Jen Cole and her daughter Julia stood back when it came to town or school issues.
Then they were introduced to Pittsfield Listens, a program that engages community members from diverse backgrounds and different opinions in productive conversations to solve critical problems.
Pittsfield Listens is one of eight such independent groups around the state supported by New Hampshire Listens.
The Foundation has funded New Hampshire Listens since that group’s inception in 2011. “I didn’t feel before like I had a say in the town,” says Jen. “I feel differently now.”
In Pittsfield, the group focused on school improvement. The school district wanted to engage the community in that process, and also include community input in a grant application to the Nellie Mae Education Foundation. The Pittsfield Youth Workshop signed on and got Pittsfield Listens up and running.
Jen and Julia trained as facilitators for the series of community conversations, and Julia, then a high school senior, took a lead role presenting community findings to the president of Nellie Mae.
The district got a $2 million grant. Parent attendance at teacher conferences has skyrocketed, students have new resources and test scores have improved. Pittsfield Listens has hosted candidates’ nights, and continues to work on other issues in the community.
And Julia said she knows now that her opinions matter. “I feel more important because I was involved in such a big thing,” Julia said.
“People feel like we care about their input, and I think they will step up and talk more.”
This story originally appeared in the Foundation’s 2012 Annual Report.