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March 10. 2014 9:26PM

Building on Hope provides boost for Amherst nonprofit


Andrew Constable, 27, a client at Opportunity Networks, talks about the ongoing renovations at the nonprofit organization in Amherst and how the makeover will benefit himself and other young adults with developmental disabilities. (KIMBERLY HOUGHTON PHOTO)

AMHERST — Worried about how it will pay for vital improvements to its aging facility, a local nonprofit organization that strives to improve the lives of disabled adults is receiving a major helping hand.

Opportunity Networks has been selected by Building on Hope for its 2014 renovation project — a $700,000 makeover that will transform a 30-year-old warehouse at 11 Caldwell Dr. into a state-of-the-art complex for individuals with acquired and developmental disabilities.

"We put our dream list together and never imagined we would get the whole thing delivered," said Rocky Morelli, executive director of Opportunity Networks. The renovation, he said, would not be possible without the generous assistance from Building on Hope.

Building on Hope is a community initiative of volunteers who collaborate with builders, architects, designers and suppliers to provide physical improvements to facilities associated with nonprofit service groups. The Amherst renovation will be the biggest of its kind, with Building on Hope contributing about $300,000 of the work, and Opportunity Networks raising funds for the rest of the enhancements.

"We feel like spring has arrived today," Morelli said during a tour and news conference at the facility on Friday.

Construction began in January as volunteers gutted the entire 6,000-square-foot building, erected new walls, and installed electrical and mechanical elements. Additional renovations will begin in May, when the official build begins. The big reveal is anticipated for May 18.

"This building had not been touched in years," said architect Jonathan Halle of Warrenstreet Architects Inc. of Concord. Halle is helping to manage the renovation project, which includes an interactive theater, art room, computer area, library, commercial kitchen, social gathering spot, movement room and special location for people with autism.

A front lobby with a waterfall has been included in the design plans, in addition to a porch and wheelchair ramp.

"Think of 'Extreme Makeover' on steroids," said Karen Vanderbeken, co-chairman of Building on Hope. She said the majority of the construction project will be made possible with donated products and volunteer services.

In total, 12 rooms will be renovated. Each room will serve its own purpose to promote healthy and independent living skills, employment education and general needs, according to Morelli.

"The new building will be an awesome thing," said Andrew Constable, 27, of Amherst. Constable is a client at Opportunity Networks, which helped him obtain employment at a local grocery store — a job he describes as amazing.

"Thanks to Building on Hope, we will have a facility that adequately reflects the passion and capabilities of our clients and the fantastic work that is done here," said Morelli, adding the makeover will revitalize the organization's service model as it will be able to use new technology and modern resources to help clients reach their maximum potential.

This will be Building on Hope's third renovation initiative. In 2010, the group remodeled an all-boys intensive residential treatment facility for Easter Seals New Hampshire. Two years later, it renovated the Girls Inc. building in Manchester.

Again, Building on Hope will be seeking donated goods and volunteer labor to help with the Opportunity Networks renovation project.

"We didn't have the courage to take this project on," said Steve Desmarais, member of the board of directors for Opportunity Networks. It was "divine intervention" by Building on Hope that will be making the much-needed improvements a reality, according to Desmarais, who said the new facility will be life-altering for people with developmental disabilities in the Souhegan Valley and Greater Nashua.

"It is a true leap of faith," said Halle, who praised all of the people who will be pitching in to help with the efforts.

To learn more about the project or donate to the cause, visit www.opportunitynetworks.org

khoughton@newstote.com


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