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Keene marks its first official Indigenous Peoples Day today

After residents petitioned for it earlier this year, today marks the Elm City’s first official Indigenous Peoples Day.

The Keene City Council renamed the holiday from Columbus Day in February to recognize and honor Indigenous people in the Monadnock Region and beyond.

“It’s really nice to hopefully do what we’re doing and have people exit from Columbus Day,” said Peter Majoy of Keene, who petitioned the City Council for the name change after learning more about explorer Christopher Columbus.

Columbus Day, which was first celebrated in San Francisco in 1868 and became a federal holiday in 1971, is intended to honor Columbus.

However, historians and some members of the public have criticized his enslavement, exploitation and sexual abuse of natives.

This has led to a national movement to scrap the explorer’s name and instead celebrate the Native people who were victimized by European colonization while critiquing the broader system of colonialism.

Fourteen states have adopted Indigenous Peoples Day, including Vermont and Maine, while efforts to change the holiday have stalled in the N.H. Legislature for the past two years.

Aside from Keene, at least three other New Hampshire communities — Durham, Hopkinton and Dover also mark the holiday.

Keene’s celebration began at 9 a.m. with Mayor George Hansel reading a proclamation from the steps of City Hall.

In addition to the education the day provides, Hansel said in an email it is “an opportunity to stand in solidarity with the descendants of indigenous peoples in order to celebrate and honor their ancestors.”

Majoy, who is a member of the Keene Immigration Refugee Partnership, a local advocacy group, said he planned to be in downtown Keene from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., and again at 5 p.m., to pass out informational pamphlets on Indigenous Peoples Day and its importance.

With the COVID-19 pandemic limiting the ways the city can celebrate, Majoy, 77, said still keeping people informed is “very, very important.”

Though he’s thrilled the holiday’s name has been changed, he said there is more work to be done for people to understand its importance.

“It would help if every once in a while we had some kind of gathering during the whole year, workshops in the community would be very important, and it would be a matter of helping people learn about Indigenous people and why they are so important,” Majoy said.

Jed Crook, a Keene State College alumnus who worked to get Indigenous Peoples Day recognized by the college, echoed Majoy. The college senate passed a resolution last year to honor the holiday, he said.

Crook, who now lives in Nashua, said he hopes the recognition isn’t just that, but inspires relationships and continued efforts to dismantle colonialism.

He explained he wants to reform school curriculums, change symbols that use Native Americans, return sacred land and seek input from Indigenous people as equal stakeholders.

Crook also pointed to a national study by Reclaiming Native Truth — a national social justice organization aimed at dispelling misconceptions of Native Americans — which found that 40 percent of Americans in 2018 did not believe Native Americans still exist.

“This active erasure is part of the continuing genocide that this name change hopefully calls out,” he said.

But, he added, he’s still “worried of it being lost by just a symbolic check box on good things to do, without any actual change.”


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Safely scary: How local towns are handling Halloween in a pandemic
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From virtual schooling to staying 6 feet apart from friends, the COVID-19 pandemic has proved tough for children nationwide.

But many Monadnock Region communities are giving kids a sense of normalcy by allowing trick-or-treating this Halloween.

“We are certainly not abandoning Halloween,” said Peggy Pschirrer, chairwoman of the Walpole selectboard. “We’ve had low incidence of the virus ... and to release a lot of the tension and stress people are feeling, we think it’s a good idea to let people participate in Halloween.”

The small number of COVID-19 cases in recent months was the reason most public officials gave to allow the holiday to commence. As of Saturday, the state health department was reporting four active cases in Cheshire County.

However, as a precaution, there will be an emphasis on virus-related safety.

The safety recommendations for Halloween are nearly identical across the region and pull from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance issued last month.

Those participating in the spooky holiday this year should limit interactions with others, avoid trick-or-treating in groups, stay in their home neighborhoods and practice social distancing, hand hygiene and mask-wearing. Those who feel ill should not participate.

The CDC also says costume masks are not a substitute for cloth masks, unless they are made of two or more layers of breathable fabric and cover the nose and mouth.

Local residents who don’t want to participate can either turn their outdoor lights off or put a sign on their door, municipal officials said.

Trick-or-treating times vary by town. In Walpole, Pschirrer said people can participate between 4 and 7 p.m.

She added that aside from safety precautions, the only unusual thing is that Walpole Elementary School won’t be doing its annual Halloween parade through downtown. Instead, Pschirrer said students and staff will be looping around the school on Oct. 30.

