September 30, 2010


A West Running Brook students seems to be walking on air as he enters the rotary crosswalk.

Union Leader Correspondent
DERRY – DJ Doug Boucher was counting down to the official start of this year's Walk with West 5k Walk-a-thon. He kept one eye on the clock as he scrolled through his playlist.
“Eight minutes to go,” said Boucher, who when not pumping up an energized adolescent crowd with a series of motivational hits, is teaching math at West Running Brook middle school. His strategy for keeping the mood upbeat was simple.
“I've got songs about walking and songs about winning – that's pretty much my plan,” said Boucher, cranking up “Walking on Sunshine” as stragglers hit the registration table and picked up their purple “Walk With West” T-shirts.
The second-annual fund-raising walk was expected to raise $4,000 which will be used by the school's Kids Care Club to buy gift cards that will help school families in need this holiday season.
Joe Lagasse and Nicole Setzer shared an iPod and earbuds for the walk.
With just minutes to spare, sixth-graders Joe Lagasse and Nicole Setzer tested the sound on Joe's iPod – their plan was to share the earbuds and walk in synch.
“I think we can do it,” said Setzer, who had already considered that it might not be as easy as she thinks to walk at a brisk pace while wired to a friend.
Boucher rallied the crowd of about 100 walkers one last time for a little stretching.
“We're going to kick things off with the “Hokey Pokey,” Everyone – teachers too – get into small groups and follow along,” Boucher said, over the sound system.
Several limbered up arms, legs and whole selves later, Boucher counted backwards from 10, officially launching the colorful group, decked in school colors of purple and orange, into the community. A small group of kids had decided to run the whole way, and they were off – shadowed closely by Special Ed teacher Kellie Marraffa.
Everyone else made their way down the hill and onto South Main Street, causing only a little commotion at the traffic rotary as they passed through the swirl of five-lane traffic, sort of like a sloppy synchronized swim, minus the water.
Crossing guard Vincent Perrella did his best to hold driver's at bay, but was happier when Derry police Officer Peter Houlis showed up to block the flow of traffic with his cruiser.
“That makes it a little easier,” said Perrella.
Bernard Suwirjo was the first walkathoner back to home base.
From there it was up Pinkerton Street to Tsienneto Road, then left onto Crystal Avenue, all the way to Broadway, back toward the traffic circle and up South Main to the school, where the strains of “Sweet Caroline” filled the air as Bernard Suwirjo made his way up the hill, leading the pack and barely breaking a sweat.
So good, so good, so good.
Right behind him were the rest of the runners, mostly student athletes who decided to add some challenge to what was already a lot of fun.
“It was hard, but I would do it again because it's for a really good cause,” said Ben Sayward.
“I want to point out that I was the only girl who ran,” said Julia Bousquet, who said running a 5k wasn't as hard as she thought it would be.
“It was actually a lot of fun,” said Julia. “Did I mention I was the only girl who ran?”
Students were required to raise at least $15 each to participate and get a T-shirt, which were made by CK Productions of Pelham, at cost. Several local businesses also supported the students' efforts, including Backmann Florists, East Derry Tire and Auto, Sunview Glass Tinting, Summit Records Management Service and Derry Sports & Rehab.

