By Lynne Snierson
New Hampshire Magazine
Local nonprofit group Building on Hope brings new life to the Crisis Center of Central New Hampshire in Concord.
The old structure was worn down, worn out and tired. It was battered, bruised and broken. It was not unlike the domestic violence and sexual assault victims who arrived in the dead of night, some with children in their arms, with little more than the clothes on their backs to seek refuge from abuse and suffering.
But now when they knock on the purple door and are welcomed into the Crisis Center of Central New Hampshire in Concord, the newly dignified edifice represents the respect, understanding and caring support to be found within. It’s also a reminder that the community around them cares and will not overlook them in their time of need.
Through the bigheartedness of the community organization Building on Hope and the generosity and skills of its legion of donors and volunteers, the overcrowded and outdated shelter, which had been what is politely called “maintenance deferred” for at least 20 years and had an unworkable floor plan, received an extreme makeover.
The finished product, costing upward of $500,000 in donated goods and services, is a beautiful, functional, modern and magnificent living space anyone would be proud to call their own.
“The old house made you feel that you didn’t have any self-worth,” says CCCNH board member Tina Smith, who shares that she endured 10 years of childhood sexual assault. But now, she adds, “when they walk in there, I know they will automatically feel like, ‘I’m worth all of this. I’m really worth having someone do all of this and I’m worthy of this beautiful space. Yes, I am.’ This project will have a huge impact on survivors.”
The mission of the Crisis Center, which has trained advocates who are available on a 24/7 basis, is to treat victims and survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, child abuse, elder abuse and stalking in an atmosphere of dignity, fairness and compassion, and to give them a safe place where they can begin to rebuild their lives. Services are free and provided regardless of a person’s age, gender, race, religion, income, sexual orientation or physical abilities.
The Crisis Center project was just the latest in a series of remarkable volunteer efforts that have made more than $1 million in improvements to worthy New Hampshire nonprofits, each poised to benefit from an extreme makeover with a renewed and empowered mission. The next project will take place in two years, but the process of selecting it starts this summer. If you know of an organization that should be the 2020 target for Building on Hope, put them in touch with the organization. If you’d like to get involved as a contractor, designer, volunteer or donor, they would love to hear from you. Donations are still being accepted for the work of the Crisis Center of Central NH and can be made at buildingonhope.com.
Visit the Building on Hope website for an exhaustive list of all the companies that joined hands to ensure that this project was a success.
Building on Hope is an all-volunteer, charitable community organization that mobilizes a volunteer army of builders, architects, designers, plumbers, carpenters, electricians, skilled laborers, marketers and many others willing to pitch in. In a very short time, the assembled group, many of whom started as strangers, completely makes over a nonprofit that was operating in a facility in dire need of extensive rehabilitation, renovation and improvements.
Building on Hope tackles one massive project every two years, and CCCNH was selected as the 2018 recipient from among 38 applicants from all over the state. It proved to be the perfect match.
“What pushed CCCNH over the top was that they had a dream for the shelter and a five-year plan to have a family justice center,” says Building on Hope cochair Karen Van Der Beken, who works for Easterseals New Hampshire. “We were very impressed that they had a vision of what they wanted to be and what they wanted to change in the community. We felt that if we selected this building, we would be able to help them realize their dream much sooner, and we could help them transform their offerings.”
The dream, and the project, was two-fold. Included in the total revamp of the cramped shelter, which is located at an undisclosed Concord location for security reasons and to comply with state law, was the relocation of the administrative offices to a separate building at 79 South State St. Although what is now the Family Justice Center was newly purchased with help from an extremely generous private donor, it too needed a considerable makeover, costing another $50,000.
“We have a vision and now we are well on our way to it,” says Paula Kelley-Wall, executive director of the Crisis Center, which has served Merrimack County since 1978 and was formerly known as the Rape and Domestic Violence Crisis Center. “With the purchase of the second building we created a space where we can co-locate victims’ services so that they aren’t going from place to place anymore,” adds Kelley-Wall. “We can bring to one location the most requested services like pastoral care, legal services and child protective services, and they can meet with law enforcement or someone from Health and Human Services if they want. Now they can do that in a place that they are comfortable in and familiar with instead of having to go all over the county to get those needed services.”
Even better, that move to a separate building makes the structure now housing the shelter exclusively a home. And what a beautiful and inspirational home it has become for victims and survivors, who each stay an average of four to six months as they rebuild their lives and create a better future for themselves and their children.
“It’s like a lovely boutique hotel,” says Emily Shakra of the Bedford staging and design company that bears her name, who was one of the 15 interior designers on the project.
“It’s a miracle,” was another sentiment often expressed by many about the total transformation.
But it certainly didn’t happen overnight. Or easily.
Although the buildout was accomplished in just eight days, the planning takes well over a year. Van Der Beken says that there was no general contractor, although her cochair Jonathan Halle of Warrenstreet Architects in Concord spearheaded the effort.
