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Community roundtable held in Lancaster

by Tara Giles
Sports reporter - Coos County Democrat and Berlin Reporter
June 06, 2018
LANCASTER — On the evening of May 24, a community roundtable on issues facing the North Country as a community was held at the St. Paul's Episcopal Church. The roundtable was hosted by Heather Stockwell, from Rights and Democracy-NH Grassroots Organizer.

In a follow up e-mail, Stockwell said, "It was exciting to have such an engaged group of people wanting to better their communities and beyond. I really sense some momentum from this group and think some good things can happen with all of you. It will be really powerful to hear from other folks up in CoŲs County and what issues are affecting the communities in your region the most."

The first issue that was discussed at the roundtable was that of deep poverty and addiction in the area. Residents commented on the inability to retain reliable staffing at recovery centers and mental health facilities.

Hunger is a real issue that was brought forth, and one attendee mentioned how children's eyes light up at food baskets, however there is often not enough to go around. A weekend lunch program was discussed using money from possible grants.

Discussed further on the topic of poverty were those who work multiple jobs to make ends meet. Often, employees at the big local resorts are working two or three jobs, and many of them are teachers and nurses who are avoiding foreclosures. Health insurance was mentioned in that several policies don't cover enough and that ten thousand dollar deductibles are not affordable for people. One person said "Policies overseas are much more financially easier on the wallet."

A lack of public transportation was brought up; however, the biggest issue discussed was solid employment opportunities and the inability to keep educated youth in the area. One solution given was that companies start looking within the local area during the hiring process. In keeping with that vein of thought, the topic of a "good ol' boy's network' was mentioned and how cronyism is unwelcoming to newcomers or those trying to open new doors for themselves. One person noted that they have lived in the community for 40 years, and saw their son move out west due to the lack of opportunities for young people here.

Another resident offered, "I have five kids, and only one has stayed in the area because they couldn't make a living here."

One suggestion to create more jobs was to use old buildings in Berlin for distribution warehouses and offer employment such as fork-lift operators and truck drivers.

Many discussed the need for an increased minimum wage, and for large-scale companies to pay more in taxes.

One solution offered in regards to transportation was a possible ride sharing program; however, not all in the area are computer savvy. Growing the airports in Berlin and Whitefield was brought forth as a solution to boost economy. Using local media to allow locals to be aware of what programs and resources are available to those in need was one person's idea on spreading the word.

A canvassing team in Berlin and other areas will hand out and take back surveys over the next two months to gather more knowledge of what those not in attendance think as far as solutions go as well as other issues perhaps not brought to light.

Stockwell said, "I'd love to touch base with each of you over the next few weeks to talk about how you see yourself being involved in making some change in your North Country community. It sounds like there is some motion to start a research team and a canvassing team. I also let everyone know about some statewide campaigns Rights and Democracy is already working on and growing currently in case you might want to get involved with any of those. Most would require a monthly conference all and a few hours perhaps of volunteer time depending on what they're working on."

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