The Backbone of America: How the Sunshine Initiative Got Started...
Karen and Jay share the excitement of Sunshine Initiative Week from the Millyard Museum in Manchester.
It’s true. Our wonderful small towns and communities really are the ‘backbone of America.’ These are the places where generations of Americans have grown up, gone to school, played sports, enjoyed family, and participated in their communities. With pride and local spirit in abundance. It’s where neighbors have gotten to know each other and where we all have developed bonds that last a lifetime. Unfortunately, though, in recent years many of these towns have experienced hard times as businesses have left, main streets have been hollowed out and there has developed a lack of hope and opportunity. It is precisely this issue that the Sunshine Initiative was created to address. To begin a movement where together we can reinvigorate and restore vitality to our small towns and communities. And here’s how it all got started.
A few years ago, my wife Karen and I were driving through my old hometown of Newport. As I drove past my old house and high school, I had a wonderful feeling of nostalgia. Memories of football games, ice skating, shopping on main street came to mind. Yet I was struck by what I saw as I continued down the main street. In the town that raised me, that was once so lively, it had changed – it wasn’t the same. It now looked like so many other main streets across small town America that have experienced a long slow economic decline. There was an absence of life. Where people once shopped, I saw vacant storefronts secondhand stores and boarded up buildings. Where there once was hope, there was an air of resignation and to some extent, despair.
It was right then that we committed to do all we could to change the situation. To help lead an effort to revitalize Newport, New Hampshire. We have since named this effort the ‘Sunshine Initiative,’ after the town’s actual nickname. Newport is called the ‘Sunshine Town’ – named by a vaudeville performer who once proclaimed that “Newport is the Sunshine Town; It’s the town where the sun shines on both sides of the street!” And now a hundred or so years later, Newport remains the Sunshine Town, and we are so excited to say that Newport is once again ‘on the move!’ Good things are happening. With the creation of the Sunshine Initiative and the combined efforts of hundreds of people in this small community, there is an exciting revitalization in the works. The town is attracting new businesses, jobs are being created, the beautiful opera house in the center of town which had fallen into disrepair has recently been renovated, there is now a robotics program in the high school and even a new dog park on the way.
What has been done in Newport needs to be replicated in thousands of towns across our great country. And the great news is that it Can Be Done! We have developed and will be continuing to identify ‘Best Practices’ via the Sunshine Initiative that can be shared with other communities. And while the ‘Playbook’ may be slightly different and tailored to the needs of each community, there is one powerful aspect that will always be the same. The most important ingredient will always be ‘attitude.’ A positive ‘can do’ approach that unleashes the power of the human spirit.
What started in Newport is part of a growing movement to take control of our destiny and make great things happen in our communities, to lend a hand, and to build a new future. We’re incredibly excited by the opportunity that lies ahead and together we can and will transform the lives of the next generation of Americans.
Officially ‘Sunshine Initiative Week’ in New Hampshire
In 2018, Jay and Karen Lucas decided something needed to be done to help his hometown of Newport, NH and so they founded a movement which they called the Sunshine Initiative. And in just four short years the organization has grown and is actively involved in the New Hampshire communities of Newport, Rochester, Laconia, and the Manchester’s West Side. In 2019, the Sunshine Initiative led the effort of setting a Guinness Book of World Records for sunflower bouquets in a community - Newport!
This year, in honor of the longest day of sunshine (the first day of summer), the Sunshine Initiative hosted three events that brought together leaders from across the Granite State for a discussion on the revitalization of small towns and sharing of best practices in community development, communications, and housing.
The week’s activities kicked off with a proclamation from Governor Chris Sununu who declared June 20-23 as Sunshine Week in the State of New Hampshire. The governor went on to say that the Sunshine Initiative has had great success in helping bolster and encourage community pride and “spread the infectious spirit of positivity that is the hallmark of the Sunshine Initiative.”
On June 21st, the Sunshine Initiative hosted a meeting at the Newport Library Arts Center. The which featured community members and special guest Zack Mannheimer, CEO of Atlas Community Studios and founder of Alquist 3D. The discussion followed up on our February brainstorming session that the Sunshine Initiative hosted on the future of the “Old Ruger Mill.” These meetings are so very vital in maintaining momentum, sharing updates on progress, and getting key community leaders and volunteers together to make progress.
On the following day, the Sunshine Initiative held a day-long symposium at the Millyard Museum, in Manchester. The purpose of the forum was to share ‘best practices’ on revitalization with key leaders from towns and cities throughout the State. Topics included: Housing; Revitalization of Main Streets; Volunteerism; and How to Work with the Media. Panelists included Tom Raffio of Northeast Delta Dental, Ben Frost of New Hampshire Housing, Erik Lesniak from the Manchester Economic Office, Phil Taub of Swim with a Mission, Drew Cline with the Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy, and past Executive Director and former Union Leader Editor along with State Senator Denise Ricciardi. Moderators of the day’s topics included former WMUR political reporter and media expert Scott Spradling, New Hampshire Home Builders, and Remodelers Association Executive Director Matt Mayberry, David Rogers, Chief Development Officer of ARMI and the Sunshine Initiative’s Executive Director Brian Hettrick.
The celebration was capped off at the Hilton Garden Inn in Manchester overlooking the Delta Dental Fisher Cats Stadium! It was a delightful night with new faces joining with those who had attended the earlier events creating great conversations enhanced by delicious food and drinks. And what better way to end the evening than with a sacrifice fly in the bottom on ninth landing just yards away from us to win the game! Watch for some exciting new efforts to be coming from the Sunshine Week. This is how relationships are formed. When you get good people together – like has been accomplished by these events – you can be sure that ‘good things will happen.’
