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2 women congratulated for completing daunting Recovery Court program

LACONIA — Melissa Winsor and Crystal Boisvert finished a two-and half-year long quest to get sober when they graduated together from Recovery Count yesterday.

But with their certificates and their sobriety, both move forward knowing their fellow students, the community, and all the people who donated their time to the state's only non-government funded "drug court" program will be there with them.

"Melissa, Crystal," said keynote speaker Alida Millham of Gilford, "You are to be congratulated."

Millham, a former state representative and chair of the Belknap County delegation, said she's seen a lot of changes in her years and Recovery Court is one of the best of them.

"This will prepare you for the next steps of your life," she said.

Millham told them that the five key things she has seen them show is "opportunity" to take advantage of a program that could help them changes their lives, "commitment" for participating and making though the hard and challenging times, "responsibility" for owning up to their past lives and embracing their new lives, "patience" for persevering knowing it wouldn't be easy, and "resiliency" for facing their lives ahead knowing all the road blocks it will bring.

Piloted by 4th Circuit Court Judge Jim Carroll, Public Defender Jessie Friedman, Laconia City Prosecutor Jim Sawyer, and Jacqui Abikoff of Horizons Counseling Center in 2012, Recovery Court was soon embraced by other members of the corrections community including County Attorney Melissa Guldbrandsen, the Department of Probation and Parole, Belknap County Corrections Supervisor Daniel Ward, Genesis Behavioral Health, Brian Loanes of Restorative Justice and other community partners.

To qualify for Recovery Court, a person has to be charged with a serious crime and admit that drug addiction has led them to their low spot. If they complete the program the underlying charge is wiped clean.

Winsor is the mother of four who began the Recovery Court when it began and learned she was pregnant. Judge Carroll said she had her setbacks along the way but each time brought herself and her son James back to the group.

"I'll miss you and James," said Carroll as he held James, now a toddler, while Winsor accepted her certificate from Abikoff.

While she was too overcome to speak, Boisvert wasn't.

"This was one of the hardest things I ever had to do," she said.

"I'm not proud of some of the mistakes I've made but now I like myself and who I am today," she added.

Boisvert will continue as a mentor, occasionally teaching a class to other Recovery Court members about cognitive behavior.

Abikoff said that early on Boisvert slipped but soon got back on the road to recovery. She was asked to create and teach a class about congitive behavior for when she returned to the group session the next week.

"She came back with a plan, a back-up plan and a back-up plan for the back-up plan," said Abikoff, noting she had also outlined three different ways to teach her assigned subject to her peers in case the first two ways didn't work.

A special recognition was also given to Judge Willard "Bud" Martin who has helped recovery court financially.

Carroll asked for people in the community to consider Recovery Court as part of their own mission. He said volunteers are welcome, contributions are needed, and for those business people who can, he asked them to consider Recovery Court graduates for jobs.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 22 April 2015 12:18

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Importance of high school diploma stressed by soon-to-be graduates of the Laconia Academy

LACONIA — Members of the School Board were told last night by a 50-year-old man from Franklin who is scheduled to receive his diploma from Laconia Academy in June that it's important for young people to remember that there's no substitute for a high school diploma.
Gary Bleggi said that he dropped out of Franklin High School in the 1980s and went into the military but never went back to school.
He said that he decided to return to school to get his diploma after having been challenged by his son, who spent an extra year and a half going back to school to get his diploma, to take that important step.
''I was out of work but used the GI Bill to attend Lakes Region Community College get my CDL (commercial drivers license) and took a welding class at Laconia Adult Education,'' says Bleggi, who said that he is now employed full-time as a truck driver but spends three nights a week taking classes which will allow him to earn his high school diploma.
He said that he was passed over for one job as a commercial driver because he lacked a high school diploma, even though the company wanted very much to hire him. ''They were going to let me continue with night school but realized that they had advertised for someone with a GED or high school diploma and felt they couldn't wait until I graduated to fill the job. It's my opinion that a GED is almost useless and that the person with a diploma is going to win every time,'' said Bleggi.
He said that his current employer ''has been great to me'' and sees to it that he gets out of work early enough for him to attend the night classes at Laconia High School. ''It's not easy going back to school when you're 50 years old but it sure is worth the extra effort,'' said Bleggi.
Also speaking highly of the Laconia Academy program offered by the Laconia Adult Education Program was 20-year-old Chris Ennis, who is also scheduled to receive his diploma in June.
He said that he started working at an early age and worked instead of attending high school. He later got a job at the Boys and Girls Club in Laconia where he worked for three years. He currently works full-time at Baron Machine in Laconia and has been encouraged by his employer to take part in the academy program.
"I appreciate the program and how it has helped me. The teachers have been very helpful. With what I'm learning maybe I can be a manager at the machine shop some day and make more money,'' says Ennis, who noted that he has taken classes with several people who are in their 50s and sees what a difference the education they are receiving is making differences in their lives.
Both Bleggi and Ennis were invited to speak about their experiences by LHS Adult Education Program Director Peggy Selig, who said that total enrollment in courses offered by he program has been over 1,500 this school year.
She said that Laconia Academy, which has 84 students this year, is the fourth largest diploma program of its kind in the state. There also 91 people enrolled in Adult Basic Education programs, 58 in the Adult Learning Services program, 34 enrolled in English as a Second Language and a total of 57 (29 in electrical and 28 in plumbing) enrolled in the four-year Electrical and Plumbing programs.
''We used to have 150 a year in those programs before the recession and we're finally starting to see them grow again,'' said Selig.
She said that 530 people took courses offered by adult education in the fall and 666 in the winter courses, for a total of 1,196 this year. She said that one Chinese cooking course was so popular that she had to break it up into two classes on different nights of the week.
She attributed the large increase in second semester enrollment to the harsh winter weather, ''It was an awful winter and people had cabin fever.''
She said that one of the more popular courses this year has been welding, which attracted 60 participants and noted that five employees of Baron Machine took adult education courses this winter.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 22 April 2015 01:24

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Zoning board says no to 'Pecker' the rooster

LACONIA — With one dissenting vote, the Zoning Board of Adjustment last night denied the Leroux family a variance that would enable them to keep "Pecker," their pet rooster, at their home at 58 North Street in Lakeport.

