Students helping students

It’s a tough time to be in the world of education. Local school boards spend their time addressing parental concerns on critical race theory, mask and vaccine mandates, and in-person versus remote learning. Faculty, staff and administration offer another perspective on these topics. With all the background noise, the purpose of education easily gets overlooked, and many students are struggling in the current dynamic environment. Consider what it must be like for refugee students who have landed in this new world of learning.

Recently I spoke with Riyah Patel, founder of New American Scholars, a New Hampshire-based nonprofit that provides peer-to-peer tutoring and mentorship to refugee students. Riyah started this nonprofit last summer at the age of 15 because she herself had struggled with remote learning, finding it difficult to connect with her instructors and peers. If she was struggling, how difficult must it be for kids who have been forced from their countries and homes, landing here with scant resources?

Riyah reached out to local refugee organizations and inquired about interest in a summer tutoring program for this population. The response was overwhelming. Because she had only one tutor (herself), she limited her services to 10 students. She then connected with the Concord Public Library for space. With her parents’ help on transportation, she was up and running.

The students ranged in age from fifth grade to high school. She grouped the kids based on their skill levels and worked with them Monday through Friday over the course of the summer. Due to cultural and language barriers, combined with the online learning system, the kids felt behind and abandoned by the American school system, yet they were engaged in the tutoring process and wanted to learn and fill in the knowledge gaps. By summer’s end, all students had shown immense progress. Riyah’s vision is to expand and offer services statewide, possibly partnering with schools. Her goal is for this nonprofit to become self-sustaining and carry on for many years to come. The website is up and running (, and she is seeking additional tutors for the coming summer.

Perhaps there is a lesson in this story for the American education system. Sometimes we must cut through the noise and get down to the business of educating students, all of them, creating learning opportunities that meet individual students where they are. There are many ways to do this, and one very passionate and motivated 15-year-old student is leading the way.

A $27M problem

Sometimes our strong desire to live free or die gets in the way of common-sense solutions. A case in point is the initial rejection of $27 million in federal funding by our Executive Council to bolster Covid vaccination efforts, with New Hampshire being the only state to reject the funds. The majority of Council members believed that accepting the funds would commit New Hampshire to future federal vaccine mandates. Attorney General Formella had addressed this concern and advised that interpretation was incorrect. His advice was disregarded in the initial vote.

Weeks later, the Council reversed its position, agreeing to accept $22 million of the funding. What drove the change in mindset? A non-binding resolution that accompanied the contract stating that the governor and Council are on record against any federal vaccine mandate. Also included was language changing the state’s immunization registry from “opt-out” to “opt-in.”

NHPR’s Nov. 2 report on vaccination rate discrepancies in New Hampshire signifies the importance of accepting these funds. The CDC, along with other online reporting sites, consistently reports New Hampshire’s vaccination rate as much higher than the state reports on its own site (

According to DHHS Commissioner Shibinette, the state’s records are missing thousands of doses. She noted this is a result of ending the state of emergency, the rollout of the state vaccine registry system, and the inability to collect Covid-19 data for individuals not presented with the ability to opt out of the system (as required by state law). In a nutshell, the state numbers don’t include doses administered by the pharmacies as they are federal providers and are not required to provide an opt-out option when reporting data to the federal government.

After years of discussion and concerns over privacy issues, New Hampshire was the last state in the nation to approve a statewide immunization registry. Will the $22 million coming to New Hampshire allow us to provide accurate data in this registry? According to the Union Leader, the funding allows for the hiring of 13 full-time and temporary staffers to build out the immunization registry and other vaccine activities.

Accurate data should be what is driving policy and decision making. When Executive Councilors are misinformed, and our data systems are inaccurate, public policy decisions are questioned, and rightfully so. Officials are elected to serve in the best interest of our citizens and our state versus pandering to the vocal few.

Robin Milnes is a small-business owner and advocate with more than 30 years of experience in real estate acquisitions, property management, sales, leasing, budgeting, fiscal oversight, human resources and administration. She can be reached at

Homelessness in Manchester

I have written on several occasions in this column about my work with Fellowship Housing Opportunities in Concord. This nonprofit provides safe, affordable housing and services to people suffering from long-term mental health issues. I am proud to serve as its Board President, and I am a strong advocate of the role that it plays in the Concord community, recognizing that without this nonprofit there would likely be 63 additional people in Concord classified as “homeless.”

