Editorial: Vibrant Non-Profits Help Make the Upper Valley Special

It’s sometimes claimed that there’s a specialness about life in the Upper Valley, and if there’s truth to that beyond marketing and a collective desire to feel, well, special, one thing in its favor is the vibrancy of the non profit sector.

From tiny agencies trying to change the world despite odds as daunting as those facing an ant embarking on a mountain relocation project, to non profits so large they need their own parking garage, the Upper Valley has do-gooders aplenty.

Two of the newest, the Spark Community Center in Lebanon and Dismas House in Hartford, are examples of good causes that not only fill a need, but also make the community richer.

Spark is a community center for people with special needs, and their families and friends and caregivers, located in the old junior high school building on Bank Street in Lebanon. It will offer classes, Foosball, air hockey, computers, art — perhaps even theater productions and musicals. “If we can imagine it, we’ll try to make it happen,’’ said disability rights advocate John Fenley, one of the founders.

Jose Braden told staff writer Aimee Caruso that he planned to spend a lot of time at the center, socializing, volunteering and doing “techy stuff.’’ Braden said he was happy the center has opened, “because of all the fun, caring people.’’

Kudos to the founders for their imagination and the clever name — Spark — that speaks to their vision of a place that will be enjoyable for all. “It’s open to anybody. It isn’t just people with challenges. We all have challenges,’’ observed Brett Mayfield, executive director.

Lebanon residents voted against tearing down the brick building after the school district built a new middle school. If that decision was slightly sentimental, sentiment has been rewarded. Both Spark and the loft-style studio apartments that are being developed there will add to the life of Lebanon’s central district.

In Hartford Village, Dismas House, a residence for men and women transitioning back into the community after prison, also recently held a dedication ceremony. Staff writer Jordan Cuddemi’s story about the home emphasized the community within ­— “I feel like it is a real family,’’ said one resident — and the involvement of the community at large. Volunteers from Dartmouth College’s Tucker Foundation and people from area organizations come in regularly to make meals and help in other ways.

One Dismas House resident said he believed community support would help him stay out of trouble. He said having a place to stay after prison where he can live affordably “shows people care about you. … They are not just shoving you out to a hotel.’’

If the Upper Valley desires to be exceptional, it can be so by including, and not excluding, people who need a helping hand. Two new nonprofits demonstrate that the area becomes better when it shares what it has, and also that it receives something in kind — the sense of community that enriches those who are helped and the helpers too.