September 29, 2010

Pinkerton to return $356,000 to sending towns

Union Leader Correspondent

 — Pinkerton Academy will return $356,000 in tuition dollars to sending towns this year, after school officials say special education spending remained level despite increased enrollment.
The refunds — which exceed
 $285,500 to Derry, $39,900 to Hampstead and $30,600 to Chester — will likely be put toward the first tuition payment for the 2010-2011 school year due in October, according to Pinkerton Academy Treasurer James Mulrennan.
And more than $300,000 of that refund comes from the school’s special education accounts,
 Mulrennan reported.
Pinkerton Finance Administrator Glenn Neagle said the refund largely comes from unspent special education tuition for the PASSES program, which helps students with emotional disabilities transition to school, and the Resource Room, which provides staff members to assist students in completing homework and studying for tests, according to the school’s course catalog.
In the PASSES program,
 for example, Neagle said the school usually provides services for about 35 students. But the program is relatively expensive, he said, and the addition of just a few new students might not require the school to hire an additional staff person. “You could have one or two or three extra kids in the program and actually run it OK without having to add the extra people,” he said Monday. 
On the regular education side, Neagle said the school was also able to save money on heating fuel and health insurance costs last year. 
For the 2009-2010 school year, Pinkerton’s tuition was set at $8,976 per student, with increased costs for students in special education programs, building a total budget of nearly $34 million. 
And while an independent auditor examines the school’s financial reports each year, school staff generally have an idea of how close they will come to that budgeted number by the end of the school year, Neagle said. 
School officials usually meet with sending towns in June to give them an idea of how much of a refund they might expect, Neagle said, or whether or not they could end up having to send additional tuition to cover unanticipated costs. 
“Of course, it’s all subject to our audit,” Neagle said. “But they have a feel for it in the summertime of where we’re coming out and where we should be.” 
The independent audit is usually completed by the first two weeks in September, he said, and findings are reported to the Pinkerton Academy Board of Trustees and then to the general public. 
As a nonprofit organization, Pinkerton Academy is required to refund unspent tuition dollars to sending towns. And school staff say that more often than not some amount of money is returned to taxpayers after the audit. 

New eatery, How's Your Onion?, open for business

Alicia Smith, left and husband Michael, settle in at How's Your Onion?, Derry's newest eater,
while waitress Cathy Simpson gets ready to take their order.

Union Leader Correspondent
DERRY – Roz Hartley is truly the mother in invention – her son, Marc-Damien Hartley has been the brains behind the transformation of the family's once-thriving neighborhood grocery store into the town's trendiest new eatery.
“I didn't expect to be here at all,” said Roz Hartley yesterday, helping out behind the cash register, as needed.
But yesterday's soft opening of How's Your Onion? was a family success story in every way, said Marc-Damien Hartley, who is executive chef for the 48-seat restaurant, which serves breakfast and lunch seven days a week.
“We have just under 20 employees with a combined 260 years of experience – and that includes three employees with no experience,” said Hartley, who has been waiting for his chance to run the show after years of cooking and coordinating for other area eateries, most recently as manager for Outback Steakhouse in Connecticut.
