Out & About: Despite lingering challenges, the year had high points

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 12/25/2021 10:23:30 PM
Modified: 12/25/2021 10:23:04 PM

WEST LEBANON — I didn’t expect to be writing another of these columns. Like many people, I held out hope at the end of last year that 2021 would be better.

I imagined gathering with friends and family without second thought; packed concert venues and exploring new places; and fewer masks and a lot less hand sanitizer. I guess in many ways, I imagined my pre-pandemic life, except brighter. It would be a homecoming of sorts, a return to being carefree and secure that yes, while bad things can and did happen, there were more accessible ways of making things better.

Instead, we are in the midst of the largest COVID-19 surge this area has seen. It is winter, a time of year when loneliness and depression are often at their worst. There is a lot that feels insurmountable right now and it can be really difficult to see around that to the good things, the bright spots, that are still happening.

Last year, I put together a column about 20 good things that happened in 2020.

That simple exercise got me out of my own head and made me focus on the moments that proved time and time again that people are always trying to make the world a better place.

This list is far from complete and is in no particular order:

■Sustainable Lebanon and the Lebanon Rotary Club, who organized a Styrofoam recycling event and tapped into a much-needed service in the Upper Valley.

■The retired health care workers who stepped up to volunteer at vaccination clinics throughout the area.

■All teachers, but especially the theater, band and choir teachers who came up with virtual musicals, performances and other creative ideas so that the kids could still perform. And a special shout out to Randolph Union High School and the greater Randolph community who all pitched in for a virtual production of Titanic the musical. “This has been so moving because no one looked at us and said, ‘Hey guys, you’re out of your league there.’ Everyone said, ‘Yeah, we want to help you do this.’ ” teacher Brian Rainville told me in April.

■Newport’s Richards Free Library, which became the first in the area to adopt a pair of library cats (I am holding out hope that more libraries follow suit).

■Staff at The Dartmouth Institute and Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, who started an online caregiver support group called ConnectShareCare to help connect caregivers to each other and provide them with resources. “It’s hard when you’re a care partner to take care of yourself. It seems kind of an all-consuming task and so an awful lot of the counsel that people give one another is how to take care of yourself,” Janet Miller Haines, of New London, told me in July.

■The Lebanon High boys soccer team, which won its first statewide championship in 30 years.

■The Upper Valley Walk to End Alzheimer’s group, which raised more than $130,000 for this year’s walk, exceeding its fundraising goal by 40%.

■Tunbridge librarian Mariah Lawrence, who started the Generation Connect book club so that people could connect virtually over a shared interest. “It was just a great structure to connect with family who they’re not able to see,” Eliza Minnucci, a Tunbridge resident whose two children participated with their grandmother, who lives in Quechee, told me in February.

■Charlie Dean, who restored the neon Budd’s Beverages clock that has hung outside Dan & Whit’s for decades. Dean restored the clock, which he learned to tell time on as a child in the 1960s and 70s when he lived across the street from the Norwich general store.

■West Central Behavioral Health and AVA Gallery and Art Center, which joined together for an art exhibit titled “Tethered by Light: A Group Exhibition Inspired by National Mental Health Awareness Month of May” last spring. “Every step we take to make public the conversation about public health reduces the stigma of mental illness, being treated for mental illness, substance misuse, being treated for substance misuse,” Dave Celone, director of development and community relations at West Central told me.

■The volunteers in Lebanon — and beyond — who pulled invasive garlic mustard from the ground. Actually, everyone anywhere in the Upper Valley who has contributed to the removal of any invasive species.

■The Arts and Business Alliance, which put together the “Sunapee Region Arts Atlas,” to highlight arts and cultural organizations throughout the 25 towns in the sometimes-overlooked region.

■The new partnership between JAG Productions and King Arthur Baking, which teamed up for Theatre on the Hill to showcase four productions that examined the Black experience. “I think it’s a great time to remind people that art-making and theater-making are for them. It’s for the people,” JAG founder Jarvis Green told Valley News staff writer Alex Hanson.

■Mascoma Valley Preservation, whose Grafton Mills project was the only one in Grafton County to receive funding from the New Hampshire Community Development Finance Authority to put toward renovating the historic site.

■Tthe volunteers who groomed trails, slopes and ice to help support outdoor recreation in the Upper Valley last winter (and will continue to do so this winter).

■The Windsor Public Library Board of Trustees, which is making it a priority to fundraise for a lift and bathroom improvements that will help make the 1904 building more accessible.

■Dartmouth researchers Dr. Steven Leach and Surajit Dhara who are trying to find better ways to diagnose and treat pancreatic cancer.

■Lou’s Restaurant & Bakery’s Jarett Berke and other restaurant owners who, along with help from Vital Communities, started a company called UVER to keep money made from delivery in the Upper Valley. “Small, local businesses are getting rolled over by these big companies like Amazon and GrubHub,” Berke told Valley News staff writer John Lippman. “We’re trying to make sure that doesn’t happen in our business and neighborhoods.”

<sbull value="sbull"><text xmlns="urn:schemas-teradp-com:gn4tera"></text></sbull> The Upper Valley Land Trust and Willing Hands, which expanded its community gardens to provide produce for people in need throughout the region.

■All of the pets in the Upper Valley — be it cats, dogs, iguanas, fish, rabbits or birds — that provided their owners with comfort throughout the year.

Readers, what are some good things you observed?

Liz Sauchelli can be reached at esauchelli@vnews.com or 603-727-3221.

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