Opportunity Networks, Building on Hope collaboration celebrated in Amherst

AMHERST – Longtime Opportunity Networks client Susan Long knew for the better part of a year that the agency she’s called her second home for decades was planning a major renovation project to its Amherst facility.

But on May 18, when she and scores of others toured the finished product, it was nevertheless impossible not to gaze with wide eyes and keep repeating “wow” with each room they entered.

“I was overwhelmed,” Long, now in her 50s, blurted after getting an eyeful of the $300,000 renovation to Opportunity Networks’ home on Caldwell Drive. The event – which included a brief speaking program, donated buffet lunch, live music and tours – celebrated the completion of the project, a partnership between Opportunity Networks and the all-volunteer organization Building on Hope – an extensive, informal network of building and construction tradesmen and women who donate supplies and their time to bring such projects to fruition.

Long, who joined representatives of ON and BOH for the requisite ribbon-cutting, made light of the group’s brief struggle to slice the ribbon in two.

“You should have given us sharper scissors,” she said of the ceremony-sized shears, bringing laughs from attendees.

Later, Long said she was thrilled with ON’s new, modern and updated look. “I was very happy the minute I came in and felt the water in the fountain,” she said of the ceiling-to-floor fountain that graces one wall of the new lobby.

Long’s mother, Sally Long, was one of several attendees who spoke. Introduced as “an original,” Long is indeed steeped in the history of the agency as one of the founders of its predecessor, Souhegan Valley Association for the Handicapped.

“We wanted our kids to be part of the community,” Long said later, referring to herself and other parents of developmentally disabled children who began meeting in the 1970s, in hopes of creating programs that would lead to independence and teach social and life skills to their kids in the pre-mainstreaming era.

“We went to the state; they thought we were a bunch of crazy people,” she said of the parents’ early attempts at convincing legislators and other state officials of the need, and sweeping benefits, of such programs.

Out of their efforts came Souhegan Valley Association for the Handicapped, which in 2006 merged with the former Nashua-based NETWorks – Nashua Employment and Training Works – to become Opportunity Networks.

Executive Director Rocky Morelli said the “dream” realized Sunday is one of the most significant steps forward since the agencies merged “to combine our resources.”

“We had great plans, great ideas, but a crappy building,” Morelli said, partly in jest. “Without all these organizations, businesses and people, we would never have had a chance to have a place this nice.

“Incredible people have brought incredible things,” he said of BOH volunteers. “There was nothing that was left unattended to.”

Karen Van Der Beken, the chief development officer at Easter Seals NH and a member of Building On Hope, said the project is the group’s third since its founding five years ago.

“This has been a year in planning, but all the work was done in 10 days,” Van Der Beken said as she watched visitors tour the building. “Think ‘Extreme Makeover.’?”

Van Der Beken, who co-chaired the project with architect Jonathan Halle, of Warrenstreet Architects in Concord, said Building on Hope’s first endeavor was the 2010 renovation of Krol House, an Easter Seals residential treatment facility in Manchester. Its second, in 2012, involved a complete overhaul of the Manchester branch of Girls Inc.

Crews began gutting the roughly 6,000-square-foot building in January. The next steps were installing a new roof and new sprinkler and HVAC systems, after which work on interior walls and fixtures began.

On May 18, placards placed at the entrance to each room listed for visitors the individuals or businesses that “adopted” that room or space for the renovation.

Van Der Beken said a designer “adopts” a space then teams up with suppliers, contractors and other specialists.

“It’s a great opportunity for builders to get together and work with each other,” she said.

Dean Shalhoup can be reached at 594-6443 or dshalhoup@nashuatelegraph.com.