Swanzey is holding trick-or-treating from 5 to 7 p.m., while Jaffrey residents can hunt for candy between 6 and 8 p.m.

Jaffrey Town Manager Jon Frederick said there is also usually trick-or-treating downtown, with children getting candy from businesses before heading to their neighborhoods, but that won’t happen this year for safety reasons.

“That type of event is a high-risk activity with the CDC guidelines, so we opted to cancel it,” he said.

But in Hinsdale, there will be no traditional trick-or-treating this year. Instead, the parks and recreation department is putting on a week of Halloween activities, in addition to its fifth annual “trunk-or-treating” from 2 to 4 p.m. at Heritage Park.

The town’s selectboard voted to cancel door-to-door candy collecting at its Sept. 21 meeting due to safety concerns, according to the meeting minutes.

According to the CDC’s guidance, both forms of candy collection are a risk for spreading the coronavirus. Handing out candy either at the door or at a “trunk-or-treating” event is classified by the CDC as higher risk. Trick-or-treating is a moderate risk if the candy is left outdoors.

“Trunk-or-treating” involves residents gathering with Halloween-decorated car trunks, and this year the cars will be socially distanced, Hinsdale’s website says. Kids can go from car to car to collect candy.

The town’s website says it will also host an outdoor showing of “Hocus Pocus” on Oct. 24 at Heritage Park. Residents are also encouraged to participate in a Halloween home-decorating contest, as well as scarecrow decorating at Millstream River Park.

Hinsdale is also hosting a Halloween scavenger hunt from Oct. 24 to Oct. 31. Items will be placed at each decorated house, and children will then go around looking for them, according to the town website.

Peterborough is also discouraging trick-or-treating this year, according to a news release from the town.

The release says people can go door-to-door from 5 to 7 p.m., but town officials are asking people to instead participate in an alternative event, put on by the parks and recreation department.

That will be an outdoor, one-way trick-or-treating event from 3 to 6 p.m. at the Vose Farm Business Center at 49 Vose Farm Road. Those interested must register at peterboroughrec.com or call 924-9090.

“As a community we have done extremely well limiting the spread of COVID-19 this fall,” said Peterborough Fire Chief Ed Walker in the release. “We feel that providing this safe and fun alternative to door to door trick or treating is one more step we can take to keep us all healthy.”

In Keene, children can still go door-to-door, with hours set from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.

Mayor George Hansel said in an email that he wants to see some creativity from residents when it comes to handing out candy, and that he already has a plan for his own house.

“I’m working on a robot-themed candy shoot for my house using an extra gutter downspout I had in my garage,” he said, noting it will match his handmade robot costume. “I think I can ... use the shoot to allow for hands-free candy dispensing while maintaining a safe distance from visitors.”

Keene is continuing to monitor the number of local COVID-19 cases, Hansel said, and may adjust its recommendations if needed.

“I’m very confident that we can have a fun and safe Halloween, but it’s not going to be a normal Halloween,” he said.

“It’s important that residents take the recommendations from the CDC seriously while celebrating,” Hansel added.


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COVID-19 fallout
College grads struggle to launch careers in a pandemic economy. ‘I chose the worst year to get my life together’

CHICAGO — Kevin Zheng had big plans lined up as he prepared to graduate in the spring with a degree in criminal justice from the University of Illinois at Chicago.

The 23-year-old thought he’d enter the job market well-prepared, with an internship at the Chicago Police Department on his resume.

But the COVID-19 health crisis upended that plan. His internship was canceled, his graduation was delayed until August, and he sat in his bedroom for the virtual commencement ceremony. Now he’s looking for a job in a pandemic-induced recession.

“I chose the worst year to get my life together,” said Zheng, a first-generation college graduate who lives in Chicago’s McKinley Park neighborhood.

As the coronavirus pandemic wears on, Zheng and other recent college graduates are grappling with a tight job market, high unemployment rates and pressure to find work to pay off student loans.

At the start of the year, Generation Z, typically defined as those born after 1997, was headed into the workforce during the longest economic expansion in U.S. history. But now the unemployment rate in Illinois for those ages 20 to 24 is 15.5 percent, one of the highest among all age groups in the state, according to data from the U.S. Department of Labor.

With more employers cutting jobs and some boosting qualifications for open positions, recent college graduates are worried they’ll fall behind in their careers. Some are saving money for student loan payments by cutting expenses, while others are applying for part-time and low-wage jobs. Many still live with their parents.