I also wear a business owner’s hat as a property owner in downtown Manchester. Our corporate offices are in a commercial office building in the center of downtown, just a block off Elm Street. Since employees returned to the office from a work-at-home environment, they are faced with finding trash, used needles, human waste, stolen bicycles and other items left behind. It is not uncommon to see a homeless person use the property’s gardens as a personal restroom in broad daylight. Repeated calls have been made to the Manchester Health Department, the police, and directly to Mayor Craig’s office. To date, little has happened to resolve the impact on our property.

The city and state have been regularly evicting the homeless from various camps throughout Manchester. With each eviction, this population relocates. While services are offered, and a majority of the homeless do reside in shelters provided by several nonprofits, many choose not to. Homelessness is a complex issue that requires a multi-faceted solution. Some homeless people have temporarily fallen on hard times, and with a little assistance will get back on their feet. Some have addiction and mental health issues and require a broader spectrum of support in addition to housing and financial.

I am dedicated to the mission of Fellowship Housing. I recognize we are but a cog in the wheel in dealing with a worsening situation. As a business and property owner there is also recognition that this burden is too big for nonprofits to bear alone. It is time for Manchester to develop a comprehensive plan to ensure that this population is properly cared for. Shuffling homeless people from property to property is not a solution and is negatively impacting those in need as well as the quality of life for those who call Manchester home, including business and property owners.

Why get vaccinated?

It seems that many conversations and topics are so controversial these days that we find ourselves avoiding them. Sadly, the topic of the Covid-19 vaccine has turned out to be one of them. If, however, we are going to end the pandemic, we need to have the conversation.

Recently, somebody who is not vaccinated made the argument to me that because I am vaccinated, I should not care whether or not he/she gets vaccinated. Here is why I care. The pandemic will not end until we reach herd immunity, and we will not reach herd immunity until enough of the population receives the vaccine. To assume that we will reach herd immunity by allowing the disease to progress organically throughout the country and world is a foolish and dangerous proposition, one that has already cost more than 600,000 lives in the United States alone.

By refusing a vaccine, people are at high risk of becoming infected with Covid-19, becoming hospitalized, impacting the health care system, and continuing to increase the spread of Covid-19 in our community, our state, and in the United States. When the spread becomes significant enough, the health care system becomes overwhelmed, creating issues for those affected with Covid-19 and impacting people with other illnesses as well. Additionally, if you become infected, you will likely infect others with the virus, if not my grandchildren who are too young to receive the vaccine, then possibly somebody else’s young children or grandchildren, or immunocompromised family member.

Science has provided us with a vaccine that can end the pandemic. These vaccines are safe, highly effective, and readily available at no cost to residents in the United States. The number of myths and pieces of misinformation spreading about these vaccines is mind-boggling. Rather than rely on social media for medical information, can we all commit to finding factual information before making a decision? A good place to start is a conversation with your physician.

Getting vaccinated is an individual choice, but it’s a choice that has a significant impact on those around you. Educate yourself first. Then make your decision.

NH Gives (and gives)

On June 8 and June 9, the New Hampshire Center for Nonprofits hosted its annual NH Gives online fundraiser. According to its website, the event generated more than $3.8 million for the benefit of 584 nonprofits throughout New Hampshire. This amount represented a record amount raised for the event, and it included a $300,000 match by the New Hampshire Charitable Fund and an additional $700,000 in individual matches. As always, I am humbled by the generosity of our Granite Staters and inspired by the collaboration that made this event such a success.

I was proud to represent Fellowship Housing Opportunities on WMUR promoting NH Gives and grateful for the coverage of the important services that this nonprofit provides, safe and affordable housing for people living with long-term mental illness. According to the New Hampshire Center for Nonprofits, we are one of 6,547 charitable organizations providing services for New Hampshire. In a state that staunchly supports limited government and no state taxes, these nonprofits have an important role to play. They are frequently filling in the gaps where the state government lacks funding to provide services. Their services range from health and human services to the arts and theater and everything in between.

Most nonprofits in New Hampshire operate as small businesses with limited annual operating budgets. However, rather than deliver a profit, the goal of a nonprofit is to deliver on its mission. Many rely solely on grants, donations and fundraising to exist. New Hampshire Center for Nonprofits indicates that 15 percent of New Hampshire’s workforce is employed by a nonprofit. That means that with our state’s low unemployment rate, our nonprofits are also struggling for employees right now. It’s difficult for them to compete at the same wage level as the for-profit sector. Nonprofits rely on their mission to attract people. Volunteers also fill a vital role in the nonprofit sector, in day-to-day operations as well as at the board level.