The rooster was brought to the city's attention when a neighbor complained about crowing.

Jeffrey Leroux told the board that he was unaware of the zoning regulations when he purchased the rooster at the Sandwich Fair as a pet for his wife Bridgette, just as his father Armand did for his mother Mary Ann years ago. He explained that the rooster lives in the house, where he plays with the family's dogs.

Armand Leroux said, "I don't see the big issue. The rooster makes no more noise than a barking dog. He's definitely a pet."

Lorraine Carrignan, Jeffrey's mother-in-law, confessed she was initially uneasy, but said she was taken when "Pecker" jumped on his cage, danced for me and talked to me. He's like a baby."

Dan Ouellette, the neighbor who complained about the rooster to the Planning Department, said flatly "it's a noise issue." He said that he lives 150 feet away and heard the rooster crowing in December, when the windows were closed. "If I hadn't heard the rooster crowing," he insisted, "I wouldn't have complained."

Board member Suzanne Perley stressed that when the Zoning Task Force researched the question of keeping chickens in residential zones, it found that while several municipalities permit small flocks, all forbid keeping roosters because of the noise they make.

Kate Geraci, an alternate member of the board, suggested that the rooster was a pet, not a farm animal kept for agricultural purposes. But, Planning Director Shanna Saunders disagreed, explaining that the department ruled that by keeping the rooster the Leroux family was engaged in an agricultural use prohibited in the residential zone.

Steve Bogert, chairman of board, said that while he sympathized with the family, their application for a variance failed to meet any of the six criteria necessary. Michael Foote of the ZBA, said simply "it is emotionally driven, not practically driven."

Only Orrie Gibbs dissented when the ZBA denied the variance by a vote of 4 to 1. She said that the rooster is a pet and no more of a nuisance than a barking dog.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 21 April 2015 01:59

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Troop 12347 Girl Scouts mark Earth Day with activities at Laconia Transfer Station

LACONIA — Girl Scouts from Laconia Troop 12347 took part in an early Earth Day event Saturday morning at the Laconia Transfer Station, which has been operated by Waste Management company since 1980 and was recently re-certified by the Wildlife Habitat Council under its 'Wildlife at Work' program in recognition of its many environmental achievements.
The Girl Scouts completed a a recyclable art project by using recycled cans to make wind chimes, planted native shrubs like blueberry bushes that provide food for local wildlife and took part in a groundbreaking for a new information kiosk at the facility.
Cathy Parriera, business process manager, of Waste Management, Inc., welcomed the Girl Scouts and talked about some of the projects they have been involved with in recent years, including the use of recyclable products to create beehives, putting up bird houses which attract bluebirds and plants which attract butterflies.
She noted that milkweed plants, which are viewed by farmers who us their fields to produce hay as nuisance plants, are a vital part of the life cycle of the monarch butterfly, whose larvae can only survive by eating the milkweed plant's leaves.
Lisa Morin and Marnie Schulz of the Laconia Conservation Commission distributed materials on invasive species, plants animals, marine life and insects, which are pushing native species out of their natural habitat because they thrive in a new environment which lacks the natural predators which would keep them in check.
Morin brought along a sample of oriental bittersweet, which she said produces bright orange berries which are very attractive but grows rapidly by wrapping itself around trees, killing them and taking over large areas at the edge of forests and fields.
She said that bittersweet stems and roots can be burned but cannot be composted as they will regenerate. One way to ensure they do not grow again is to place the uprooted bittersweet plants in a trash bag and leave the bag in a sunny area for three weeks where they will decompose into a slimy mixture.
Since 1980 Waste Management has operated on the 25 acres of freshwater wetlands, grassy meadows and dense forests at the transfer station, which is adjacent to the Huston-Morgan State Forest owned by the city.
Employees of the company, Department of Public Works, the Laconia Conservation Commission, along with Scott McPhie of the Planning Department took part in Saturday's event.
The transfer station was named the Wildlife Habitat Council's "Rookie of the Year" for 2012, as the outstanding new participant in the council's program to restore and preserve wildlife habitat on corporate property.
An upgrade to the transfer station, which was started in 2007-08, has made it an environmentally friendly area according to Laconia Public Works Director Paul Moynihan. He said that the project, 55 percent of which was paid for by Waste Management, which contracts with the city for the right to use the transfer station for its own operations, was largely initiated by Waste Management itself and cost $2.6 million. The city paid 30 percent of the cost, $780,000, and Gilford, whose residents and businesses can also utilize the transfer station, paid 15 percent, or $390,000.
''The site used to be borderline acceptable to the state. It was open face and all gravel and there were nearby wetlands. The changes made it a much better location and there's a long-term agreement with Waste Management for use of the site,'' says Moynihan.

CAPTION:
Shia Rankin and Emily Lemay of Girl Scout Troop 12347 from Laconia make wind chimes from recycled cans at an Earth Day event held at the Laconia Transfer Station Saturday morning. (Roger Amsden/ for The Laconia Daily Sun)

Last Updated on Monday, 20 April 2015 11:53

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