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WREN celebrates 20 years of success

Executive Director of WREN, Marilinne Cooper, holds up a copy of WRENzine 2014 which highlights 20 years of success in the program. Courtesy photo. (click for larger version)
January 15, 2014
BERLIN/BETHLEHEM–In 1994, three women had a dream to help enrich the lives of other women by providing an outlet and tools for those interested in starting their own business. 20 years later, that dream is alive and has been shared with over 1,100 members, men and woman alike.

Molly White, Veronica Francis and Colleen Foley kicked off the first pilot program for 12 women who wanted to start their own business. They hired on Natalie Woodroofe as the director. The group was established as the Woman's Rural Entrepreneurial Network (WREN). By 1996, with the help of many supporters, grants, donors, and foundations, the group was able to occupy an office on Main Street in Littleton with a small staff and board of directors. By 1999, WREN expanded with two storefronts in Bethlehem, a classroom and offices, a gallery, and a public access technology center. Members had access to the market and to entrepreneurial training.

WREN has since grown substantially and has launched a number of programs offering a variety of outlets, market access, incubator spaces and training classes for members. WREN established the Local Works Market Place, the Gallery at WREN in Bethlehem, the Local Works Farmers Market, and most recently, the Local Works Gallery at the Omni Mt. Washington Resort in Bretton Woods.

A feasibility study to replicate the WREN model in Berlin was conducted in 2009 and the Berlin Local Works Farmers' Market was born and has become one of the largest farmers' markets in New Hampshire within a 100-mile radius, next to Portsmouth. The markets give local farmers, growers, crafters, and artisans the opportunity to sell their products to the public in an effort to encourage the community to buy and sell locally. WREN has partnered with BIDPA (Berlin Industrial Development and Parks Authority) to help boost Berlin's economy and support downtown merchants. The WREN office at the former Congregational Church on upper Main Street was also put into place last year.

"What's special about WREN is that their philosophy values collaboration, relationships, taking action and making the larger community a better place," said Laura Jamison, Berlin market coordinator for WREN.

20 years later, about 1100 women and men are members. Approximately half of them are business owners, and the rest are devoted supporters of WREN.

One of the traditions at WREN is their printed publication, the WRENzine. Where other businesses and organizations have converted to strictly online communication and media, WREN has continued to issue their magazine three times a year. Members are invited to write columns, publish photographs, share experiences and advertise their businesses. Advertising sales cover a large portion of printing and production costs.

"We still see a great value in a beautiful printed piece with interesting stories and upcoming event information that people will hang on to, read leisurely and use as a reference," says Marilinne Cooper, WREN's Executive Director since 2006 and editor of the magazine. "Members look forward to receiving it in the mail and it is fantastic marketing collateral for people who don't know about WREN."

To celebrate WREN's 20th Anniversary, each of three issues for 2014 will be themed around the three words in WREN's tagline "Inspire, Create, Connect," and will feature special stories earmarked "Celebrating 20 Years." The recently published "Inspire" issue has articles by the original founders and director, member reflections on WREN's impact as well as inspirational stories about some of WREN's current entrepreneurs.

"In a world so focused on social media and instant messaging, a nice magazine really makes a statement," Cooper continues. "It takes a lot of work, but we think it's worth it."

To pick up the latest edition of the WRENzine, stop by the Local Works Marketplace on Main Street in Bethlehem, the Local Works Gallery at the Omni Mt. Washington Resort, or the WREN Berlin office at 921 Main Street in Berlin. To learn more about WREN, become a member, and to view a complete listing of all the offerings, by visit www.wrenworks.org.

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