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Well before COVID-19 emerged and scattered them to houses-turned-schoolhouses throughout the region, the Keene High School Class of 2020 gathered in September for this group photo. They will come together again Saturday, for a vehicle-parade commencement.

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In the middle of a pandemic, charitable push sees record-breaking response

At a time when it seems like the deck is stacked against charitable giving, the annual NH Gives campaign benefiting nonprofit organizations across the state had a banner year.

In a 24-hour period earlier this week, the campaign raised more than twice what it had brought in the previous four years combined. In fact, it raised $1 million in the first eight minutes of the event, which began Tuesday evening.

All of this comes amid a pandemic that has led to a nationwide economic recession and vast unemployment.

“It was really extraordinary, and definitely shattered any prior experience,” Kathleen Reardon, chief executive officer of the N.H. Center for Nonprofits, said Thursday.

The Concord-based organization began NH Gives in 2016 as an initiative to collect as many donations as possible for nonprofit organizations that are either headquartered or provide services in the state. Participating groups must be verified 501c(3) charitable organizations. Since then, NH Gives, which allows people to donate to the organization of their choice through a secure online platform, has been held annually in June.

From 6 p.m. Tuesday to 6 p.m. Wednesday, more than $3.2 million was raised for 488 nonprofit organizations, according to NH Gives. In its first four years, the campaign raised a total of $1.5 million. Around $500,000 of that was brought in last year, Reardon said.

Besides the amount of money raised, records were also broken this year with the number of organizations participating, and the number of people who signed on to the NH Gives website to donate (13,428).

“This was an unbelievable outpouring of support, and it really shows what we can do when we all work together,” Reardon said. “It’s so important people realize that while the event is only 24 hours, these donations and people coming together to rally around their communities and these organizations will have a lasting impact.”

A combination of factors contributed to the campaign’s success this year, she said, including the announcement that the N.H. Charitable Foundation and its Thomas W. Haas Fund and John F. Swope Fund would provide matching donations of up to $1,000 for each donation. The offer was good for the first $250,000 given — a threshold hit within two minutes of the campaign’s start, Reardon said.

Another factor was that many of the participating organizations had their own fundraisers scheduled that they had to cancel because of the COVID-19 pandemic, she said. Those organizations shifted their efforts to the NH Gives campaign as a way to effectively replace those fundraisers, she explained. At the same time, she said, the idea of a 24-hour fundraising event resonates strongly with people right now.

New Hampshire residents have also historically stepped up in times of crisis to help their neighbors, communities and organizations, she said.

Of more than 60 participating organizations in the Monadnock Region, the 1833 Society raised the most at $29,139.34 from 180 donors in the 24-hour period. The group has been working with the Peterborough Town Library on fundraising and planning for the library’s $8.5 million renovation and expansion project. A virtual groundbreaking was held earlier this month to mark the beginning of construction.

While the initial NH Gives campaign push is over, people can still donate through the website until midnight Friday. As of 5 p.m. Thursday, $67,684 had been raised for the 1833 Society from 206 donors, according to the NH Gives website.

The date 1833 refers to the year voters at Peterborough town meeting passed a resolution to establish tax-based funding for the town’s public library, according to the library’s website, which says it’s the oldest library in the world to be funded that way.

Tina Kriebel, the 1833 Society’s board secretary and building committee chairwoman, said Thursday that what they’ve raised through NH Gives so far is three times as much as last year’s total of about $18,000.

That includes the matching funds through the N.H. Charitable Foundation, as well as matching gifts from local Peterborough library supporters, she said.

It also surpasses the organization’s original campaign fundraising goal of $35,000, she said.

“I think people really want to help, especially now,” she said.

COVID-19 has put many constraints on people, organizations and businesses.

“I think NH Gives just kind of captured the wave of people seeing we have these limitations and wondering what can we do,” Kriebel said. “This is something we can do, and I think that’s why it had an amazing response.”

MCVP: Crisis and Prevention Center, which is based in Keene, received $15,290 from 103 donors in the first 24 hours of NH Gives, more than tripling its $5,000 goal.

