“Deep in our bones lies an intuition that we arrive here carrying a bundle of gifts to offer to the community. Over time, these gifts are meant to be seen, developed, and called into the village at times of need. To feel valued for the gifts with which we are born affirms our worth and dignity.” - Francis Weller -
Every single one of us has unique gifts to contribute, to exchange, to transact. Our mission-driven, social-profit, not-for-profit, organization - G.A.L.A. - is in the business of helping people in rural NH discover, develop, and share their unique “bundle of gifts” with the world, in a way that supports their own livelihood while responding to a real-world challenges and community need.
And real-world challenges there are - The opening summary on Workforce Development by the Governor’s Millennial Advisory Council reads, “Our aging population, growing skills/education gaps, and an outflow of the labor force to other states have all contributed to a workforce shortage in the Granite State.”
These three trends can each be addressed together through what is being called “the maker movement”, characterized by the “makerspaces” taking root throughout the country, but most disproportionately in urban areas. Some people think of makerspaces as a souped-up public library with tools instead of books, spaces where participants explore the intersections traditional trades such as welding, carpentry, and auto tech, with disciplines of information technology, design engineering, and fabrication. They are spaces that allow for multi-generational learning, mentoring around shared curiosity and collaborative problem solving. In other words, they look a lot like what G.A.L.A. has been orchestrating for the last decade, but without a key competent – a physical, dedicated facility – until now.
Last fall we received a phone call from Senator Jeanne Shaheen that we had been awarded a $250k matching grant from the Northern Borders Regional Commission to purchase a building to bring this makerspace vision to life. After a successful, yet exhaustive, capital campaign, we were able to raise the required matching funds and close on the 7k sq foot building in at 23 Bay St. in Wolfeboro, NH.
G.A.L.A. now has an opportunity in front of us to demonstrate how makerspaces are not simply urban phenomena, but perhaps have an even greater role to play in rural economic development and addressing the skills gap. Our proposed Makerspace will offer training, apprenticeships, micro-credentialing, incubation, and an affordable entry point to prototyping and fabrication. Some participants will utilize these resources to build strong portfolios and skill sets that improve employability and job security, while others will utilize the resources to create their own small businesses or freelance work.
Not to be overlooked, however, are the social outcomes related to prevention, “aging in community”, and retaining our young people. Don’t take my word for, consider what one of our local retiree Jon shared,
“I have had a year and more now that I am retired, to look back at my working career and reflect on what made me feel good. A major feeling of accomplishment was teaching people, both younger and older than me, new skills. Skills that gave them career advancement opportunities but more than that, a renewed confidence in themselves and what they can accomplish. Now I have the time to share my skills with the general public. I have mechanical and engineering skills and other experience developed over a lifetime. If these skills are not passed on they will disappear with me.”
Meanwhile, there are students like Derek who, as a high school senior suffered a major family crisis and his mother was struggling with mental illness. Understandably, his grades were beginning to suffer and he was missing class regularly. Derek was struggling scholastically, experiencing a difficult situation at home, and was at risk of falling between the cracks at the worst possible time: just on the verge of adulthood. But his teacher observed, “He’s always tinkering with the computers in our classroom.”
Are you seeing what I’m seeing?
Unfortunately, in our most dominant educational setting, accountability and standardized testing are ironically in competition with the fact that students need to be inspired to learn, and that the ultimate purpose of school is to develop citizens that can make meaningful contributions to society. Kids like Trevor, who are forever tinkering with tech equipment, aren’t problems to be solved, but rather the future of our communities, and that given access to the right amount of support, perhaps from someone like Jon, can uncover his or her “unique bundle of gifts” and breaking open all too limiting stereotypical rural career options that are assumed by our young people.
The stage is set, the need is clear, we even have the physical space, but it is empty.
Community members of all ages are ready to get involved – and they are - swinging hammers, ripping up old carpet, cleaning the slate of this former power equipment repair shop to take on a new life as a makerspace. But we need your help.
We have $60k left in matching funds from NBRC sitting on the table, that we can only unlock with your financial support. Let’s not let the Jon’s and Derek’s of this community wait any longer to discover and share their bundle of gifts with the world. Help us create a rural makerspace example that communities across the northeast can replicate. It is ambitious, sure, but I conclude with the words of Goethe, “Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, magic, and power in it.”