Let’s all take a deep breath as we attempt to put the contentious year of 2016 firmly in our rear-view mirrors! This was a year dominated by the Presidential Campaign and punctuated by headlines at the top of which was the opioid crisis. Upon further reflection, however, we have much to be proud of in our community and, I believe, credible evidence that 2017 will be a great year!
At United Way, we look at the world through the lens of health, education, and economic mobility. So let’s parse out the 2016/2017 conversation through that same world view. In terms of health, top of mind in our community would have to be substance use disorder, mental health, and access to health care. This past year we continued to make strides through the Mayor’s Opioid Task Force (MOTF), focusing efforts on prevention, treatment, and recovery. We saw the formation of a statewide crisis hotline, ongoing prevention efforts, and the establishment of a Safe Stations program in Nashua. These efforts will continue to pay dividends, and in the not-so-distant future there will be a walk-in recovery center in the heart of Nashua, as well. All of the MOTF partners, including the hospitals, Harbor Homes, the City’s Public Health Department, AMR, Nashua PD, Nashua FD, HEARTS, Greater Nashua Mental Health, the Nashua Prevention Coalition, and others remain focused on improving the health of our community through this important and collaborative effort.
In mental health, this past year saw the formation of the regional Integrated Delivery Network, leading a similar coalition as MOTF and spearheaded by Southern New Hampshire Health. In 2017 the work of the IDN will begin to take off, looking at how to improve the delivery of mental health services in our community so that we can make measurable and ongoing improvements in this important area. Mental health effects our community in so many ways, including substance use, emergency room utilization, violence, and poverty. By taking on this important work, the IDN will no doubt have a lasting and beneficial effect in Greater Nashua.
Another important aspect of health is social inclusion. We are particularly gratified at the successful efforts to move toward Nashua being a more “welcoming” community in the past year. From legislation, to the work of our One Greater Nashua coalition, we are embracing a more diverse community, and in doing so improving the overall health of our community.
Lastly, we are very excited about the new mobile health van being purchased by St. Joseph Hospital with partners including Rivier University, the United Way, and others. This van will increase access to health care across the entire 13 communities of our regions. I often ask people to imagine an elderly person living by themselves, on a low income, and without transportation. How do they get to the doctor? Too often, it’s by taking a fall and going to the ER. That’s NOT a good approach to healthcare, with poor outcomes for the person and high costs to the community. So, we are particularly excited by this new project, which will include medical, dental, and counseling services and be operated by the Public Health Department.
In the world of education, we are encouraged that there seems to be a growing discussion about the need to address early child education. This past year saw the launch of the My Brother’s Keeper initiative as well as the formation of a Greater Nashua Early Childhood Coalition. In both of these efforts, the discussions include preparing children properly for their entry into kindergarten and first grade. There is also an active discussion about the access and affordability of high quality early childhood care and education. This is a very difficult issue, particularly because of the costs of such care as well as the availability of qualified workers. As this discussion continues in 2017 I hope we can explore innovative solutions such as private-public partnerships to make progress. United Way continues to invest in several programs in our community which provide for such care, but the need is very great. Efforts are also underway to look at academic attainment by grade 3, particularly in reading. They say – and it is true – that before third grade you are learning to read, but after third grade you are reading to learn. It’s an important milestone and one which must be paid attention to in our increasingly complex world.
Lastly, let’s talk about economic mobility. Like it or not, hunger and homelessness, food insecurity, and affordable housing continue to be factors in our community. We have a crisis in particular in the area of affordable rental housing, and as a friend of mine told me recently, the #1 reason people are homeless is that they cannot afford a place to live. At United Way, we will continue to bring awareness to this issue through events and community conversations such as our September Sleep Out. Our partners, such as Annemarie House and the Front Door agency, continue to work at breaking the cycle through transitional housing, and Circles is a program which is beginning to take root in our community focusing on education and relationships to reduce poverty. Additionally, there are conversations taking place around innovative approaches to youth homelessness, which has its own unique challenges, but there might be solutions available such as a “host homes” program which don’t cost a tremendous amount to implement and could be very effective at protecting our vulnerable youth population and getting them through high school.
Each of these areas, health, education, and economic mobility has great opportunities for you to get involved. You can give your time and talents, or equally contribute your financial resources to the fight. It is also important to make sure that your elective representatives understand that these are important issues to you. I am always heartened by the strength of our local community, including an amazing non-profit network which, for the most part, operates in a collaborative fashion for the betterment of all. To each of you involved, thank you for what you do, thank you from us for continuing to LIVE UNITED, and best wishes for an amazing New Year.
Mike Apfelberg is President of the United Way of Greater Nashua.