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The Whole Village brings everyone to the table



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Granite State United way has recently appointed Susan Amburg as Director of the Whole Village Family Resource Center in Plymouth. (Photo by Marcia Morris) (click for larger version)
June 10, 2015
PLYMOUTH — For almost 20 years now, The Whole Village Family Resource Center on Highland Street in Plymouth has served as something of a force multiplier for the many local non-profit organizations providing essential social services in the region.

Now operated by Granite United Way, the ongoing mission of the Whole Village is to enable community partners to work together to identify critical and emerging needs, and to have a coordinated strategy to meet those challenges.

There is a certain synergy that happens when like-minded people come together around a table and brainstorm about how to tackle daunting community challenges from a variety of different perspectives. The Whole Village Family Resource Centers serves as an "incubator" and support system to all the non-profits in the area that are responding to a series of problems that community members are facing.

In this regard, the region is especially fortunate that Granite State United Way has recently appointed Susan Amburg as Director for the Whole Village Family Resource Center in Plymouth. Many people from the Plymouth area are already familiar with her work from her previous position as the Director of the Office of Sponsored Programs at Plymouth State University, from her service as Chairperson of the Plymouth Parks and Recreation Commission, or from her involvement, in many ways, with the local School District.

With a solid professional background in development and grant writing, she will undoubtedly be instrumental in helping to identify resources to help with revenue generation.

"I am happiest when I am making a contribution to the fabric of community life," said Amburg, during a recent interview. "The prolonged economic downturn has put so many families under stress, financially and in so many other ways. Everyone is having to do more with less these days, including local families, but also the community organizations that try to help out."

"Fortunately, no one service provider is alone in addressing tough issues," said Amburg. "Our approach is to try to be intentional and coordinated in working together so that we can play to everyone's strength. My job here at the Whole Village is to work to raise all boats, to add value to other existing organizations and help make everyone more successful in meeting the need."

One recent example of the potential for such effective collaboration is an energy efficiency initiative, in partnership the adjacent Bridge House Shelter, and utilizing the expertise of the local Plymouth Area Renewable Energy Initiative (PAREI). The Whole Village, working with these community partners, has submitted a $300 thousand Community Development Finance Authority (CDFA) grant proposal that, if successful, will enable the Bridge House and The Whole Village to conduct a comprehensive energy audit of the existing facilities and construct an appropriately sized and positioned solar array to significantly reduce electricity costs.

Amburg explains that both The Bridge House and the Whole Village are careful to run a "lean and mean" operation in order to maximize the impact of scarce financial resources and are always looking for ways to decrease overhead so money can be funneled into critical programs and much needed services. Working together to access CDFA funds will boost everyone's efforts in this important work.

"The Whole Village is more than a building," says Amburg. "It is a gateway to access services that can empower community members to tackle problems. It can serve a convener to facilitate networking, collaboration and partnerships amongst the many invaluable local nonprofit organizations."

One particularly important way the Whole Village does this is by hosting the monthly Agency Council meeting where coffee and lively informal conversation serves to facilitate networking and precipitate ideas for collaboration. This opportunity is not just for the non-profits that are housed physically at the Whole Village, but for everyone who is a service provider in the region that spans a large geographic area in within Grafton County, from Wentworth and Lincoln in the North, to Bristol in the south.

There is a buzz of activity at the Whole Village on a daily basis. A large number of service providers are currently housed at the Highland Street facility. Lakes Region Community Services has recently taken up residence in the building that also includes such diverse organizations as Headstart, Pemi Baker Literacy, Lakes Region Childcare Services, Transport Central, CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) and the UNH Cooperative Extension Nutrition Connections program.

Local community members can sign up for unemployment at the Whole Village once a week with New Hampshire Employment Security. Thanks to a partnership with Mid-State Health, there is also a healthcare navigator on site on those days to help people sign up for health insurance if they should need help in that area.

In addition to supporting other local area non-profit organizations, through the Exchange at the Whole Village, Granite State United way offers a number of programs at the Whole Village including parent education classes, financial skill-building workshops and other events and services that address pressing issues in the community.

In the 2014-15 fiscal years, the Whole Village reported that 120 local organizations operated programs out of the Whole Village Family Resource Center, serving close to 15,000 participants over the course of the year. They have provided 7,845 referrals to individuals seeking assistance in the Plymouth area.

"We are so fortunate that forward thinking people came together to do all the work required to get the Whole Village off the ground 20 years ago, said Amburg. "Everything we are now doing builds on what has come before and everything they did enables up to take our work to the next level."

The Whole Village Family Resource Center is located at 258 Highland St. in Plymouth. For information on the Exchange at the Whole Village or other programs, visit the Web site at www.graniteuw.org, email at wvexchange@graniteuw.org, or call 536-3720.

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