As of 5 p.m. Thursday, $16,760 had been raised from 123 donors.

While the organization has participated in NH Gives before, this was its best year, Executive Director Robin Christopherson said Thursday. That, in part, had to do with this being the first year MCVP had a staff member devoted to development who could focus on the tasks associated with publicizing and preparing for the event, she said. Board members, staff and volunteers also stepped up, creating videos for social media and encouraging their friends and families to donate.

In the context of the pandemic, including its effects on the economy, Chistopherson said, people who are lucky enough to still have a job and are financially sound are understanding they have to step up and help others who aren’t as fortunate.

“People are being amazingly generous.”

New Hampshire added to National Broadband Availability Map

New Hampshire has finally been added to the federal Broadband Availability Map Program, and it’s a move being praised by all four members of the state’s congressional delegation.

The addition — which is expected to bolster efforts to help expand high-speed internet service throughout New Hampshire, since the maps determine areas of the country that are eligible for federal funds targeted to underserved communities that do not have access to reliable broadband service.

The map, put together by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, is a geographic information system that collects data from federal, state and commercially available sources to create a comprehensive map of existing broadband coverage. The data is designed to help policymakers in making decisions on broadband expansion plans.

As lead Democrat on the Senate Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies Appropriations subcommittee, which provides funding for the NBAM, Shaheen has secured funding for the program since its inception in 2018.

“The COVID-19 crisis has further exposed existing gaps in our broadband infrastructure throughout the state. This has been particularly difficult in our rural communities, where remote learning and telehealth appointments have been especially challenging,” said Shaheen, adding: “All Americans should have access to broadband, regardless of their zip code or income.”

Shaheen was joined by U.S. Sen. Maggie Hassan and U.S. Reps. Annie Kuster and Chris Pappas in hailing the addition.

“NTIA’s addition of New Hampshire to its National Broadband Availability Map program is an important step forward toward ensuring all Granite Staters have the internet connection they need to do their work, learn online, and receive care through telemedicine appointments,” said Kuster.

Businesses continue to open despite the shutdown

At a time when most New Hampshire businesses were closed and Main Streets looked like ghost towns, Jonny Norris was preparing to open a new location.

Norris, who owns Montshire Pediatric Dentistry in Keene, was in the midst of moving into a new location eight times the size of his original spot in Claremont.

While the thought of opening a new business seemed unheard of and even unlikely when only “essential” businesses had open signs in their windows, Montshire Pediatric Dentistry and several other New Hampshire businesses decided to do just that.

On Thursday, Gov. Chris Sununu said his stay-at-home order will expire on Monday, so all businesses in the state will be able to open. Sununu also said the ban on gatherings of more than 10 will also end.

Other activities can also resume Monday, including including using gyms, pools, road races, funeral homes, tourist trains and charitable gaming. They all will come with their own restrictions and guidelines.

Meanwhile, businesses have been weighing their options duriing the pandemic.

“We considered (delaying our opening),” said Jonny Norris, owner of Montshire Pediatric Dentistry, who opened a larger location in Keene in the first week of June. “However, we were all in. Due to the governor and professional governance, we discontinued our normal operations for eight weeks (at the start of the pandemic). Construction was considered essential and we had already obtained all of our permits, so we focused all of our energy on opening the new practice.”

Norris, whose original location is in Claremont, signed a letter of intent to take over the former Andy’s Cycles location on Winchester Street in August 2019. The renovations were going smoothly until the Zoning Parking Variance meeting that was scheduled in February got bumped to March, then April. That delayed re-paving the parking lot, which in turn slightly inconvenienced the roofers, plumbers and other workers, delaying progress.

“You plan for everything but (during the pandemic) you have to expect the unexpected,” Norris said. “Every day something happened but we dealt with it. I had to be prepared for a new set of problems every day. What might be a problem today may not be tomorrow’s (problem).”

