Rogers named social media director for growing Chamber of Commerce

The Greater Haverhill Chamber of Commerce continues to grow its leadership ranks, hiring lifelong Haverhill resident Hillary Rogers as its new marketing and social media coordinator.

Chamber President and CEO Beverly Donovan said that the rapid growth and an overflowing menu of programs, offerings and events resulted in the need to provide full-time attention to social media and other marketing endeavors and the full-time marketing position.

“All of this wonderful activity will provide a tremendous opportunity to all local businesses. A marketing and social media coordinator will assist in getting members and the community more involved,” Donovan said. “Having Hillary on board to serve the local community on behalf of the Haverhill Chamber further enhances the work we do in providing educational and business building opportunities, as well as advocacy and economic development throughout the region.”

In her new role, Rogers will be responsible for creating and implementing a marketing strategy for the Chamber of Commerce office. Additionally, she will be managing constant contact, calendars, and assisting with event planning and execution.

Last month, former Haverhill Mayor John Guerin was appointed as membership services director for the Chamber.

In October, the Chamber welcomed Donovan as its new president and CEO. Donovan replaced Stacey Bruzzese, who left the chamber to become director of marketing and new business for an insurance and financial services firm in Salem, New Hampshire.

Rogers has lived in Ward Hill on her family’s farm. She attended Gordon College in Beverly, where she majored in Communication Arts with a minor in Business Administration.

She grew up working for her family either picking strawberries, and assisting customers at Rogers Spring Hill Garden Center. After college she worked as a communications assistant for North of Boston Convention and Visitors Bureau in Salisbury.

Donovan said Rogers’ knowledge of the tourism and chamber industry she learned at North of Boston is going to assist her in her marketing role at the Chamber.

“She is looking forward to getting to meet everyone and getting more involved in the Haverhill area,” Donovan said.

— Mike LaBella

Hunking students move into new school before Christmas

Students at the Hunking School are getting an early Christmas present. They were expecting to move into their new school sometime after the first of the year, but school officials announced the move will take place during the week leading up to Christmas.

School Superintendent James Scully said due to the “tremendous cooperation” from the contractor and other parties involved, students are now slated to move into the new building Dec. 22.

Scully said the original occupancy date was March, then due to construction being ahead of schedule and under budget, opening day was set for January. Now, it is planned for later this month.

“On the weekend prior to Dec. 22, our crews will start moving teaching materials to the new school and the teachers will be working during the afternoons (Dec. 19-21) to prepare for the arrival of children into the new building,” Scully said. “On Dec. 22 at 1 p.m., students will be led from the old Hunking to the new Hunking.”

On Dec. 23, Hunking’s 462 students will report to the schoolyard of the new school where they will line up at their classroom designations.

“As you know, Friday, Dec. 23 is a half-day and your students will be dismissed at the regular half-day dismissal time,” Scully said. “It was my hope to get all of you into the building before Christmas but it appears more realistic to have an Open House for all parents on Jan. 4 from 5 to 8 p.m. The official grand opening for the building will be towards the middle of the month of May, when many more minor details of construction will be complete.”

Students from Greenleaf School are expected to move into the new Hunking next fall along with the entire fifth grade at Bradford Elementary School. Scully said the switch will relieve overcrowding there. Students scattered across schools elsewhere in the city will also be brought to the new Hunking, which will eventually house 1,005 students in kindergarten through grade eight.

Scully told parents there are a few details they should be aware of.

“Some construction fences will be left in place so students will not be trudging through recently seeded and planted areas,” he said. “The bus egress will not be available, therefore please be mindful of the fact there will be vehicular and bus traffic on the same driveway until spring.”

He said the opening of the new Hunking has been the result of a “herculean effort.”

“Mr. Thomas Geary, facilities director, and Mr. Jared Fulgoni, assistant superintendent, have worked with me daily to make this project come to fruition,” Scully said.

Scully also thanked parents and students for their support and cooperation throughout this endeavor.

“The mayor, city officials, the architectural firm and especially the contractor have all worked as partners to make this dream come true for Haverhill,” Scully told parents. “As we begin this magical time of year, my sincere thanks to all of you. I hope the blessings and peace of this season reside in each of your homes and within your families.”

Several years ago, the old Hunking was found to be structurally unsound due to a poor design that resulted in years of undetected water seepage that eroded the building’s steel foundation supports. Temporary fixes only extended the school’s lifespan for a few years, and officials said it was financially imprudent to spend millions of dollars on temporary fixes to a building that ultimately needed to be replaced.