Doors open at 5 a.m. every day except Sundays, when Hartley gets an extra hour to sleep in, opening at 6 a.m. – old habits are hard to break.
For 26 years Roz and Doug Hartley owned and operated JP's Superette in the very space that now features booth, table and counter seating accented in warm wood and berry tones. The walls display original artwork by his twin sister, Janna – the first in what Roz Hartley hopes will be a long line of local artists, photographers and artisans waiting to use the wall space as a gallery.
Marc-Damien Hartley, left, confers with cook Pete Mannarini.
When the Hartleys bought the neighborhood grocery store it was a bustling a full-service market. Their kids were right there, stocking shelves and helping out as needed. Over the years, business dwindled as the rural landscape filled up with chain supermarkets and drug stores. In the end, the superette served mostly earlybird customers who'd stop for coffee or a muffin and grab some lottery tickets, or a handful of regulars who were still coming for smokes, beer or incidental items.
In February the family took a deep, cleansing breath, sold off the remnants of the grocery business and and decided to bring in the sledgehammers.
In preparing to open a restaurant in a town known for its many other popular eateries, Marc-Damien Hartley relied on his passion for cooking and his six years of military training as an Army cook and pastry chef.
We did a good organized training session with the staff, and for today, I wanted to keep staffing on the high side, just to make sure we took enough time with our guests, and with the food,” Hartley said.
His efforts were not in vain.
We love it,” said Alicia Smith, who had been waiting patiently for opening day. “We live around the corner, and were watching the progress. They did an excellent job – the food is great and it looks very different.”
Bill Linsky, a Derry native, said he will probably still refer to the place as the “highway superette,” but he will have no trouble getting used to the cuisine.
I had a Number 9 – scrambled eggs with cheese, home fries and an English muffin – it was all delicious,” said Linsky. His wife, Bonnie, said she had no idea it was opening day.
I normally won't go to a restaurant until it's been opened for at least a month, until they get the kinks worked out – I didn't notice any kinks,” she said.
There's no "Open for Business" sign;
when the flag is flying, the food is flowing.
Hartley's seasoned staff has much to do with that – his cook, Pete Mannarini, spent years cooking down the street at Anthony's Cucina, which abruptly closed its doors in August. His waitstaff also has plenty of experience with customer service.
I've worked at just about every place in town, and I just love it here,” said Cathy Simpson. “What I love most are Marc's ideas – he's covered all the bases and he really knows what he's doing.
At the heart of what he's doing is treating patrons as guests in a family business rooted in homestyle tradition said Hartley, going all the way back to selecting his restaurant's intriguing name.
How's Your Onion?” is an expression that originated with his maternal grandfather, Alfred Giuffrida, who would ask that question as a sort of greeting – the family had been trained over time to know the right response: “Good enough to make you cry,” which has become the restaurant's catch phrase, featured on staff gear and coffee mugs.
"The whole experience has been exciting -- it came out better than I ever imagined; it's beautiful," said Hartley, looking around at the decor, all carefully coordinated by his sister, Janna.
Success will be simple, he said, as long as he stays focuses on what is at the heart and soul of this business plan.
"If you take care of your team, they will take care of you. If you hire the right people, they will do anything to make sure the business is successful, and that's what we have here," Hartley said.