Lenny and Nancy Abreu had always dreamed of owning a Golden Corral, a buffet chain that is popular around the country but scarce in New England. When construction started the first week of February their dream was finally coming to fruition, and the first Golden Corral in the Granite State was scheduled to open in March in Manchester.

Then restaurants had to change course in light of the coronavirus. The Abreus, along with co-owner Steve Leary, are now unsure of when the restaurant will open.

“I don’t have the words for (what has happened); it’s frustrating,” Lenny Abreu said. “I’ve run restaurants during 9/11, SARS, H1N1 ... and I’ve never seen anything like this.

Unfortunately even though restaurants are now open to take out, curbside pickup and outdoor seating, those don’t line up with Golden Corral’s buffet concept. Although construction went well, Abreu is still waiting to welcome his first customers. He is hoping for June or July but is realistic it may be August or September, pending the state’s OK.

“I have mixed feelings,” said Abreu, who said he may have to start with a family style menu and wait service when he opens, rather than the restaurant’s signature buffet. “You work all of your life for something and put everything you have into it but then you are told by someone else you can’t do this or that.”

Abreu is confident that he and other restaurants could safely reopen.

“I don’t want anyone to get sick — my first goal is everyone being safe. But I feel restaurants are so far ahead of other stores as far sanitation and cleaning procedures that we should be allowed to be open. We get spot checks from the Board of Health four times a year and are constantly under the microscope to make sure we adhere to sanitation and safety procedures. But other ‘essential’ stores are fine to open.”

The Abreus, who also own Nancy’s Diner in Manchester, have been positive throughout the roadblocks and speed bumps. The diner isn’t equipped for curbside pickup so they’ve done some work inside and have been making sandwiches for frontline staff at the Department of Veterans Affairs Manchester Medical Center.

Another new restaurant in Manchester seems uniquely equipped to meet this moment.

Good & Planty is Tom Puskarich’s virtual restaurant endeavor that opened May 1, only one month later than originally hoped. Good & Planty is a plant-based, delivery-only restaurant that uses apps like Grubhub and UberEats. It uses the kitchen from Puskarich’s other culinary option, Restoration Cafe, also in Manchester.

While sit down restaurants obviously have been hit hard, delivery is seeing huge upticks in usage. The timing really worked out for Puskarich and Good & Planty, which was planned as a delivery business even before the pandemic.

“I feel extremely fortunate that we had something in the pipeline,” Puskarich said. “I didn’t didn’t have to start from scratch. [Good & Planty] was tailor-made for the new dining realities at this moment.”

Still, Puskarich wouldn’t want to repeat the experience of opening a business during a global shutdown.

“I don’t want to have to do this again. We’ve been blessed and fortunate we put ourselves in a position to react to the current market and survive,” he said. “We’ve been able to keep our heads above water better than most.”

Tiny Bully, a boutique marketing agency in Greenland, also had a pretty seamless launch. Then again, the business, founded in 1986 at MicroArts, was already established and the rebranding didn’t involve any construction or renovation.

“We were well-equipped to work remotely and well-equipped to maintain our service levels working from home,” said Danielle O’Neil, president of Tiny Bully. “My advice to other companies (opening during this time) is every business is different and they have to do what is best for them.”

The pandemic did alter Tiny Bully’s schedule, forcing the business to unveil its new look gradually.

“We had to start slowly, a couple pages on the website, then a couple case studies and creating more collateral,” O’Neil said. Still, slow and steady is working for Tiny Bully.

“Since the pandemic … not only have we been busy with our current clients but we’ve got many new clients as well,” O’Neil said.

Private businesses aren’t the only ones to open during the pandemic. The New Hampshire Liquor Commission opened its 77th outlet location in Tilton four months early in late May, and announced that another store in Epsom is more than 30 percent complete, due to open in fall 2020. A location in Concord is on schedule to start construction at the end of the year.

Chairman Joseph Mollica explained that with the Liquor Commission contributing up to $800 million to the state’s coffers in 2020 — through wholesale and retail sales — it was imperative that new retails outlets opened as planned.

Even though it is a state agency Mollica and his team had to follow the same restrictions as any other business.

