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  • by Chris Stewart

One Woman's Community Action - Gail Paine

Gail Paine believes that an individual can make a difference. "To make a change," she said, "you have to act. It takes time and persistence, and you have to get your priorities right, but your efforts usually pay off."

In the 20 years since she and her husband Bill settled in Bartlett, Paine has worked with a variety of diverse groups toward a common goal: making the Valley a better place to live. Dividing her time between raising four children and working in the community, Paine has served in organizations ranging from Memorial Hospital to the School For Lifelong Learning where she is currently the Conway Area Coordinator. Through all her community activities she has found dozens of other area residents who felt as she did, "No one can accomplish as much alone as by working together with others," she noted. "Any change depends on a lot of cooperation from interested people and a lot of hard work."

Like the many others who volunteer their efforts throughout the community, Paine feels that when there's a problem, people can join together to solve it. In 1965, for example, she and four other mothers were concerned because the Bartlett School then had no kindergarten, "Once you have kids, you become interested in what goes on in school," Paine explained, "so I got started." With the help of other parents, they formed the Intervale Preschool, a combination kindergarten and nursery school open to all children free of charge.

In the first few years it wasn't an easy task. "We were a 'bare bones' operation," Paine recalled, "but we had the backing of many parents. Mack Beal made building blocks for the kids, others donated school materials and time, and the Bartlett Selectmen let us have the school at the Town Hall with their blessings." Over time, the success of the Intervale Preschool paved the way for public kindergarten in Bartlett. "People in town who had the opportunity to send their children to the Preschool saw that it was a good and worthwhile experience," Paine said, "and they helped to persuade the town to support one of its own." Today Bartlett is one of only two communities in the area offering public kindergarten.

As Paine explained, Dr. Ellen Jones, Carroll Bergen, and other volunteer nurses organized the first C&Y program which used the North Conway Congregational Church as its base. "We started with 'well baby clinics' and grew from there," Paine noted. "Our object was to improve the physical and mental health of all babies." Aided with federal and state funds, the C&Y program offered medical check-ups, innoculations, disability screening, nutritional information, and other services without cost. "It might be hard to believe now, but then these kinds of necessary health programs were non-existent in rural New Hampshire," Paine said. For many, the program represented their first contact with professional medical assistance. "The program met--and continues to meet--a basic need," she continued. "It gave young children, who didn't have it, an access to free medical care." When it began, the C&Y program aimed to serve children up to the age of five; today, under the direction of Carroll Bergen, its five person staff brings dental as well as medical care to more than 500 area youngsters up to the age of 16.

Although Paine gave up her work with the C&Y program when she had her third child, she continued to play an active role in the community none-the-less. In 1969 she was asked to serve on the Memorial Hospital's Board of Trustees, a position she still holds today. Next year, however, at the end of her present term, she plans to step down, a decision in keeping with her own philosophy about community work. "If you are interested in anything, you should join the program, serve as enthusiastically as possible - doing the best you can - and then retire," she noted. "There's a need for fresh blood after a while."

In 1970 Paine won election to the first of two terms as a member of the Bartlett School Board. "I just felt that since I was a parent with the freedom and time to act, I should act," she explained. Among various programs, Paine and other Board members lobbied for the creation of executive sessions to assist in preparation of the Supervisory Union Board''s annual school budget. "Before that time, the annual SUB budget was presented and voted on each spring," Paine said. "It didn't allow people much time to study how their money would be spent." The new format gives each member Board in the SUB the opportunity to assist in planning of the budget, and it lets voters review those proposals in a yearly "open meeting" in December. While this seems a bit complex, it really isn't. "Basically," Paine added, "we aimed to make it possible for each school to have a greater say in how the budget was made."

Even though Gail Paine is not a person with a lot of free time, she has made a point of teaching skiing each winter in the Junior Ski Program of the Eastern Slope Ski Club. One afternoon a week for the 10 weeks following Christmas, third through eighth graders from the Valley can practice their downhill and cross-country technique at Black, Cranmore and Attitash. Paine points out that the program provided two important benefits to the children involved. "First, knowing how to ski is a really important part of living here," she said. "Even those kids who may be reluctant to try it will usually find they like it; the program gets them on the slopes" The second benefit is less recognizable but equally important. "The program brings the kids together and lets them get to know one another; it gives kids from one end of the Valley the chance to meet with kids their same age who live miles away."

This winter, however, for the first time since 1962, Paine wasn't able to teach skiing for the ESSC. Her new job as Conway Area Coordinator for the North Country School For Lifelong Learning has kept her quite busy since she took the position last May. "The School for Lifelong Learning has been offering college level classes in Berlin for nine years," Paine said, "but the Conway program is only 11 months old. Still, we've already had more than 190 students taking courses and we hope to expand our program in the coming months."

As one of the five branches of the University of New Hampshire system the School for Lifelong Learning - a "college without walls" - provides the opportunity for North Country residents to earn college degrees without having to travel to Durham, Plymouth, or other University centers. Class instructors - qualified local people or professors from one of the University's branches - teach courses which follow the curriculum taken by all other college students in the State. Students taking the SLL's Business Communications class taught at Kennett, for instance, do the same work required of any undergraduate taking the same course at Durham. "We translocate courses taught elsewhere," Paine explained, "so that an SLL student studies the same material and meets the same requirements of any other university student." Because of the reduced class size of most SLL courses, many students find that they prefer taking courses in the North Country. "One student said that the beauty of the SLL program was that there were only 15 people in the class," Paine added. "She felt that gave her more of a chance to express herself."

To make it easier for North Country residents to complete their college degrees without leaving the area, the SLL has arranged its course schedule so that its classes rotated between Littleton, Berlin, and Conway. In this way, students who wish to earn a Bachelor of General Studies with a management major - the most popular course - can now complete the program in five years.

"Almost 90% of the SLL students in Conway are women," Paine said, "and many of them are single women who work to support their families. Seeing them make the effort to return to school is very gratifying."

Although students in SLL's programs pay the same fees for their courses as any other University student - $40 a credit hour - many loans and grants are available to help off-set tuition. costs. Aside from the Basic Educational Opportunity Grant (BEOG) a variety of student loans, grants and awards can help students to finance their return to college. As an example, Paine noted that most single parents can quality for some type of assistance. "One woman who won a grant found that even with the costs of tuition, books and a babysitter, she was able to break even," Paine pointed out. "We are ready to help people pursue every possible opportunity."

SLL's scope isn't strictly limited to degree-bound students. Many of those who take courses do so simply for their own interests, and some of the classes - such as pottery, Hatha Yoga, a Natural Foods Workshop and Basketry - appeal to people who want to expand their horizons and learn more. This past semester, for example, four Kennett High School teachers enrolled in the Theories and Techniques of Counseling, and Paine herself is currently taking the basketry course in Littleton. "Everyone can learn something," she said. "If you're not certain about something, or you're curious about a subject, take a course and find out. It's always worth the effort."

Even now, Paine is the first to point out that the success of the SLL - like every other program in the community - depends on the work, support, and dedication of many, many people. "The work of the SLL is a kind of culmination," she explained. "It couldn't be done without the support of the community. From the cooperation of the people at Kennett High School to the interest and backing of the area people who teach and attend its classes, the SLL is successful only because of the efforts made by the whole community."

"By working alone", she continued, "you will accomplish less than if you work with others. The best way to meet new people and to achieve something - whatever it is - comes from working with others. It takes time, but in the end the effort and the involvement pay off. Helping the community is worth that effort."


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