Ripple Effects

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By Debbie Watrous, Executive Director

Nonprofits are always seeking to demonstrate the impact of their work. In the humanities, defining “impact” can be a challenge. What is the impact of expanded knowledge or of civil conversation? A more nuanced understanding? A new perspective?

Though the impacts are many, they can be hard to measure. 

A deeper understanding of New Hampshire’s immigration history can lead to increased empathy toward new arrivals or more thoughtful public policy choices. Practicing the skills of citizenship can make people more comfortable engaging in civic life, influence conversations within families and at work, and even help neighbors work together more effectively. 

Another type of impact is what I call the “ripple effect” of our work. There have been many times in the life of this organization when our work has inspired others in ways that have had both individual and community impacts. Here are a few recent “ripples”:

•    Prescott Park Arts Festival’s “30 Pages in 30 Days” project, funded in part by New Hampshire Humanities, had an unscripted yet delightful effect of inspiring high school theatre students at a New Hampshire charter school to create their own one-act plays.

•    The Meelia Center at Saint Anselm College recently received a $100,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities for the expansion of “Humanities After School.” Serving mainly refugee and immigrant students from Manchester high schools, it has resulted in a dramatic jump in college attendance for students without a family higher education culture. The program began in 2010 with a grant from New Hampshire Humanities as part of our statewide initiative “Fences & Neighbors: NH’s Immigration Story.”

•    Seacoast veterans developed deep bonds through weekly conversations based on The Odyssey in our pilot series “From Troy to Baghdad: Dialogues on the Experience of War & Homecoming.” As facilitator and veteran Brendan O’Byrne noted, “To hear from the other vets was profound. They shared stories, feelings, ideas and in that combat vet way, some things were talked seriously about, some joked about, and some just left to digest. . . . There were many stories told, some very tough to hear, and not only about combat.” In a testament to the success of this series, the Portsmouth group has decided to continue meeting on their own, turning to The Iliad as the next guide on their journey home from war. 

•    A Community Project Grant to the New Hampshire Boat Museum for a lecture series on Lake Wentworth drew more than 100 people to each event. Not only did this result in new members joining the organization on the spot, it also helped the museum solidify working relationships with three other local organizations and generate enthusiasm for a capital campaign.

•    Maria Cristina Rojas began as a student in one of our Connections adult literacy classes seven years ago. She has since transitioned from student to teacher. “My first Connections class as a teacher was magic,” she says. “I taught a class of women from Africa. Through Connections the students learned, as I had, that they were part of a community. I could see it in their eyes – they could see the path opening up in front of them.”

This is just a small sample of the ways in which New Hampshire Humanities serves as a catalyst.

We love to get conversations started and are gratified when others take those conversations and run with them. That’s impact!