By Tom Vartabedian
The Haverhill Gazette
---- — After 25 years of dedicated community service, the future is still today at Haverhill Community Television.
It’s the way any successful media venture travels its course — one good day at a time. Same with newspapers, radio or television.
When Matt Belfiore walked through the door 18 years ago, he sought a new adventure in his life, much like others who got their start here. He felt that maybe if he volunteered, the golden door of opportunity might open a crack.
The site was the Bradford College campus, just across from Denworth Hall. He did an internship with the TV station, then became a production assistant, program director and now operations manager. You can call it a job. More realistically, it’s become his passion.
“When they moved that Lafayette statue from the rotary, I showed up with a camera on my shoulder,” Belfiore recalled. “There was Barney Gallagher with his camera. I looked at the man and shook my head in amazement. After all these years, there was a guy known by his profession. I’d like to think of myself some day as the Barney Gallagher of Haverhill Community Television. I’ve pretty much done it all around here.”
The late Gallagher, of course, was the longtime reporter, editor and columnist with The Haverhill Gazette and The Eagle-Tribune.
Belfiore took his baby steps delivering Gazettes door-to-door when Gallagher was bestowed with the name “Mr. Haverhill.” Right away, Belfiore was smitten with a devoted sense of community spirit. The TV studio where he works now holds firm at 60 Elm St., the site of an auto dealership where his grandfather Vincent Belfiore once sold cars.
Over his time with community TV, Matt has never missed filming a VFW Santa Parade or a Christmas Stroll, much less an inauguration.
He does get away from the job — when he teaches his media classes at Northern Essex Community College, bringing others into the fold.
There’s never a dull moment inside the studio. On any given day, you’ll find Bob McConihe putting on a show called “Matters of the Heart” dealing with medical issues.
Attorney Jay Cleary has three shows, including the long-running “When I’m 64,” which interviews local elders about events from years past. Cleary has been around for 14 years, two fewer than Frank Novak with his “Point of Reference” show and four less than Gail Heney with her “Write Now” show featuring authors. Another favorite is “Somebody Cares,” produced by the Rev. Marlene Yeo, with a spiritual twist.
Anyone who knew the late Harold Nelson would appreciate the 20 years he spent behind a camera and his days as a Mark Twain impresario.
“He was a poster child for his generation,” Belfiore described. “Even when Harold took ill at the end, he never relinquished his responsibilities.”
Mary O’Neil started as a volunteer at the studio 10 years ago. Today, she’s director of media production and public relations after securing a master’s degree from Emerson College. No doubt, HCTV was the pot of gold at the end of her rainbow.
“I get to work with smart, talented, creative and fun people every day,” she said. “It doesn’t get much better than that.”
As one of nine siblings in her family, O’Neil knows the meaning of resilience in the working world and she’s thankful for the opportunities through HCTV. Like Belfiore, she was born and raised in Haverhill, and continues to stake her claim here.
It’s a big tribute to Executive Director Darlene Beal, who’s been leading the charge since 1994, having secured degrees from Boston University and Northern Essex, which serves as a partner with HCTV.
The number of accolades along the way has been well deserved for Beal, including last year’s Distinguished Citizens honor from the Boy Scouts.
“We’ve come a long way since opening our doors in 1988,” she says. “Today, we are a high-tech, cutting edge access station, continuing to invest in new capabilities. We continue to offer video and television production classes, equipment and facility resources and production assistance to all Haverhill residents free of charge.’’
The mere fact there are a whopping 600 volunteers attached to this venture gives it added credibility. Consider another surprising fact: In 2013, the station produced 860 original programs.
Among the two high-powered TV personnel who got their start here are Channel 7’s Tiffany Middleton and Ed Felker. They’ll tell you how vital these roots were to their respective careers. Both of them have the awards to prove it.
It all adds up to a notable success story of vision and vitality, endurance and unbridled energy. For that, Haverhill should be proud.
Writer and photographer Tom Vartabedian is retired from The Haverhill Gazette. He contributes this regular column.