Meredith – Small Town Success Story
One of those ‘unbearably cute East Coast towns.’ Meredith recently was given that moniker by Travel and Leisure in its list of the 10 best small towns on the East Coast, joining Kennebunkport as the only other northern New England town. Small towns like Meredith are having their moment in the spotlight as travelers are not just wanting big city attractions, but after being shut-in for so long - they’re looking to get out, enjoy life and explore. And importantly also, a great place to live, work and raise a family!
And there is certainly plenty that Meredith has to offer! Meredith could easily be called the “Community on the Lakes” with Lakes Winnipesaukee, Winnisquam, Wicwas and Pemigewasset all nearby including a number of beautiful islands and parks. The docks in town provide easy access to many types of recreational activities and in every season.
It’s also considered one the premier hospitality destinations in Northern New England - anchored by Meredith Village with its beautifully restored mill and unique stores. The Waukewan Golf Club and Oak Hill Golf course are right in town along with four unique lakeside hotels and inns, along with a number of fine restaurants, bars, pubs, brewery, winery and cafes. All complimenting the Winnipesaukee Playhouse and the Interlakes Summer Theatre both being great cultural and performing art venues.
However, this wasn’t always so - and not too long ago. But first, let's go back to its early beginnings when it was known as Palmer’s Town, in honor of Samuel Palmer who did most of the original surveying. In 1748, it was one of the first towns to receive a charter from the Masonian Proprietors. It was renamed New Salem at that point because so many of the population were from Salem, MA. With 881 residents, it was regranted in 1768 by Governor John Wentworth and named after Sir William Meredith, 3rd Baronet, a member of Parliament who opposed taxation.
The town went through several changes going from an agrarian based economy to one powered by water which in the 1800’s allowed for various types of mills to operate and became a prosperous mill town. The railroads came through in 1849 and in 1872 the S.S. Mount Washington was launched and so was the town’s reputation as a summer resort. That was until in the early 1950’s when an asbestos plant replaced the Meredith Linen Mills, a major employer in town, after it closed in the 40’s. And for almost 30 years created both a human and environmental disaster.
Fortunately, after the plant closed, the town took action. And in 1997, a group of community members including Rusty McLear and Christopher Williams formed the Meredith Recreation & Economic Development Program. In 2004, after a number of successes in helping revitalize Main Street, the Greater Meredith Program (GMP) was born out of their efforts and has been working ever since on collaborating with the town government, Chamber and other organizations to transform Meredith into a place that is now listed as one of the 10 best!
Earlier this year, Jeanie Forrester and Mike Griffin, Executive Director of the GMP, asked Jay Lucas to be the keynote speaker at their annual awards dinner. Jay also brought along one of the Sunshine Initiative partners Zack Mannhiemmer, CEO of Alquist, whose company 3D printed the first livable home in the US for Habitat for Humanity. It was a great night and the enthusiasm in the packed banquet room was clearly evident. All connected by a common bond – a commitment to the revitalization of our small towns and communities.
And just this week, we returned the favor as Mike Griffin was a panelist discussing communities and infrastructure at our Sunshine Initiative Day at Manchester’s amazing Millyard Museum. He was joined by Lynn Leighton, GMP’s president along with Erin and Jeff Rhatigan, creators of the delightful video of Meredith which Mike shared along with success stories about the GMP’s past and future efforts. Meredith certainly has an even brighter future ahead and we’re glad to play a role in their efforts.
Positive Profile of the Week: Kevin Landrigan
We are delighted this week to highlight a keen observer of and leading reporter on New Hampshire state government and politics – with an historical perspective and context that is unmatched: Kevin Landrigan.
I first got to know Kevin when I was running for Governor in 1998. I would see Kevin as he tirelessly covered candidates, events and more for the Nashua Telegraph. Without a doubt, Kevin was then and continues to this day to be one of the hardest working reporters in our state’s media – and always with a sense of journalistic ethics and fairness.
Kevin has been covering politics in the Granite State since the 1980’s. Fun fact, prior to covering state politics, Kevin was a sports reporter. Making the switch from sports to politics was, I suspect, a pretty easy one for him because as many would say, politics is a full-time sport here in this great state of ours!
Kevin has covered politics from the White House to the State House. His coverage has been distributed across the globe and he has participated as a news panelist during a number of presidential debates dating back to 1992. Candidates including myself knew that if Kevin Landrigan had a question, then you better be prepared, because you could know for sure that Kevin had done his homework. It’s no surprise that he has been recognized by Politico as a top media influencer and has received several awards for his in-depth political coverage including a lifetime achievement award from the New Hampshire Press Association.
Kevin has mentored and helped reporters excel in their careers and has always been a staple in the press room on the 1st floor of the State House. He has a gentle, even-keeled approach – and has earned the utmost respect of one and all. Kevin is without a doubt a New Hampshire treasure. Thank you, Kevin for your great work and contribution to our wonderful Granite State!
Quotes of the Week: Small Towns
“For any American who had the great and priceless privilege of being raised in a small town there always remains with him nostalgic memories.”
- Dwight D. Eisenhower.
“Small towns have a sense of community where everyone cares for each other and are great to live in.”
“Childhood is the small town everyone came from.”
- Garrison Keillor.
“Whoever wants to know the heart and mind of America had better learn baseball, the rules and realities of the game - and do it by watching first some high school or small-town teams.”
- Jacques Barzun.
“In the small town of Hannibal, Missouri, when I was a boy, everybody was poor, but didn't know it; and everybody was comfortable and did know it.”
- Mark Twain.