All-female team aids New Life Home

MANCHESTER – Whoever said you need a man for “handyman” construction projects?

Not the local ladies who built the new and improved study room at New Life Home for Women and Children.

On Thursday, volunteers of a New Hampshire-based, all-female construction team joined the residents of New Life Home for a ribbon cutting ceremony celebrating the fresh, new study quarters at the Manchester intervention facility, which houses women recovering from various crises, along with their children.

Last April, a group recruited by Emily Shakra, of Bedford, began transforming an unused kitchen area into a study for residents of the home, who work toward getting GED or college degrees, during their stay.

Donations of equipment and services came in from around the state, including businesses like Merrimack Building Supply, Surplus Office Company, Spectrum Flooring, Riverstone, Milford Lumber and Bedford Fields – just to name a few.

“A friend of mine called me up and asked me if I would be interested in helping out,” Bill Donegan, president of Merrimack Building Supply said. “She told me a little bit about New Life Home and I went online actually and researched a little bit further. I thought at the time it was very important to get the business community to recognize the need and importance of the New Life Home organization. … I think, specifically for women and children, in our society that it’s a need that is maybe overlooked, and that’s what kind of spurred our interest in it.”

New Life Home, a nondenominational residential substance abuse treatment program for women, rebuilds broken lives through self-sufficiency training and peer support, while mothers are able to live with and raise their children.

“Part of the program is we help the women with their short-term and long-term goals,” Grace Rosado, co-founder and director of New Life Home said. “It was hard because there wasn’t a space set aside before for them to study. We do have a library, but it’s used by everybody, and people are always walking through while people are trying to take tests or study.”

Through a voluntary 18- to 24-month program, women receive individual counseling, group meetings and connections to external resources. They take classes in parenting, budgeting, cooking and other domestic skills, plus GED preparation, computer skills and college level courses.

New Life Home hosts about 15 women and their kids at one time, Rosado said, and was the first residential facility in the state to offer a program incorporating children.

For 32 years, New Life Home has functioned purely on donations from individuals, churches, foundations or corporations, Rosado said. They receive no federal or state funding.

“This project has made a world of difference,” Rosado said. “We couldn’t afford to do it. There was no way we could have financially renovated this room.”

Shakra, who became familiar with New Life Home’s needs through her work with Building on Hope, came up with the idea, along with fellow Bedford resident, interior designer Leslie Rifkin, to execute a female work team, made up of volunteers and New Life Home residents, to share the tasks of recreating the kitchen, working “side by side” to pass on handy home construction skills in the process.

“This was a win-win for us, because some of our ladies were able to learn how to patch up a wall and paint and help with the tearing down, even the demolition process,” Rosado said. “The women were able to see what they could do. It’s empowered them to say, ‘Wow, I can do this.’ Since then, some of these women have helped in other rooms of the house.”

Tracking down an all-women crew took some time, Shakra admitted, especially considering the fact that she could find just two female electricians in the state.

“The woman we found was from Cornish,” Shakra explained. “Jo Sharf had to come down – a two-hour drive with no pay. She was busy, too, but she was a godsend. She came down from Cornish many times. We couldn’t get started until we found a female electrician.”

But the missing pieces quickly came together.

Paula Scales, owner of Brookstone Builders, contracted the project and managed its progress, while Lisa Muskat, principal of LKM Design, of Bedford, served as the project’s architect.

Ellie Davis, from New Hampshire Tile, taught ladies how to lay their own floor carpet, Shakra said.

Pattie Chouinard, a Tomboy Tools consultant, served as construction manager, and did most of the physical, demolition labor with a dedicated group of women, excited to learn new trades.

“The ladies would come down, after they put their children to bed and they would help,” Shakra said. “We couldn’t have done it without them. They learned how to paint, how to skim coat walls. They did so many amazing things. They were eager to learn, and they’re hard workers.”

From demolition and skim coating walls, to refurbishing floors and lighting, plus painting and converting kitchen pantries into bookshelves, the 50 or so women involved in the work got it done in two months time, Shakra said.

“It’s been a great blessing to the home,” Rosado said. “One of the women is on the Dean’s List at Regent University, she’ll be getting her bachelor’s degree in May. Just her being able to study there, and being on the Deans list–and another young lady is in her last semester this year, getting her bachelors degree … It is a tremendous help. We are all grateful. As these women go on, others are waiting and starting school and looking forward to that ability to be able to use and utilize that space.”

And the women who volunteered their construction time learned just as much from the women at New Life Home, Shakra said.

“They’re just doing wonderful things at this home and people aren’t aware of it,” Shakra said. “The home is sort of tucked away on North River Road. There’s not a sign there. … I think a lot of people don’t know it’s there, so one of the things we wanted to do is make people aware of it.”

Thousands of women and their children have gone through New Life Home since its inception, Rosado said, and they’re always looking for support to help more.

“We sure could use the help of the community and those that can stand with us to continue this work,” Rosado said. “It’s been a hard time financially because of the economy. We could really use people standing with us in the community and investing in the lives of these women and their children.”

To help New Life Home or to learn more, call 624-8444, or visit www.newlifehome.org. Donations can be mailed to PO Box 148, Manchester, NH, 01305.

Maryalice Gill can be reached at 594-6490 or mgill@nashuatelegraph.com. Follow Gill on Twitter (@Telegraph_MAG).