Perhaps you will consider spending your time with one of the many nonprofits carrying out its mission throughout the Granite State? Whether you choose to volunteer for specific events, on a regular basis, or as a board member, or make a monetary donation, your contributions are important to their success. When New Hampshire nonprofits win, important work happens in our state.

Behind the masks

My father passed away last summer during the midst of the pandemic in Illinois. I am so grateful I was able to be with him for much of the summer despite the challenges of Covid-19. He was extremely hard of hearing, and he had been for several years. He was dead set against getting hearing aids. Any time this was discussed, he would politely inform us that he could hear everything he wanted to hear just fine. When I was sitting with him in the hospital, he kept telling me to take my mask off. “I can’t hear you,” he would say, even though I was doing my best to speak loudly and articulate clearly. I realized then how much he had been relying on lip reading for clues as to what we were saying.

I have always prided myself on having good communication skills and being able to read people’s emotions well. Throw a pandemic in the mix where the world wears masks in public, and that changed relatively quickly. While I didn’t need to read lips, I soon realized how much I relied on facial clues to gain a sense of what somebody was thinking. The smile, the frown, the clenched jaw, the pause, the “but I am about to interrupt you” look. All these things are a piece of a puzzle that is now hidden.

I have retrained myself to look in the eyes for clues. I can see the pain in my mother’s eyes since my dad passed, and I am sure many days it is still evident in mine. I can see beautiful smiles in my grandchildren’s eyes above their little masks when I see them. And on any given day I can see joy, frustration, amusement, annoyance and a whole variety of emotions in my 16-year-old son’s eyes. I see anger in eyes now, and I see compassion. I see hurt, and I see understanding.

My mother says I have my dad’s “snappy brown eyes,” and she can always tell when I am mad. I didn’t realize that, but I am so grateful that I do. While I can’t wait for a time when it is safe to live our lives without masks, I will still be looking in people’s eyes for a piece of the puzzle. I highly recommend you give it a try. Only then do you really get the full picture.

Leaders bring the weather

In their book Scaling Leadership, Robert Anderson and William Adams note that “Leaders bring the weather.” They further note that the tone, mood, presence, focus and behavior of the leader is the weather in any organization — a force of nature. And everyone who works there can feel it, see it, experience it and describe how it impacts them and those around them.

All leaders bring the weather — organizational leaders or elected government leaders. In New Hampshire, we have a lot of elected state leaders. There are 400 leaders in the House of Representatives, 24 leaders in the Senate, five leaders on the Executive Council, and then of course, our governor. I wonder if these 430 leaders realize that they bring the “weather” to the state by their statements, actions and behavior?

I am a bit of a political junkie, and I will read just about any publication and any article written covering state and federal issues. Needless to say, I am frequently left scratching my head. As an example, US News & World Report recently picked up this headline, “New Hampshire Lawmaker Apologies for Anti-LGBTQ Language,” a story about Manchester Rep. Dick Marston’s apology after referring to LGBTQ people as having “deviant sexuality” in a Zoom House committee hearing. As InDepthNH and other sources reported, earlier in that same meeting, Manchester Rep. Nicole Klein-Knight appeared to take a gummy from her bottle of medical cannabis (“prescribed medication for arthritis,” she later tweeted), apparently trying to make a point during a discussion of two bills, including one related to fines for the possession of marijuana and therapeutic cannabis. WMUR reported on the House’s use of a University of New Hampshire facility for its sessions last year. House Speaker Steve Shurtleff had to apologize to UNH leadership this past September after some members were drinking beer in the hall and failed to wear masks outside the facility, violating UNH and town ordinances. Did I mention the head-scratching?

Let’s be clear. We have many outstanding, hard-working leaders in Concord who are essentially volunteering their time to serve the citizens of New Hampshire, and they deserve our respect and gratitude. Unfortunately, that behavior is not what typically makes the news. Instead of providing the attention-getting headlines described above, wouldn’t it be better if there were more to report on in terms of bipartisan work being pushed out of the House and Senate? Wouldn’t that be a better weather report from our elected leadership?