Zheng, who lives with his parents and owes about $30,000 in student loans, said he is considering picking up part-time work, but he’s seen how difficult it can be. Both his parents work in the restaurant industry, often cobbling together shifts at different dining establishments to make a stable income. Zheng said he’s scared of taking a job that may expose him to the coronavirus and then potentially infecting his parents.

“My parents are on the older side. I’m afraid if I get the virus, I won’t be the one getting hurt. They’re going to be the ones seriously harmed by the virus. That’s also really deterred me from going out there too much,” he said.

Another UIC graduate, Serge Golota, 22, who earned a biochemistry degree in May, is moving from his Chicago apartment back to his parents’ Glenview home because he hasn’t found a job.

According to a study by the Pew Research Center, 52 percent of young adults ages 18 to 29 reported in July they were living with one or both parents, an increase from a decade ago when 44 percent of young adults lived at home.

Golota, who has about $17,000 in student loan debt, said he applied to lab positions and broadened his search to include pharmaceutical sales, but potential employers aren’t calling back, or they’re asking for several years of experience. If he doesn’t find a job in the coming months, he might apply at retailers like Target or clothing stores to make money.

“I’ve felt really discouraged with the hiring process,” Golota said.

Experts say 2020 graduates could face similar challenges to millennials, those born between 1981 and 1996, who graduated at the height of the 2008 financial crisis.

Research on past graduates suggests Gen Z workers could face lower earnings in the future, persistently low employment rates and fierce competition for jobs once the economy recovers.

Millennials who graduated during the 2008 recession saw their earnings for the next three to four years remain low compared with earlier graduates and those who graduated after the recession, said Jesse Rothstein, an economist at the University of California, Berkeley.

“If you are able to find a good job early on, that leads them to more growth in the next few years. Whereas if you are starting your careers at a time when there aren’t that many good jobs, that seems to be associated with not just worse outcomes right away but worse outcomes even after the economy has recovered,” Rothstein said.

Rothstein said employment rates for each group that graduated during and after the 2008 recession were about 2 percent lower relative to older workers despite the labor market steadily growing throughout the 2010s.

It remains to be seen how dramatically the pandemic-related downturn will hurt 2020 graduates, but experts say if the economy doesn’t bounce back quickly, the effects could linger.

Eliza Forsythe, assistant professor of labor and employment relations at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, said companies tend to hire current-year graduates for entry level positions over those who graduated a year or two earlier. Employers view current graduates as having sharper skills right out of college compared with past graduates, especially those who didn’t picked up relevant experience after getting their degrees, she said. Such decisions could further hinder the ability of people who graduated during a recession to find work within their field.

The job market could become even more strained in the coming months without federal relief as President Donald Trump and Congress grapple over a new coronavirus relief bill.

Airlines, hotels and other businesses are cutting more jobs, asking employees to take buyouts and pay cuts after federal aid for many companies expired last month.

For some area graduates, finding work outside their field is better than no work at all.

Jesus Mendoza, 23, graduated in the spring with a business administration management degree from Chicago State University. He took a full-time job as a production line worker at car parts manufacturer Flex-N-Gate on the city’s Southeast Side that pays $15 an hour.

Mendoza, who lives with his parents in Chicago’s East Side neighborhood, said he cut back on spending and going out to eat with friends in order to save money.

“I’ve been saving money to pay for bills,” he said.

Since graduating, Mendoza said he spent countless hours applying for jobs within his field, but hasn’t had any luck. He owes about $30,000 in student loans, which he has to start paying next year.

The average student loan debt nationwide for 2019 graduates at public and private colleges was $28,950, according to an October report from The Institute for College Access & Success, an Oakland, California-based nonprofit that works to improve college affordability.

A federal moratorium on education debt payments was set to expire Sept. 30. In August, Trump signed an executive order to suspend federal student loan payments through Dec. 31 without penalty or accrual of interest.

The order excludes students whose loans are held by private companies and universities.

Many recent graduates are turning to their colleges’ career counseling centers for help. But even after their resumes get spruced up and they hone their interview skills, it’s still hard to get a job offer.

Part of the issue is that employers are adding more criteria to job postings because they don’t have the time or resources to train early-career candidates, said Julia Pollak, a labor economist at job site ZipRecruiter.

“The amount of energy there is available to focus on training up young, new green employees isn’t there at the moment,” Pollak said.

The pandemic-related downturn also has caused some companies to cut jobs crucial to early career entrants, Pollak said.

Job postings for entry-level positions that require a college degree were down by 57 percent since mid-February nationwide, according to ZipRecruiter.