“There were 15 contractors,” says Van Der Beken. “We had 260 companies donate product and/or a crew of employees to work on the project, and some of the workers also came back and worked on their own time to make sure it was finished on time. There were another 200 individuals who volunteered. We don’t want one plumbing company — we need 10 and each takes a room,” she adds.
That many skilled workers were needed to complete the project, and just in time, for the big reveal and ribbon-cutting on Sunday, May 20.
All the old siding was stripped off the building’s three-story exterior, the chimney was dismantled and discarded, some interior walls were torn down, those remaining were gutted to the studs, all the flooring was ripped up, the bathrooms and kitchens were totally torn out and major systems were overhauled.
When finished, the new efficient floor plan doubled the shelter’s capacity from four bedrooms with 13 beds to seven bedrooms and 24 beds. Moreover, a lift was installed so the shelter is, for the first time, handicapped accessible and in compliance with ADA (the American Disabilities Act) standards. Halle says that’s a big plus because now the shelter is eligible to apply for federal funding.
The increased capacity will make a difference right away.
In 2017, CCCNH served 1,184 people in Merrimack County, answered 4,950 hotline calls and provided 2,991 bed nights. But many more in desperate and dangerous circumstances were turned away simply for lack of space and tragically that forced terrified victims to return to their abuser, sleep in their car or wind up in another unsafe situation.
Now CCCNH is New Hampshire’s largest domestic violence shelter, and it’s also the most appealing and most well-organized with an open, workable and flowing floor plan filled with comfortable and attractive accommodations for adults and children.
Every detail was considered, and every challenge was conquered.
Through the kindness of the donors, everything in the shelter, including furnishings, houseware accessories and appliances, is new. Nothing is secondhand, used, scuffed or scarred, because that was a clear message those involved in the project wanted to send to the victims and survivors.
While each of the rooms is an individual work of art as well as state-of-the art, all serve a specific purpose. Start with the kitchen, for the hearth is always the center of a home.
“When coming up with the concept, it’s always function first,” says Leslie Rifkin of L. Newman Associates, a full-service interior design firm in Manchester, who, along with Shakra, created the kitchen and open dining space that now allows families to eat together. “We were also directed by the CCCNH staff to consider storage space, along with the amount of refrigeration and cooktops they needed. Function is always primary and that had to become part of the element.”
They junked the old, beat-up four-burner stove and ancient refrigerator, the yellowed and cracked linoleum, the stained laminate countertops and clunky old cabinets. Next they took down a wall, which was painted in an outdated shade of yellow, to create open space.
The replacements include a shiny commercial stainless steel stove with eight burners and a griddle; four large commercial refrigerators, which will allow each guest to store her own food; glossy quartz countertops; a texturized, non-skid and indestructible vinyl plank wood floor; vinyl wallpaper for easy cleaning; open shelving holding all nonbreakable drinkware and dishes, and chalkboards that kids can write on.
“Capital Kitchen [& Bath] donated the kitchen, and their designers helped us with the plans,” says Shakra. “We knew it was going to be a small area, so we chose the open concept for the shelving so that it would feel more spacious. Where there are going to be so many people coming in and out of the kitchen, the open shelving makes it easy to grab your glasses and your plates instead of going in and out of cabinets,” she explains.
“Then we decided on colors and the feeling that would give this kitchen some dignity so that when you came in, it would feel right and be embracing and not intimidating,” Rifkin adds.
The color scheme is silver, gray, plum and shades of white. The plum is integral as purple is the color representative of domestic violence awareness, and so purple is incorporated into every room.
By installing this lift, the building became ADA compliant, enabling the center to apply for additional federal funds. Photo by John Benford
“The mood created in this kitchen is serenity and dignity. It feels new and fresh, and there is a timelessness to it,” says Rifkin. “It’s ‘now’ and it will live for another 25 years because of the commercial element to it. We wanted warmth. We wanted it to feel homey and like you can just jump right in and enjoy it. Let there be spilt milk!”
For the first time, there is a first-floor handicapped-accessible bedroom and bathroom. All the bedrooms have a chair and a desk supplied with notebooks, pads and writing implements, and there are crisp linens, soft pillows, plush comforters and cozy throws and toss pillows on the beds.
One of the third-floor bedrooms is equipped with a crib holding soft blankets and cuddly little stuffed animals appropriately safe for a baby. The wall shelves hold children’s books and toys.
Each bathroom has stone counters atop the vanities, tiled showers and new flooring, and each is supplied with luxurious towels, toiletries, paper products and soaps. Closets are stocked with hangers, which may seem like a small detail, but is something that’s always on a shelter’s wish list.
