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St. Vincent de Paul celebrates 25 years


LACONIA — "It's not the 25 years," said Erika Johnson, president of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, which is celebrating its anniversary on Monday, "it's the number of hours people have put in helping others because they care about the community."
The society traces its roots and keeps its headquarters in France, where in 1833 Frederic Ozanam, a student at the Sorbonne and fervent Catholic, grew weary of critics chiding the church for failing to succor the poor. He founded the Conference of Charity, which soon became the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, named after the priest who in 1625 formed the Confraternities of Charity, associations of laywomen of the church that visited, fed and nursed the poor and infirm in and around Paris.
The first conference of the Society in the United States was established at the Basilica of St. Louis, known as the "Old Cathedral," in St. Louis in 1845 and grew rapidly. Today it counts 172,000 members in 4,600 communities who serve 14 million people each year.
The Society in Laconia sprang from the initiative of Father Rodrigue Gallant, pastor of St. Joseph Church in Belmont and Father Micael Griffin, pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Laconia, whose notice in the parish newsletter drew the first volunteers.
In Laconia, the society numbers 130 volunteers who provide foodstuffs to 1,100 people in some 360 households each month. Jo Carignan, who manages the food pantry, said that her team provides more than $560,000 worth of food to needy families each year, including the 800 baskets, each with a turkey, distributed at Thanksgiving.
The thrift store sells and donates new and used clothing, furniture, housewares and appliances contributed by families and businesses, applying the proceeds to its other programs. The society donates approximately $25,000 worth of items each year. Each year the society provides more than $150,000 of financial assistance in the form of rent payments, security deposits, utility bills, dental and medical fees and even repair bills to needy individuals and families. And the Children's Foundation provides educational assistance for educational and medical needs as well as extracurricular activities and child care for children in both public and parochial schools.
"We never close the door to anybody," Johnson said
Johnson said that perhaps the greatest reward is to see someone who came to the society seeking help return in the role of a benefactor or donor. She recalled a Saudi Arabian man who received assistance from the Society who brought a collection of toys to be distributed to others at Christmas. Another man who came seeking clothing after his release from jail, returned clean shaven, in a suit and tie to say that was employed and make a donation. "My heart goes out to all of them," she said.
Carignan described many of those who seek assistance as "working families with two adults, often both working two jobs, who are just not making it." She added that she is especially troubled by the growing number of "18- to 28-year-olds with no job, no skills, no education and no common sense. We're seeing a lot more that," she said.
Johnson said that the success of the society stems from the generosity of the people of the Lakes Region. "It starts with the children," she remarked, noting that children having birthday parties ask their guests to bring food rather than toys, then make a donation, while the kids with the lemonade stand at Temple B'nai Israel donate their proceeds to the society.
Johnson stressed that the society consists solely of volunteers. "There are no paid employees," she said.
"They are here because they care and they work when they are here," echoed Carignan, who added "You have to have a reason to get out of bed in the morning. You have to have a purpose."

05-14 St. Vincent de Paul

Erika Johnson, president of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, left, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary, shares the occasion with veteran volunteers, to her left, Jeanette Buckley, Jo Carignan and John Peavey (Laconia Daily Sun photo/ Michael Kitch)

Country Club Road blocked due to police standoff

LACONIA — Access to Country Club Road is blocked from Barbara Boulevard, and Frank Bean Road is closed as of 2:30 p.m. due to police action in response to a man with a gun.

According to Laconia Police Chief Chris Adams, police came to serve a stalking notice to a Country Club Road resident. He said the man grabbed a handgun and fired at least three rounds, not necessarily aimed at the officer but in the general vicinity of the officer. The special operations group arrived at 2:35 p.m. with two Bear Cats and a Hum-vee. State police, Belmont, Gilford and Laconia Police have set up four perimeters around the house. The man was also reported to be carrying a sledge hammer.

– Gail Ober

 05-13 standoff

Water line replacement moving along in Gunstock Acres


GILFORD — The Gunstock Acres Village Water District has coordinated with the Department of Public Works and with the replacement of a half-mile of water main, the Mountain Drive could be ready for road construction in early August.

The water district is separate and independent from the town of Gilford, and the water portion of it is paid solely from user fees assessed to the people who live there. The roads are maintained by the town. The water district contracts with New England Service Company for maintenance and repairs.

According to Gunstock Acres resident and Gilford Budget Committee member Norm Silber, there are about 10 or 11 wells and most water is pumped through a labyrinth of water pipes. Mountain Road is one of the key access roads that transverses the acres running from Route 11 A off Cherry Valley Road to near Cumberland Road that ends on Route 11 near Lake Winnipesaukee.

He said his understanding is that along Mountain Road, most of the original water piping is original cast iron that was laid near standard ledge. He said when the ground freezes and later thaws, the ledge shifts and the pipes crack or break.

Water District Manager Alex Crawshaw said that so far about 400 feet of old cast iron pipe has been replaced. He said that in the past, when there was a leak the district would fix it with stainless steel clamps.

"In those first 400 feet we've removed 12 clamps," he said.

He said the water district had money in its accounts and has used it to dig a trench to lay the new water lines. He said this phase goes from Alpine Drive to Deer Run and is estimated to cost $300,000.

Crawshaw said that at some points the water main transects the road so there will be a few days that a portion of the road is closed but so far that hasn't happened.

"Since the road is a loop, no driveway will be shut off," Crawshaw said.

Once the water project is complete, the town's Public Works Department will completely rebuild the same section of road at an estimated cost of $148,800, which was included in the Public Works Department budget and approved at Town Meeting.

Mountain Drive is one of three major road projects planned by the Department of Public Works this construction season. Edgewater Drive (west) and Saltmarsh Pond Road are the other two major projects.

05-13 Mountain Road

Crew from Dawson's Excavating and Utilites work on a steep section of Mountain Drive in the Gunstock Acres Village Water District. (Laconia Daily Sun Photo/Gail Ober)