“When the pandemic hit our goal was to stay on course,” said Mollica. “We wanted to keep the projects on track and keep the revenue going for New Hampshire. We’re a business and we don’t lose sight of what we are trying to do and what we statutorily are supposed to be doing.”

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Keene committee gives green light to helicopter flight school

After an outpouring of support for a proposed helicopter flight school at the Dillant-Hopkins Airport, a Keene City Council committee has recommended moving the business’ request for an operating agreement forward.

The finance, organization and personnel committee voted 4-1 during a teleconference meeting Thursday night to authorize City Manager Elizabeth Dragon to execute the agreement, which will be voted on by the full council next Thursday.

The committee heard more than an hour of public input, mostly in support of Monadnock Choppers, owned by Kevin Provost, a Keene State College graduate and Marine veteran.

Residents of both Keene and Swanzey, where the city-owned airport is located, brought messages of support to the committee, saying the flight school would have a positive economic impact on the community, as well as help to address a shortage in helicopter pilots. Others called out residents who are against the proposal for moving next to an airport and complaining about potential noise.

“Everybody who bought property next to the airport should not have the right to say what that airport can and cannot do,” said Jess Allen, of Keene. “You wouldn’t buy property on a lake and then decide that you don’t like the sound of jet skis and tell everybody that they can’t jet ski there anymore.”

While most of the comments backed Monadnock Choppers, a few callers expressed opposition to the business coming to the airport. The primary concern raised was the possibility of noise pollution.

Swanzey resident Ann Heffernon said the last time there was a helicopter flight school at Dillant-Hopkins, the noise caused issues for her and many neighbors.

“I don’t want to impede business, and I don’t think we should be threatened or told that we’re imagining this. We live there,” Heffernon said. “We’re residents, we have investments in this community, we love this neighborhood, and we’re good neighbors, and we’re good citizens, and I think that you need to listen to us because we do have to live there, and it does affect the value of our properties.”

Councilor Raleigh Ormerod amended the motion to include language in the memorandum of understanding stipulating that the concerns raised by members of the public would be taken into consideration.

According to David Hickling, airport director, Provost has taken extra steps to accommodate the concerns voiced by the airport’s neighbors. They include agreeing to avoid areas where neighbors are most likely to be disturbed and coming up with a plan that helps minimize the noise impact.

Hickling also noted that Provost’s helicopters would be much smaller, and less noisy, than the military, media, police and other helicopters that come in and out of the airport on a daily basis.

Provost agreed that he’s done all he can to take extra precautions to limit potential noise pollution. However, he also said the grant assurances affiliated with federal funding the airport has received bars discrimination against any certain aviation businesses.

“I in no way want to enter a legal battle,” he said. “But if the councilors continue to ignore the federal grant assurances that specifically state prohibition of aircraft category and class discrimination and exclusive rights, I will seek damages.”

Councilor Terry Clark, the sole member of the committee who voted against the recommendation, requested that the committee schedule a site visit so city officials could hear for themselves just how loud the helicopters are. However, Dragon expressed concern about how quickly such a visit could be arranged. And Provost urged the committee against further delaying his operating agreement, pointing to the lost economic opportunity.

Several councilors said they were conflicted between wanting to be supportive of Provost and new commerce, particularly at the airport, and not wanting to disregard neighbors’ issues. Councilor Michael Remy encouraged the council to move forward, saying he has faith the agreement drawn up by Dragon would be enough to ensure Monadnock Choppers stays within the noise-mitigation protocols that Provost has said he’s willing to operate under.

“I trust the city manager to make sure the memorandum of understanding is sufficiently restrictive,” Remy said.

Dragon said she’s already drafted the memorandum and an operating agreement, but that she wants extra time to update those drafts to reflect the concerns raised at Thursday’s meeting. She said she’s hoping to have an opportunity to bring interested neighbors to the airport to hold a discussion about the business before finalizing the agreement.

The recommendation is expected to be voted on by the full council during its meeting on June 18 at 7 p.m.