How's Your Onion? is located at 91 West Broadway in Derry. Hours are Mon. - Thurs., 5 a.m. to 2 p.m.; Fri. and Sat., 5 a.m. to 6 p.m .and Sundays 6 a.m. to 2 p.m.For more information go to or find them on Facebook.

September 28, 2010

Bound and Gagged

Library patron Kim Severino checks out the library's banned books display.

Union Leader Correspondent
DERRY – It's National Banned Books Week: Do you know what your kids are reading?
Derry Public Library Assistant Director Diane Arrato-Gavrish hopes so – because parental involvement is a key piece of the literary censorship puzzle.
And yes, it can be puzzling when the annual Top 100 Banned Books list comes out featuring old favorites – along with new ones – that don't immediately register as dangerous or offensive.
That's because a book can be challenged by anyone who feels offended by the content of a character's character – or actions.
Sometimes the offense is actually amusing – like the banning of a 1987 version of “Where's Waldo,” a children's seek-and-find book. Someone noticed that a woman depicted in a beach scene was sunbathing, topless, and an illustrated side view of her bare breast included what looked like a watercolor nipple. The illustration was revised in 1997 to include a bikini top.
Other banned children's books, like most everything written by Roald Dahl for example, have been challenged for being too dark, too serious, too violent, or too out-dated, thus reinforcing negative cultural stereotypes.
So every September since 1992 librarians across the country unite around the issue of book banning and censorship, highlighting books that, regardless of subject matter or genre, are stacked together in the official pile of works that, for one reason or another, have been pulled from library shelves or classrooms.
Often the visual display at the Derry library involves crime tape, brown paper wrapping and peep holes.
This is unbelievable,” said Kim Severino, reacting to the familiar titles in the yellow-tape draped display, including books like John Irving's “A Prayer for Owen Meany,” “The Diary of a Young Girl,” by Anne Frank and Ernest Hemingway's complete collection of short stories.
I'm going to read these books,” Severino said – exactly the reaction Gavrish was going for with her display.
We can't keep these books in the library – they're flying off the shelves,” said Gavrish. People coming in are astounded at some of the books on the list. Banned Book Week is a good time to reinforce our First Amendment rights.”
Diane Lynch, teen librarian at the Laconia Public Library also serves as chair – and lone member – of the New Hampshire Library Association's Intellectual Freedom Committee. She said librarians are at the front lines of defending the public's right to read anything and everything it would like to read.
There are some wonderful books by wonderful authors – 'The Chocolate War,' by Robert Cormier, 'The Color Purple,' by Alice Walker, 'Why the Caged Bird Sings,' by Maya Angelou. Some of these books have tough messages, but they are important messages. People have to make individual choices about whether it's time for their kids to be exposed to messages like that, but it's for family's to decide, not libraries.”
Top 10 “challenged books” of the last decade, according to the American Library Association, include “Of Mice and Men,” the “Harry Potter” Series and books in the “ttyl” series, stacking a 1937 classic, a modern fantasy series and a trendy teen collection written text message style on the same forbidden library shelf.
Most commonly, books are challenged by parents who find particular passages of books on assigned school reading lists peppered with language they consider offensive or simply inappropriate for a particular age group. Sometimes, as with the “Harry Potter” series – and more recently, with the “Twilight” vampire series – objections are also raised over religious viewpoints or occult themes. Other repeat offensive themes include books that delve into a character's sexuality, violent scenes, and drug or alcohol use.
In 2009, Campbell High School teacher Kathleen Reilly, who served as curriculum advisor, resigned from the Litchfield School District after parents took issue with books assigned to 11th grade English students.
One of those students, Becca Howard, served as editor of the school's newspaper and is now a freshman at UNH. She maintains that the flap over censorship and her teacher's resulting resignation have left her with some valuable life lessons.
It's impossible to shelter your kids by banning stories from a classroom of 17 and 18 year olds – it's preposterous,” said Howard. “The woman who initially raised the concerns over the books being read was doing so based on her own moral views of the world. Unfortunately, her morals don't apply to everyone.”
Howard said she has kept in touch with Reilly, who is currently an adjunct English professor at Rivier College in Nashua. Reilly declined to comment for this story.
Now that I'm in college, I'm being exposed to all kinds of literature – some of it much more controversial than what I read in high school. But those reading lists, and the classroom discussion about sensitive topics that take place, are part of making the transition, from high school to college,” said Howard.
Parents should realize that a lot of the content considered objectionable is stuff their kids are exposed to every day from TV or movies or music – or life. For example, one of the books, “The Crack Cocaine Diet,” was kind of disturbing, but it sent a strong message about not doing drugs – and it was a much more powerful message than I ever got from sitting in health class,” Howard said.
Gavrish said in the years since Derry has celebrated Banned Books Week with a display, she's had only one complaint.
One gentleman told me that he believes books should be allowed to be banned, and that we shouldn't be encouraging people to want free speech – I guess he believes some books are dangerous,” Gavrish said. “We go out of our way to make sure we collect books on all sides of any issue, no matter how controversial, so that they are available to the public. Whether you choose to read them is up to you; it's all about having that freedom, and that choice.”

September 27, 2010

Downtown businesses on edge after burglaries

A map locating recent burglaries, attempted burglaries or triggered alarms in the downtown area .

A. Sabatino's North
B. Kittredge Farms
C. Brother's Variety
D. Depot Steakhouse
E. Fine Lines Barbershop
F. Jake D's Roastbeef and Pizza
G. Brunelle's Stamps and Coins