The second floor is the location of the newly created adults-only sitting room. The sofa, chairs, rug, throw pillows and artwork incorporate soft grays with purple accents and touches of fuchsia. Recessed lighting and table lamps give off a soft glow, and the large bay window allows natural light to stream in. Candles, live plants and a small statue of the Buddha invite peace and tranquility, and provide a place for the gathering of thoughts, reflection or meditation.
“I call it the serenity room,” says Tina Smith. “I walked in and got so emotional that I couldn’t stop crying because I could feel how much that room is going to mean to a survivor. She’s going to go in there and sit and take some long deep breaths and immediately feel relaxed in that room. She’s going to feel safe in that room. That means more than anyone else could ever know.”
Then there is the room that encourages a little wild and crazy, and it has more than a bit of whimsy. It’s the children’s playroom.
“This was our third project with Building on Hope and we like a challenge,” says Kim Carole, who owns Impeccable Nest Interior Design along with her daughter Emma Carole Paradis. “Our challenge in delivering this room was storage. Our first thing was to get built-ins and storage so it’s an easy clean-up. The other challenge was to be able to have activities for ages zero to teenager, so we figured out puzzles, books, arts and crafts, toys, stuffed animals and things for all those ages. From there it was to also make it delightful and inspiring and a warm and fun place to be, because it certainly wasn’t that before,” says Carole.
But things didn’t quite go according to plan. In November, Carole and Paradis decided that wallpaper was the way to go, but when they walked into the house two days before the big reveal, the room was, in their words, a mess, and they had to quickly come up with another idea.
“When you do a Building on Hope project, you do a lot of regrouping,” says Carole. “We had leftover paints from some other jobs so we used a color scheme of violet, teal, orange and chartreuse. We gave it a trial on our T- shirts and said, let’s just go up there and splatter paint on white walls and the ceiling. We were afraid to come in on Saturday to see what the heck we did. But we think it’s magic.”
It surely is. The effect is sprinkles on vanilla ice cream, a frosted party cake and confetti.
“I’m the mother of three children and this project is very close to my heart,” says Paradis, who, along with her mom, rehabbed the room’s dollhouse, bringing it back to life. “All mothers and children need a safe and happy place to grow up and play and have fun. We hope we delivered a safe and happy room.” It’s noteworthy that Paradis’ kids have all accompanied their mom to meetings of the Building on Hope steering committee and have become mascots for the projects on which she has worked, so her family, like that of many volunteers, is part of the history of the organization and vice versa.
The mother-daughter (and granddaughters) team also created a haven for the adults on the second-floor balcony just off the playroom.
“I think this space speaks for itself,” says Carole. “Who doesn’t like to sit outside and have fresh air? It’s colorful yet relaxing. We used patio furniture, ottomans, lanterns, candles, real hanging plants and greenery. This is a totally different vibe. Kids can be in there alone and the adults can come out here and yet be near them and see into the playroom,” she adds. “It’s serene, but it isn’t too much or cluttered and there aren’t fussy things. The furniture is durable. Our objectives were fun, sustainable and durable, easy to clean and maintain, and yet also bright, cheery, very modern and very now.”
Each designer is responsible for the fundraising and donations to redo and furnish his or her assigned room, which makes the statement each makes that much more personal
Kelley-Wall thinks they succeeded, and that the other designers were spot-on as well.
“It’s all wonderful. When I walked into the house for the first time I couldn’t catch my breath. I cried. I was overwhelmed by how thoughtful all the designs were, how accessible the rooms are and how beautiful the house is. It is truly overwhelming,” she says.
The survivors, who during the buildout were moved to a hotel, courtesy of a generous donor, also gave their stamp of approval.
“When the guests came in, they were ecstatic. It was wonderful to see how welcome they felt and how comforting the space felt for them. It was a wonderful surprise for them, as it was for the staff who hadn’t been at the ribbon-cutting,” says Kelley-Wall.
Everyone connected with CCNH expresses deep gratitude and appreciation for what Building on Hope accomplished. With this project, the operative word truly was hope.
“The buildout is magnificent,” says Kelley-Wall. “This has been an incredible experience, and working with Building on Hope has really helped shape our future. This is what we needed to be. This is not just a shelter, it is a place now where people will have dignity in their home, and it will help build self-respect, self-esteem and self-confidence.” She adds that honoring someone in need with such care is what changes lives. “They are in a place that isn’t just paint and paper,” she says. “It’s a space that’s very thoughtful and is designed for a survivor to heal.”
Concord Mayor Jim Bouley says, “This may be a building of bricks and mortar, but it’s a building of love.” The home is perfectly designed for people who are in crisis and a point of desperate need in their lives. “I think this can put them on the path to rectifying their situation,” adds Bouley. “This project says we hear you, we care about you and we’re here to help you. That the capacity is now doubled is a tremendously positive message.”
It’s a message that affects even those who helped make it happen.
“When you go into these rooms and look at them, you can see the amount of love that everyone has showered into this building. It’s overwhelming,” says Halle.