The Hannah Grimes Center Community Projects: Encouraging Innovation & Connecting Leaders

“If we find a critical, unmet need in the community, we will leverage our network to help if we think we can make a difference and if it serves our mission to help business and the community innovate, connect and thrive,” says Mary Ann Kristiansen, executive director and founder of the Center. “We know a lot of people and we’re connected to a lot of people. If we ask for their involvement, people usually say yes. When leadership is critical to an effort, over and over Hannah Grimes has matched a need in the community with the right leaders and created an environment for them to succeed.”

A Private Sector Response to the Lack of Broadband
Back in 2005, most households in New Hampshire accessed the Internet through dialup, if at all; many hospitals, libraries and police stations lacked any Internet connection; and “broadband” was a fairly new concept.

That was when Hannah Grimes became instrumental in the formation and success of WiValley, a supplier of wireless broadband services to unserved and underserved communities throughout the Monadnock Region.

WiValley’s President Brian Foucher recalls, “I had lots of frustration trying to connect my own home with the Internet and went to a meeting about broadband that Hannah Grimes had invited interested parties to. I was the only one from Harrisville who showed up. We talked to a major broadband company and they wanted more and more promises in return for serving the community. Finally Mary Ann said to me, ‘Why don’t you do this?’ She got us grants to pilot a project and introduced me to people at the state and federal level; my first introduction to the USDA was through Hannah Grimes. And now I’m on the NH Telecommunications Advisory Board for the governor.”

Begun as an idea broached by Hannah Grimes, WiValley has grown to an independent business with local investors and five full-time and part-time employees. It also employs local freelancers and consultants as needed. WiValley has brought broadband Internet connections to more than 50 communities in southwestern New Hampshire, eastern Vermont and northwestern Massachusetts. By any definition of economic stimulus, WiValley fits.

“Mary Ann said, ‘You guys need to talk,’ and brought us together with the players in broadband. I was inspired by her passion. We’re involved in the community, so there will always be a place for us at Hannah Grimes, big company or small company. In our team, we feel like we make a difference.”


Strengthening the Community through Local Food
Farms are a sector in our economy, preserve valuable land and our rural landscape, and provide for our most basic need for food. A thriving local agricultural sector can provide a secure source of fresh, local food contributing to the health of our local residents, our environment and the economy.

One of the threats to New Hampshire has been the steady disappearance of farmland. As New Hampshire becomes more and more dependent on outside food sources, its food supply chain is weakened, its quality of life is reduced and natural resources disappear.  The recent growth in interest in local food has actually resulted in a recent increase in the number of farms and farmers markets.  Yet New Hampshire only grows 6% of its own food and NH farmers make on average $6,414 per year.

Thus in 2006, Hannah Grimes became involved with Localvore, a nationwide effort to encourage the raising and eating of locally grown food. Amanda Costello, a graduate school student at Antioch University New England, replied to a Hannah Grimes posting for an intern to set up a Localvore project. Now the District Manager of the Cheshire County Conservation District, Amanda still chairs the Localvore project in the Monadnock Region and is a board member for the Hannah Grimes Center and Monadnock Sustainability Network.

She says, “Localvore would not exist here without Hannah Grimes. They had the vision to create it. Then they developed a partnership with the Conservation District to continue the program with community volunteers.”

“We don’t lead groups,” Mary Ann explains. “We identify a need, we bring people together and we provide resources. We can accomplish many more things to further our mission to help business and the community innovate, connect and thrive when we can harness and support talented individuals in the community.”

“Hannah Grimes has the ability to meet people where they are and give them the resources they need to grow. They look at the whole picture. They’ve woven nonprofit and government projects into programs that already work for businesses.”


Providing a Safe “Landing Place” for Giving Monadnock

“We are sensitive to the cost to the community if a great idea dies” Mary Ann maintains.

One such great idea was Giving Monadnock.  For more than a decade, Giving Monadnock has offered regionally-based programs and activities to provide nonprofit leaders, board members and staff with the networking opportunities and capacity-building support they need to successfully manage their organizations.  Giving Monadnock strengthens the Monadnock Community by improving the effectiveness of nonprofit organizations and promoting a spirit of giving.

When funding fell short, Giving Monadnock found a home as a community project at Hannah Grimes, cutting its expenses from $200,000 to $20,000 annually and restructuring and re-examining its role.

Beth Healy, chair of the Giving Monadnock board, explains that transition. “Giving Monadnock had a nine-month training program, one day a month, for regional nonprofits. You have to realize that 15 percent of the workforce in our state works in the not-for-profit sector. When we lost a major part of our funding, our challenge was to identify the most efficient way we could continue to serve our nonprofit sector with no staff and a volunteer board.”  That led to providing a soft landing for Giving Monadnock at Hannah Grimes to utilize its existing infrastructure for administration, workshops, peer groups, networking and newsletters.

“We’re responsible for our budget,” says Healy. “Hannah Grimes maintains our email list, sends out our e-newsletter, schedules meetings and assists with strategies.” She praises Hannah Grimes for their “integrated vision, fitting it all together so we don’t have fifteen organizations all doing the same thing. I’m thankful that we’re part of Hannah Grimes; I can see the opportunities there.”

“Hannah Grimes is a microcosm of the community. I love the idea of business and nonprofit people being in the same physical place. Hannah Grimes is getting us to where we want to go.”


Measurable Benefits
Hannah Grimes’ community projects connect businesses and nonprofits to consumers, employers, funding sources and outside support. Sometimes, as with WiValley, a volunteer effort turns into a private company that not only provides employment but also solves a pressing community problem. Sometimes, as with Localvore, the volunteer effort turns into a successful self-funded program that prevents the disappearance of natural resources and unique sources of community wealth. Sometimes, as with Giving Monadnock, those projects ensure the most cost-effective and efficient use of limited resources.

As Mary Ann states, “Hannah Grimes provides a platform where creative, energetic people get together and find the motivation to solve problems and move the community forward. And that benefits everyone.”