Union Leader Correspondent
DERRY – When Joe Sabatino found out his restaurant had been burglarized last Tuesday, the first thing he did was call the police. The second thing he did was go across the street to see if anyone at C&K Restaurant had seen or heard anything.
You don't know, after something like this, what it's going to lead to – you want to make sure other businesses are OK, and know what going on,” said Sabatino last week.
Sometime between the time he left work on Sept. 16 at 10 p.m. and the next morning, burglars smashed a window in the rear of Sabatino's North, crawled through the small opening, went into the basement and hauled a safe up the stairs.
I guess when they realized they couldn't get it out with them, they hacked into the safe a meat cleaver and took the money,” said Sabatino. Before leaving, they also cleaned out a cash drawer and stole some alcohol.
When the detective came to talk to me, he mentioned that Depot Steakhouse was broken into right before they closed. I would have liked to know that – it would have been good to have a head's up,” said Sabatino.
Last week downtown business owners were also learning about some other break-ins within a few block radius of the downtown business hub – an overnight burglary Sept. 22 at Kittredge Farms was discovered by owner Aaron Plummer, who reported the break in. He also told police that two handguns were stolen in that incident.
Derry Police Capt. Vern Thomas said Friday that the guns were recovered the same day after a Derry teen was arrested following a car accident on Route 28. William Flibotte, 17, of 4 Martin St., was not only found in possession of the guns, but was also charged on an existing warrant for the August 26 burglary at Depot Steakhouse, in which cash and alcohol were stolen two days before the now defunct business abruptly closed its doors.
Martin Street happens to be about a block from Sabatino's, situated just off Broadway next to property owned by Benson's Hardware, where the town's weekly farmer's market sets up.
Sabatino said his own misfortune got him talking to some other business owners in town, who are all on edge. In the process he also heard that there have been other burglaries or attempted burglaries on his block – at Fine Lines Barbershop just down the road from him, and at Brother's Corner Variety, a few blocks away on 34 South Ave.
Attempts to reach someone for comment at the barbershop were unsuccessful. However, last night Steve DePaula Sr. of the variety store confirmed that his business had been hit twice in the past two weeks – the first time on Sept. 15, in which someone got into the store and got away with cash. The second attempt, last week, was unsuccessful, DePaula said.
You feel like you have to stay at the store around the clock, to keep watch,” said DePaula. “You get your guard up after someone breaks in.”
He said he had not heard from police – or anyone – about other break-ins in the neighborhood, but more police patrols and better communication would help.
Thomas said Friday the downtown break-ins remained under investigation, adding that police "did not want to alarm the public."
Crystal Cote, who works at Jake D's Roast Beef and Pizza at 14 W Broadway, said she had not heard about the other burglaries – but she was still a little shaken from her own burglary scare Saturday night.
Our alarm went off – the motion sensors from the cameras triggered it, so the police showed up. Luckily, I was just across the street, at the Halligan,” said Cote.
She said she had just closed up the restaurant and was at the Halligan Tavern next door when she saw police. She said the timing made her think that it was almost like someone had been watching, and knew that she had locked up for the night.
The police were great – they walked through and checked the whole store, but when I opened this morning I was petrified,” Cote said.
George Burgois, manager at Rig-A-Tony's, a restaurant on the other side of the Halligan Tavern, said last night that he had heard about some of the other break-ins.
We haven't had any trouble lately, although we've had break-ins in the past,” said Burgois. “But we have a good security system. There are a lot of bad things going on – everybody thinks there should be more police patrols.”
According to the Derry Police logs, officers have responded to other burglar alarms that have sounded in the last few weeks on East Broadway, on Sept. 15 at Revive Salon and Spa and on Sept. 19 at Brunelle Stamps & Coins.
It's important to note that security systems can be triggered by any number of things, and police regularly respond to burglar alarms only to find it is the result of employee error or some other unknown trigger.
However, Cote said given the cluster of burglaries in the downtown area over the past few weeks, and the fact that Saturday was the first time in the year she's been working at Jake D's that the burglar alarm was triggered, she will be on high alert.
I hope there will be more police patrols, at least until they find out what's going on,” Cote said.

September 24, 2010

Pinkerton inducts 7 into Hall of Fame

Pinkerton Academy has for 20 years honored outstanding alumni or those who have made lasting contributions to the school community. The following seven people will be inducted into the Pinkerton Academy Hall of Fame during tonight's annual banquet begins at 6:30 p.m. in the Spaulding Arts and Humanities Center CafĂ©. Cost  is $20 per person. If you would like more information please call the Alumni Center at 603-437-5217. 

Dr. Bryan Boucher, Class of 1996
Boucher made his mark at Pinkerton as a well-rounded student-athlete. After graduating from Pinkerton, Boucher attended Tufts University on an Army ROTC scholarship, graduating magna cum laude with a BS in biology and a certificate in community health. He went on to Tufts Medical School and become an obstetrician. After his residency he was stationed at Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center at Fort Hood, TX. Boucher was deployed in 2009 with the 5th Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division as their Battalion Surgeon and was awarded the Bronze Star for his service. He is currently board certified by the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology, and continues to serve at Fort Hood.