Jobs in marketing, advertisement and design also have been severely affected by the pandemic, she said.

Even those who went back to school to earn master’s degrees are having trouble tapping into higher-paying jobs.

Adriana Valdez, 29, finished her MBA program at DePaul University in August, hoping her new skills and degree would open more doors.

“I’ve been looking since the springtime, and it’s really tough as far as what’s out there,” Valdez said. “Sometimes it’s very common for you to hear nothing at all.”

Valdez, who graduated with a marketing degree from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2014, said she has been told by companies that she doesn’t have enough experience.

“How am I supposed to gain experience if I’m not given a chance to pursue an opportunity?” Valdez said.

Valdez, of Chicago’s Humboldt Park neighborhood, works as a full-time risk management officer for an insurance company, and her employer paid half of her tuition costs. But her company implemented a hiring freeze that made it challenging to seek a better-paying job and move up there, she said.

With her MBA, Valdez said she is looking at management and legal consulting roles that would pay about $10,000 to $20,000 more than her current role, which she needs to start paying off her student loans and move out of her parents’ home.

As the first person in her family to earn an undergraduate and a master’s degree, there is some expectation from them for her to find a better-paying job, she said.

“It’s also the pressure of just wanting to make their sacrifices mean something,” she said.

For now, Zheng is attending virtual career fairs through UIC and applying for positions in fields like social work and child welfare services as he reconsiders his future in police work.

“I do have hope that I’ll find a job within this year, but it’s wishful thinking,” he said.


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Here’s how you can vote now in person in New Hampshire

Want to send in your ballot without waiting in line Nov. 3 or without using the post office? It’s possible to do it now — in one trip.

New Hampshire towns and cities are open for in-person absentee voting. Voters can go to their town or city clerk during open hours, request a ballot, fill it out, and return it all in one go.

It isn’t technically “early voting.” The ballot is kept securely but not counted until Election Day. But for all intents and purposes, it’s the same process for the voter.

Here’s how it works. Go to your town’s website and look up the opening hours for your town clerk. Those are the times you can vote early.

When you go, make sure to bring photo identification, if you have it. That can be a driver’s license, an armed services ID, or any other ID card issued by the federal government that includes your address.

If you do not have photo identification, you will be offered a Qualified Voter Affidavit or a Domicile Affidavit to fill out. The first asks you to list your identity, age or citizenship; the second asks you to list your domicile, or primary place of residence.

And if you’re not registered in your town yet, you can do that on the same trip as well.

Once you formally request the ballot, you will receive that ballot. You can fill it out in the clerk’s office, or take it out of the office and fill it out privately — in your car for instance. You can even take the ballot home and wait a few days and then drive it or mail it back.

But the fastest method would be to fill it out and return it then and there.

Once the ballot is filled out, it will be placed into the smaller envelope, the “affidavit envelope,” and you will need to sign that affidavit, specifying that you are voting by reason of a “disability,” the catch-all box of COVID-19. Then, that envelope will be placed into the outer envelope and kept securely to be ultimately processed and counted on Election Day.

There is no deadline for this. Under state statute, a voter can show up to the clerk’s office as late as the day before Election Day to register to vote, request a ballot, fill it out and return it.

It is true that town or city supervisors of the checklist are required to meet between six and 13 days before the election to update the checklist with newly registered voters — a meeting that must be noticed ahead of time.

But even if you register and vote in-person at the clerk’s office after that meeting, you will be set. Any in-person registration submitted that late will be simply processed as an Election Day registration on Nov. 3.

According to the Secretary of State’s Election Procedure Manual, all city and town clerk’s offices must be open from at least 3 to 5 p.m. on the day before Election Day and must be able to accept absentee ballots.

As for mailing in your absentee ballot, election officials and the U.S. Postal Service recommend doing so at least two weeks before Election Day, or by Oct 20.

So what happens if you’ve received an absentee ballot by mail, filled it out and sent it in, but you’re not sure it will arrive in time for 5 p.m. Election Day, the final deadline?

First, you should first try to track the ballot. You can do this online, through the Secretary of State’s website, here: https://sos.nh.gov/elections/voters/absentee-ballots/absentee-ballot-status/. Or you can call your clerk’s office yourself.

If it appears to be too late, you can show up to your town or city clerk’s office and vote in person. You can also show up to the polling place in person on Nov. 3 and cast your vote if your ballot does not appear likely to arrive by 5 p.m.

With absentee voting, there’s always a backup option.