The Role of the Convener

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By Mary Nolin and Claudia Dell’Anno

Here at New Hampshire Humanities, we have a saying for the work we do : “ We play three roles here: The convener, the funder, and the catalyst for positive change .” Unfortunately, we can’t always play all these roles in every situation. This is a story of our role as convener.

The Extended Learning Program for Adults with Developmental Disabilities, also known as Pathways, is one of the most inspiring programs offered through Salem Continuing and Alternative Education. The program has been around since the 1990s and serves the communities of Salem, Windham, Hampsted, Pelham, Plaistow, and Manchester. This program is designed for students ages 21 or older with developmental or intellectual challenges the opportunity to practice social skills and to stay engaged in their community. Most participants are repeat students and look forward to returning to the program each year. With limited educational opportunities for disabled adults over 21, Pathways allowed students to go on field trips, take music class, and engage in book discussions. The Pathways program has hosted  Connections  programs from New Hampshire Humanities since 2003 and have come to look forward to seeing their long-time facilitator and friend, Maren Tirabassi.

Unfortunately, after 30 years, funding for the Pathways program was cut from the Bureau of Adult Education budget. This left the program’s students, already isolated from each other due to the pandemic, with further uncertainty about the future of their community. Students are now only able to see each other for one hour a week on Zoom. The change in schedule and lack of in person class time has caused a great deal of stress and anxiety for some students.

Claudia Dell’Anno, the director at Salem Adult Education, knew that something had to be done to save the Pathways program. Her goal was simple; to secure funding for Pathways through the end of the 2020-2021 school year at a minimum. She reached out to a number of organizations for support including Community Crossroads, NH Department of Education, Crotched Mountain Foundation, University of New Hampshire Lend Program, C.O.R.E Vocational Services, and Institute on Disability. Finally, Claudia reached out to New Hampshire Humanities for help.

While New Hampshire Humanities does have grant funding available through our Community Program Grants program for humanities focused projects, what Claudia and the Pathways program needed was some larger, philanthropic support. Thus, our role of convener was born.

Leveraging our contacts at the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation, we organized a meeting for New Hampshire Humanities and the  Connections  program to advocate on behalf of the Pathways program. Anne Philips, Director of Grant Making, and Michael Turmelle, Director of Education and Career Initiatives, listened and sympathized with the situation of Claudia, the students, and the Pathways program in general. Anne took the lead in finding support our friends in Salem.

Through the power of convening the right people together at the right time, we are pleased to announce that the Salem Alternative and Continuing Education, Pathways program, has secured funding from the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation to continue classes through the 2020-2021 academic year. These funds are planning to be used to support two teachers, two aides, music lessons, and one or two Zoom classes a week for students.

“We are excited to share this news with our teachers, students, and families. We know that they will be thrilled to learn that they all will continue to benefit to from the program!” 

-   Claudia Dell’Ano, Director of Salem Adult Education

Thank you to the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation for their generous support of the Pathways program and New Hampshire Humanities.