Michael Clark, Honorary Alumnus
For many students who ran for Coach Michael Clark on the “Long Red Line” (otherwise known as Pinkerton’s boys’ cross-country team) it was a defining part of their high school careers. Clark draws praise as one of the Academy’s most enthusiastic teachers, grounded in teamwork, sacrifice, hard work, resiliency, camaraderie and most of all, humility.

Michael Jesson, Class of 1970
Michael Jesson graduated in 1970, married Valerie Hampson in 1972 and together they raised two children and performed in a band called ‘Jesson Express.’ In 1977, he was hired by the Town of Derry where he continues to work. For 33 years Jesson has expertly lined all Pinkerton's fields with precision and pride. Since retiring his first band in 1988 to spend more time with his children, he has formed another band, ‘Blueberry,’ and performs with his daughter Marissa on vocals.

Col. Robert James Madden, Class of 1950
Deemed “tall, blond and popular” in his 1950 yearbook, this varsity athlete also contributed a lifetime of service to community and country. Upon graduation from UNH and Tufts Dental School, he completed a three-year residency at Georgetown University and Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, DC.
After only a few years in private practice, he joined the military, where he remained for 30 years. He was Chief of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery at the 97th General Hospital in Germany and Keller Army Hospital at West Point. He also served a tour in Vietnam at the 3rd Field Hospital. Upon retirement, Col. Madden served as a consultant in oral surgery at the NH State Department of Corrections. In the town of Derry, he and his wife have spent 49 years supporting many non-profit institutions through volunteer work along with raising their two daughters, Sherrill and Robin.

Col. Frederick J. Shepard Sr., Class of 1869
Col. Frederick Shepard Sr. was a well-known figure in the town of Derry who helped bring the small town into the 20th century with his initiatives. Shepard attended Bryant and Stratton Business College. He served several years in many leadership roles – as President of the Derry National Bank for 49 years, Treasurer of the Derry Savings Bank, and the Pinkerton Board of Trustees. West Derry can thank Shepard for its running water – as head of the Derry Water Works he initiated the first clay pipes to be installed under Broadway in 1890. Shepard also supervised efforts of the Derry Sewer Company, Derry Electric Company and the Buildings Association, which helped to construct the shoe factories and hundreds of homes in West Derry.

Frederick J. Shepard Jr., Class of 1907
Frederick Shepard Jr. went on to earn a degree at MIT, graduating in 1912. He served in World War I as a combat officer and later became the founder and president of Lewis-Shepard Co. of Watertown, MA. He served on the Pinkerton Board of Trustees for 35 years from 1930-65, 19 of which as President. He was responsible for donating the funds necessary to construct the Taylor Library in East Derry.

Col. Alan Bartlett Shepard Sr., Class of 1909
Col. Alan Bartlett Shepard Sr. was a member of Pinkerton’s class of 1909 and of Dartmouth College’s class of 1913. He and his two brothers, Frederick Jr. and Henry, were all combat officers during the first World War. He later worked at his father’s bank, but lost that position during the Great Depression. He later took over the Bartlett and Shepard Insurance Agency, which he ran until retirement. He succeeded his father as Treasurer of the Pinkerton Board of Trustees - a position he held from 1925-71. During the second World War, he was in charge of the manpower division of the Massachusetts local and state draft boards. He also served his community for more than 50 years as the First Parish Church organist.

September 23, 2010

Recruiting Souls

Salvation Army lieutenants Chris and Kiley Williams are working to figure out how to serve the Derry community — they have plenty of space but low church attendance. They created a sign for their Sunday services/youth center hoping it might draw more people. 