NH gets vaccinated

WMUR reported that on Jan. 22, nearly 150,000 people signed up within the first 10 hours of Phase 1b opening for a Covid-19 vaccine. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, by Jan. 27 this number had increased to 200,000 with another 50,000 signed up by their health care provider. This phase includes anybody 65+ years of age, as well as those with certain health conditions, and others who qualify because of where they work. All totaled, there are about 300,000 in this group. That is an impressive response from our New Hampshire residents, and it gives me hope that the end is on the horizon for a pandemic that has taken so much.
While we’re off to an ambitious start, I continue to hear concern and hesitation about taking the vaccine. Given how quickly both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines received emergency authorization, it is understandable. According to PBS NewsHour, the methodology that both of these vaccines utilize, however, messenger RNA (mRNA), is not new. mRNA has been studied for 50 to 60 years, not only for vaccines but also for cancer treatment. Scientists and researchers have been studying how to utilize mRNA with RSV, MERS and SARS viruses since the early 2000s. Both Moderna and Pfizer built on science that had been collected for many years, thus enabling Moderna to design its vaccine in just two days. After development, both vaccines were required to go through the normal three phases of trials encompassing nearly 70,000 people in the Phase 3 trials. Both companies reported efficacy of approximately 95 percent.
This vaccine is not mandatory. People are free to choose whether or not to receive the vaccine based on their personal circumstances and personal health situation. The decision should be made after fully understanding the facts. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers factual information on the vaccines (, and the State of New Hampshire’s Covid-19 website ( is very informative.
We must achieve herd immunity for the pandemic to end. The World Health Organization states that herd immunity should be achieved through vaccination rather than through exposure to the pathogen that causes the disease. To achieve herd immunity, most experts agree between 75 to 80 percent of the population needs to be vaccinated. Will New Hampshire be first in the nation again and lead the country out of this pandemic? It seems as though we are well on our way.

NH charter schools

Why is school choice and expansion of the charter school system in New Hampshire such a political hot spot? If we simply think about offering every student the opportunity to learn in the environment that works best for him or her, why would we not want to expand the charter school system, and why did the Democratic-led Fiscal Committee repeatedly reject a $46 million federal grant? This federal grant was awarded to New Hampshire more than a year ago, and in a decision that defies logic and reason, the Fiscal Committee rejected the funds (the only state in the nation to do so) multiple times. The funds were awarded for the expansion of charter schools statewide, and it was the largest charter school expansion grant in the country.

The argument against receiving the funds was essentially that by expanding the charter school system, costs in the public school system would increase. There are two important points here. First, charter schools are public schools. While they receive a higher per student reimbursement from the state than traditional public schools, they do not have access to local taxes or other state aid. While charter schools are able to educate their students at a much lower cost than traditional public schools, there is still a gap between funds received from the state and funds spent, requiring the schools to rely on private donations and fundraising. Second, if there are fewer students in the traditional school system due the expansion of charter schools, shouldn’t the overall operating budget decrease? Enrollment in traditional public schools has steadily declined over the past 10 years; however, overall school budgets continue to increase.

With a change in party leadership, there is hope that the now Republican-led Fiscal Committee will immediately move to accept the federal grant. As a whole, our children are best served when the traditional public school system works with the charter school system to determine the best learning environment for the child. Education is not a one-size-fits-all reality, and when the focus is on “who gets the money,” the mission of education is lost. By keeping our focus on the student first, we will see better outcomes.

Thanksgiving 2020

Ready or not, the holidays are here, with Thanksgiving arriving this week. Thanksgiving has been celebrated in various ways since that very first holiday in 1621 between the Pilgrims and the Native Americans, but it was Abraham Lincoln who declared it a national holiday in 1863 during the midst of the Civil War. According to in its “Thanksgiving 2020” article, Lincoln issued a proclamation imploring all Americans to ask God to “commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife” and to “heal the wounds of the nation.”

In present time, we are suffering through a worldwide pandemic that has taken more than 250,000 lives in the United States alone. With record high Covid-19 cases, we are being asked to reconsider traditional Thanksgiving gatherings. Local leaders and governors are asking for diligence to stay the course and follow the recommendations from the CDC and health authorities, celebrating in smaller groups or with only household members, celebrating virtually, or even hosting an outside Thanksgiving get-together.

In addition, we have just completed an election that laid bare the division and polarization of our country. Each party is convinced it has the answers to resolving the ongoing “civil strife” of present day, yet there is very little evidence of seeking common ground upon which to develop real solutions. Even post-election, hate and vitriol continue to spread across social media and traditional news outlets.

These events have taken a toll on Americans in 2020. We are weary and yearn for some sense of normalcy. Is it ironic that Lincoln’s words from 1863 ring so true in 2020? As we gather for Thanksgiving, may we remember Lincoln’s proclamation and commit to doing our part to once again heal the wounds of our divided nation. There is continued hope for a vaccine to help contain a virus that has taken so much. In the meantime, we must not politicize a personal responsibility to do our part in slowing the spread. We may not be able to physically gather this Thanksgiving, but we can certainly find ways to come together as a nation. Wishing you all a Happy Thanksgiving.

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