see that the state and that the federal government are invested in them really, as I said, being on top of what the technology is right now,” she said. “It’s important for them to succeed, and in order to succeed, they have to have those state-of-the-art tools.”

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Keene medical marijuana dispensary to open Saturday
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Keene’s first medical marijuana dispensary will open its doors Saturday, more than a year after it initially hoped to launch, the company announced Wednesday.

Temescal Wellness, at 69 Island St., will offer a variety of cannabis products, including flower, concentrates and edibles, according to a news release from the company.

The store will require all customers to have a state-issued medical marijuana card.

New Hampshire’s medical marijuana law — which has been in effect since 2013 — legalized the use of cannabis for a limited number of medical conditions and with strict permitting. Those conditions include moderate to severe chronic pain, moderate to severe post-traumatic stress disorder and certain symptoms brought on by cancer, muscular dystrophy, Crohn’s disease, and other diagnoses.

When applying for a card, New Hampshire residents have to choose one of the state’s three dispensary companies to pick up medical marijuana from. If someone has already chosen Temescal’s other site in Lebanon, they will now also be able to pick up in Keene because the two locations are owned by the same company, according to the N.H. Department of Health and Human Services.

This location can be changed by submitting a form to the state health department’s therapeutic cannabis program, which can be found on its website, www.dhhs.nh.gov/oos/tcp/documents/changeinfolostcard.pdf.

The Keene store, which has six employees, will open at 10 a.m. Saturday, the release says.

“The opportunity to support our patients, especially those that have been driving to Lebanon to get therapeutic cannabis for relief, here in Keene, is a relief for all of us,” Sian Lienenger, Temescal’s director of retail, said in the release. “We know folks have been eagerly waiting for this opening, and we are grateful for their patience.”

In April 2019, Temescal founder and CEO Ted Rebholz told The Sentinel that the dispensary was due to open that autumn, but the opening was delayed due to several hiccups in the process.

Temescal received approval from the state to operate in Cheshire County after Gov. Chris Sununu signed a bill authorizing additional dispensaries in May 2018.

Aside from Keene, the two closest options for Monadnock Region residents are the dispensaries in Merrimack, almost 50 miles from Keene, and in Lebanon, nearly 70 miles away.