Union Leader Correspondent
DERRY – Recruiting Christian “soldiers” to do the good work of the Salvation Army has always been a pivotal part of the international organization's mission, since it was founded nearly 150 years ago.
For Lts. Chris and Kiley Williams, it remains a challenge. They are desperately seeking souls to save – families to engage, youth to serve, a church family to minister to – that can then serve the community, as needed.
“Our Sunday services? There are usually eight of us – six adults and two kids – we are two of the adults, and our two kids are the only kids,” said Kiley Williams.
Stationed at the Derry outpost in July, the couple has spent the summer getting acclimated and looking forward to establishing programs that cater to the community. Church attendance and program participation was minimal before they arrived, and nothing much has changed.
They rearranged the worship space, from cafe-style tables to rows of chairs, trying to create a more formal space. They also moved services up an hour, with Sunday school starting at 10 a.m. and church at 10:45 a.m.
“People seem to forget – or maybe they never realized – that the Salvation Army is first and foremost a church. We want people to know we're more than just a place to get used clothing,” said Kiley Williams, referring to the daily “fill a bag for five bucks” clothes closet, which is free and open to the public.
Although their basement is loaded with racks of clothing and donations are dropped off regularly, few people come to take advantage of the service.
Shortly after the Williamses arrived, the Salvation Army was looking for a new location – something smaller. But just a few weeks ago, they renewed their lease at the highly visible Folsom Road building that has been the Army's home for a decade.
In addition to office space, they have a huge out building, used for worship and equipped for fun – the second floor includes an open space with an air hockey table, bumper pool, a slew of board games, a preschool area with an easel and play kitchen – there is even a bouncy house that can be set up.
Downstairs there is more office space – Kiley Williams said she'd love to give free music lessons to anyone interested in playing a brass instrument. There is a nursery in progress and plenty of room outside to roam.
Kiley Williams, left, and her husband Chris Williams inside the worship area.
“Maybe we need to change it up, try running more of a 'seekers meeting' rather than a formal Sunday service,” said Kiley Williams, although with only a handful of worshippers, Sundays are pretty informal.
“We give them notebooks, in case they want to take notes and ask questions afterward, but a lot of the time they'll ask questions during the service, if there's something they want to know. It's a welcoming, friendly atmosphere, but we'd like to have the seats full on Sunday,” said Kiley Williams.
They know everything is possible – with the right mix of community support and direct outreach – that's what turned things around at the Salvation Army outpost in Haverhill, Mass., according to Lt. Jeff Hardy, who has been stationed there for a little more than a year with his wife, Mari.
“When we got here, we had about 30 regulars on Sunday and zero youth in our youth program. Now, we have more than 100 kids who come regularly, and our Sunday congregation has doubled, said Hardy.
He said it was a concerted effort – tapping the existing group of “soldiers” – that's Salvation Army lingo for congregants – and relying on our advisory board to make phone calls, go door-to-door and work on building a core group of families.
“You need to focus on families. If you just target kids, or adults, you're missing part of the bigger picture,” said Hardy.
Manchester Salvation Army Capt. Shaun Belanger said he, too, struggles with building a vibrant congregation. He and his wife, Kimberly, are also newly planted in this longtime city outpost, which is known for it's thriving Kids Cafe after-school program, which serves a hot meal to more than 100 kids nightly.
Sunday services are still a struggle.
“On a good Sunday, we might have 30 people,” said Belanger.
Derry Chief Financial Officer Frank Childs has served on the Salvation Army advisory board for years. He said the board has already have begun working with the Williamses at extending the Army's reach into Londonderry and Windham – an underserved area of the Greater Derry Salvation Army's territory.
“We met a few weeks ago with both town managers of Londonderry and Windham to talk about our outreach, and identify some people there to bring onto our board,” said Childs. “While there are clearly needs in Derry, those communities also have needs – even though the perception is that there isn't the same kind of need.”
Ideally, adding another four or five members to the existing 10-member board can only help bring fresh ideas and connections into the mix, Childs said.
“The Army is known for its social service outreach, but its founder, William Booth, left the Methodist church to start a street mission, movement after feeling like those who really needed to be served by the church weren't being served,” said Childs.
“When you say it's a Christian evangelical church, people are surprised,” said Childs. “But that is the Salvation Army's primary function. It's a matter of finding the right mix. We're working on that. You know what the magic is when you find it – our real goal is getting families involved in the church,” said Childs.