Giving thanks for the blessings of 2017

The leaves are changing colors and that reminds me that the holidays are just around the corner. My favorite holiday is and always has been Thanksgiving. I love the idea of sitting back, taking stock and expressing gratitude for the good things in our lives, whether those be personal, professional or otherwise. One doesn’t need to go too far to be reminded about bad things. Human beings seem to have a tendency to fixate on the negative, and with “tools” like Facebook, I find myself being constantly bombarded by negative messages. So, let’s put it out there and do a little bit of “taking stock” for the bounty in our lives.

While I would gladly meet with anybody who wants to and have a cup of coffee to discuss the personal side of giving thanks, I think for this column, I’ll keep it on the professional and community side. Let’s start with the city of Nashua itself. This past Winter, we took the thoughtful and, I believe, courageous step forward of becoming a “Welcoming City,” aligning ourselves with immigration friendly policies in the spirit of social inclusion. For many, Nashua has always been a welcoming community, with many generations of successive AND successful immigrants coming in wave after wave. One need go no further than our millyard to see the impressive legacy of our immigrants. In the 21st century, we find ourselves becoming even more diverse, bringing to our community immigrants and refugees from Myanmar, the Congo, Brazil, Mexico, the Dominican Republic and much more. The challenges, such as dozens of languages being spoken within our school district, are offset with rich cultural offerings in food, art etc. Moreover, immigrants have become a stable in our ever-growing workforce shortage in Southern New Hampshire. For anybody who is interested in getting more involved with making Nashua the most welcoming and productively diverse community in the state, I encourage you to get involved with the One Greater Nashua initiative, which is now in its third year and continues to make advances in our community.

Since I mentioned art, I think it is worth giving thanks to the many members of our community who continue to be passionate about arts and culture. Whether it be Positive Street Art and its amazing downtown murals, the one-of- a-kind International Sculpture Symposium, the Nashua Area Artists Association, which for decades now has presented its work in Greeley Park every year, the budding music scene in venues like the Riverwalk or downtown under the Leadership of Great American Downtown, or the dance festival on Main Street, which was coordinated by our friends from Symphony New Hampshire; regardless, it is hard to argue that the culture scene in Nashua doesn’t have something for everyone. Whether we end up with a new Performing Arts Center or not, I feel confident in saying that the arts are really blossoming in our community.

On a more difficult side of life, namely the mental health of our residents, there also is much to be thankful for. Through the collaboration of the Safe Stations Initiative and the Mayor’s Opioid Task Force, much progress is being made in helping those with a substance use disorder to find treatment. Overdoses and deaths continue to be at very high levels, but the collaboration which has come about and the concrete steps which are being taken are very encouraging and need to be supported. Furthermore, we now have a brand-new walk-in recovery center at Revive Recovery, which is just starting to get up and running. This is a safe place where people can find support and positive ways to overcome addiction. Also, the strong prevention efforts in our community, being led by the Nashua Prevention Coalition, are making strides in helping our children to make heathy, drug-free decisions. Additionally, this is the year we will look back upon as having “born” the Greater Nashua Integrated Delivery Network (IDN). This group is a remarkable coalition of medical, counseling and social services providers, which is working to transform the way mental health and substance use disorder are treated in our community, with an eye toward integrating services and breaking down traditional medical silos. As part of all of these initiatives, we are very proud of the progress which is being made.

Relative to my own organization, United Way, we have much to be thankful for, as well. Our annual total revenues are projected to be up more than 20 percent over the prior year, and due to the tremendous generosity of our thousands of donors, we were able to invest a little over $700,000 in our community this year, an increase of more than $50K over last year. That investment goes to 19 different agencies in our community with a strong focus on improving health, reducing financial instability, including hunger and homelessness, and strengthening educational outcomes, including kindergarten readiness, reading at grade level by third grade, and graduating from high school. These investments are paying strong dividends and making our community into an even better place to live and thrive. I, personally, am also grateful to have a board of directors who enthusiastically supports such crazy schemes as sleeping in a box and rappelling from a building to raise money for our community. Without their support, we wouldn’t be able to be successful. Moreover, we are extremely happy with our “Day of Caring” volunteer events this year, starting with packaging 20,000 meals for local pantries, then building a community farm with Grow Nashua, then holding a Community Baby Shower at Nashua Community College, next building and installing eight Little Free Libraries with our friends from BAE, P&L Landscaping and the Nashua Public Library, and culminating with our very successful “United We Sleep to End Hunger and Homelessness” event just a few weeks ago. This, for us, has been nothing short of an amazing year.

Lastly, as we enter the holiday season and give thanks, we are pleased to be a partner with The Telegraph, The Journal and The Cabinet on this year’s Santa Fund. This fund, for many years, has raised money for holiday programs administered by local nonprofits, with this year’s proceeds supporting the work of the Salvation Army, the Front Door Agency and Milford SHARE. It is true that parents will often make decisions which sacrifice needs like utilities, food and clothing, in order to make space for their children to have a nice Chanukah or Christmas. The Santa Fund is one way in which you can directly help to lighten that burden, and if you are interested in making a small, tax free, donation you can do so easily online at http://tinyurl.com/2017santa – who knows, you might make a little but important difference in a local family’s life this holiday by doing so. From your friends at United Way of Greater Nashua, thank you for your support and for helping us to continue to LIVE UNITED.

Mike Apfelberg is President of the United Way of Greater Nashua.