NASHUA -- For Elaine Hamel, the 2014 TD Bank Community and Small Business Expo in Nashua was a chance to talk up Girls at Work Inc., a nonprofit organization that reaches out to girls at risk and teaches them how to work with wood and power tools.
Any time you're the only booth in the exhibition hall with a table loaded with work belts and power drills, you're likely to draw some interest. But the Community and Small Business Expo was more than a traditional business fair where visitors learn about local products and services while gathering a year's supply of pens and refrigerator magnets.
The annual expo focuses on connections and relationships between commerce and community. Small businesses have a chance to introduce themselves to nonprofit organizations that may need or want what they're offering. And social service organizations, cultural groups and schools and educational programs have a chance to showcase the types of opportunities they can provide for businesses and their employees.
"We've met some really cool people," Hamel said. "Anytime you put nonprofits and businesses together, it's a great experience."
Based in New Boston, Girls at Work runs summer camp workshops and programs tailored to the interests and needs of participants. Hamel said that since the organization was founded in 2000, about 7,000 girls have learned basic building skills.
But Girls at Work also runs corporate team-building workshops that offer the chance to escape cubicles and offices and spend a day with co-workers building a picnic table or some benches for a local charity.
Girls at Work also offers a professional development program for teachers that focuses on integrating hands-on techniques with traditional classroom lessons.
The Community and Small Business Expo was a chance for Hamel to talk with a range of people who might need or benefit from those programs.
For other organizations and businesses like Hunt Senior Living, Family Dentistry, Heartfelt Therapeutic Massage and Living At Home Senior Care, the expo was an opportunity to highlight the types of health and family support services available in Nashua. The city's ability to provide those types of services can be the deciding factor when it comes to drawing new businesses, entrepreneurs and skilled workers to the area.
"Hunt has been around for 115 years, but you always have to reach out to people and inform businesses, networks and other nonprofits about what you do," said Judy Franseen, who was manning the booth for Hunt Senior living.
Franseen said the expo had given her the chance to tell Hunt's story to some new faces.
Nashua Community College had a team of representatives at the expo ready to explain a range of programs that are valuable connections to the business community. In addition to courses that enhance employees skills, the college also offers WorkReady NH, a program that provides assessment, instruction and credentialing in areas that have been identified by local employers as essential for job success in southern New Hampshire.
Other organizations such as the Lutheran Social Services' Good News Garage, which refurbishes donated cars for families in need, were able to offer ideas for individuals and business who want to give back and contribute to strengthening the community.
The expo also gave small businesses and companies new to the area a chance to introduce themselves to the Nashua business community and local nonprofits, and to network and explore potential opportunities and partnerships.
Lyn Stevens, a fit coach for Koko Fit Club, was hoping to impress business owners with what the club can do for their organizations.
"Exercise would make their companies healthier and more fit, and they would spend less on insurance," said Stevens.
Businesses like Coffee News, which offers an alternative vehicle for advertising, were at the expo targeting other small enterprises and nonprofits with a service that's local and affordable.