Kelli Cicirelli

When outsiders look at ROCs, what do they see?

By Kelli Cicirelli

Newcomers to resident-owned communities are impressed by their "can-do" attitude and accomplishments.

The great Scottish poet Robert Burns was inspired to write a poem one day after seeing a bug crawling on the bonnet of a high-society woman (you can’t say he didn’t have a sense of humor!).

"To A Louse, On Seeing One on a Lady's Bonnet at Church" contained a line that is as true today as it was then. Translated to modern English, “Oh would some Power the gift give us, to see ourselves as others see us.”

Every couple years, all of us who work at the New Hampshire Community Loan Fund get the chance to climb aboard a bus and visit some of the communities, businesses and people we’ve worked with.

Stony Brook president Donna Martineau and secretary Dolly Burnell in the co-op's community center.

We love the bus tours. Nearly half the people who work here don’t otherwise get to meet the people we serve. Seeing their faces, shaking their hands, hearing their stories and seeing what they’re accomplished really helps us understand the value of our work.

This fall we took a bus tour to a child care facility in Exeter, had lunch at a restaurant/brewery in North Hampton, and, before heading back, met the board of Stony Brook Cooperative in Rochester.

The previous owner, who had built the park and run it for many years, wanted to retire and sell it to the residents. As it turned out, it was a Christmas present; the sale closed on Dec. 24, 2014.

We met co-op treasurer Phyllis Farrington, secretary Dolly Burnell and vice president Diane Bozzi in a community center that the former owner had left unfinished. That was just one of several projects this community has tackled in its first year. They sold at least a half-dozen vacant homes, created storage spaces for residents, and started a monthly community newsletter to keep everyone informed.

These women talked about the lack of volunteers, the seemingly slow progress of repair projects, having to finish work that had been left undone or poorly done, learning about creating and tracking budgets—challenges and struggles familiar to every new resident-owned community.

What came through loud and clear was their tremendous camaraderie, good humor and ownership of all that needed to be done at the park. We asked what our staff thought about the experience:

“I was very impressed that the cooperative had taken on the challenge of finalizing the building of their clubhouse and had successfully worked with the town to get all the permit-related items resolved. They took action to better their cooperative, and I think they felt empowered by it.”

“I thought the women were very impressive in their knowledge of what needs to be done and how to go about doing it, especially considering the short length of time they have had to learn these things. The work that has, so far, been done on the common building also was impressive given the limited time and resources.”

“I commented to the person next to me on the bus that it was nice to see a park in such great shape. Stony Brook gave the impression of being well-kept, safe, secure and cared-for by its residents.”

“I believe it took courage for those ladies to speak with us as they did. I feel what they’re learning through this experience will benefit them for a lifetime.” 

“Their camaraderie and pride of ownership was what really shined through.”

“I thought the clubhouse was representative of the place in which Stony Brook presently finds itself: A work in progress, but a place where the residents will, at some point in the future, gather and feel a greater sense of community.”

“While it is clear that the park’s challenges are ongoing, the residents are now in control of their own destiny and feel very much more secure as a result. I greatly admire the women who spoke, and could not help but be impressed by the amount of work they have taken on.”

“To see the all-woman board taking charge and making things happen that hadn’t been done in more than 20 years was so inspiring!!! They were candid about it being a bit overwhelming, and what it meant to ‘own it,’ but were equally welcoming to the challenge and willing to do what was good and right for all the people of the community.”

“I was wowed by the large lots and how pretty and well-kept many of the homes are. Pretty awesome.

“The board members were hilarious. More impressive was the ‘Let’s get it done’ attitude. You could see real pride in the community.”

“I was most inspired when the board members talked about the feeling of security that they had now that they own their own park.”

“I was impressed by the level of determination that the co-op members exhibited to meet the challenges in the park acquisition. Also by their ‘ownership’ of what it takes to become successful co-op leaders.”

If the board and members of Stony Brook Cooperative could see themselves as others see them, they’d be rightfully proud of what they’ve accomplished.

Kelli Cicirelli is a ROC-NH™ Organizational Development Specialist.

ROC-NH™ is a program of the New Hampshire Community Loan Fund, Inc. and a ROC USA® Certified Technical Assistance Provider.
ROC-NH is a registered service mark of ROC USA, LLC.