— Peter Francis

Free Christmas trees spread spirit

Families at Community Action’s Head Start Center received some holiday cheer when a Newburyport organization distributed free Christmas trees along with lights, ornaments and a stand.

Staff at the Fox Center, located on Elm Street, made it into a fun event for families who showed up for free, natural trees.

Children were treated to a visit from Santa, whom they got to share their Christmas wish lists with. Families enjoyed chili, cornbread and hot apple cider, and brownies, which were donated by Dianne’s Fine Desserts of Newburyport.

“It was mobbed,” said Deborah Linett, director of Head Start. “We must have had 500 or more people including parents, children, grandparents and other family members who wanted to be part of this winter wonderland event. We were prepared with three huge pots of chili.”

Alex Gramling, president of the nonprofit Christmas Tree Santas based in Newburyport said his organization had been looking to expand outside of the seacoast area where it has operated for five years and found the Head Start program to be a good fit.

Linett called Gramling “an angel” for making trees available to families who might not be able to afford one.

“It’s a great gift for me and our volunteers to be able to do this for families,” Gramling said. “It meets a financial need and a deeper emotional need around the holidays, which can be a stressful time for some families. And to know a tree is taken care of and they can gather around, is a great gift and joy for me.”

Gramling’s organization was created in 2011 after a woman and her children stopped by his house to pick up an old aluminum Christmas tree he was giving a way. The woman told him she could not afford to buy a tree.

“I thought about them and other families in our community who were just like them, who could not afford a Christmas tree for Christmas,” Gramling said. “I decided to help by creating Christmas Tree Santas and began raising money from family, friends and local businesses. And that first year we gave away 200 trees on the North Shore, and another 100 in Atlanta, where I grew up. And I have business partners as I’m in marketing.”

His organization donated more than 3.500 trees since its founding and recently brought 200 to Haverhill to distribute to Head Start families at the Fox Center.

“We’ve always wanted to expand locally and it was a good fit with our connections to Community Action’s services office in Amesbury,” he said.

Linett said all of the parents in Community Action’s Early Childhood programs along with its community partners, International Child Care Center and Froggy’s Play School in Bradford, who signed up for a tree, received one.

“Any extra expenses like a Christmas tree, during the holiday season, is a burden for low-income working families,” Linett said. “I’m just so touched by this.”

Linett said there were enough volunteers on hand to ensure there was very little waiting. Families got a choice of trees in a size they felt would fit best in their homes. Each family also each received a box of ornaments and a string of 100 miniature lights.

“One little boy was helping carry his family’s tree to their car with one of our tree runners, then gave the runner his candy cane as thanks,” Linett said. “The parents were touched and our volunteers were as well.”

“One young woman said it was her first Christmas tree,” Linett said. “People were just ecstatic. And it wasn’t just the people who were receiving the trees. The people who were distributing them, including Alex Gramling, were ecstatic too.”

“We’re hoping this will be an annual event,” Linett said. “This could really become a tradition in Haverhill.”

This year Gramling’s organization will distribute a total of about 1,200 trees at 10 locations throughout the country, including greater Newburyport, Haverhill, and Malden.

“People hear about us and strangers reach out to us and say they want to do this in their community, so we help them organize,” he said. “We have a blueprint that allows anyone to do this in their community.”

“I have a volunteer coordinator in Charlotte who will be giving away 150 trees. We also have a site in Detroit where volunteers will give away 53 trees. Our sponsor there is Kyle Van Noy (No. 53) newly of the New England Patriots.”

— Mike LaBella 

Students take words of living, givng to heart 

HAVERHILL — While reading the Charles Dickens classic, “A Christmas Carol,” seventh-grade students at Whittier Middle School became inspired to help the less fortunate in their community.

To help those in need this season they amassed a large assortment of personal care items that will be delivered the week before Christmas to the Liz Murphy Open Hand Pantry located at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Monument Square.

The pantry is supported by St. James and St. John the Baptist Parishes in Haverhill.

Students at J.G. Whittier collected more than 2,000 items so far, including toothbrushes, toothpaste, shampoo, deodorant, baby wipes, band aids, razors, hand lotion, packets of tissues and items that provide a little winter-warmth such as hats, socks and gloves. And they say the donations keep pouring in.

“My mom crocheted 18 hats along with 10 wash clothes she bundled with bars of home-made soap,” said student Grace Seekell.

Math teacher Sarah Trombly lead the drive, saying she wanted students to work on a service project that would have a positive impact on Haverhill’s homeless and others in need. The entire seventh-grade team participated in the effort.

“Students in grade seven English classes have been reading “A Christmas Carol,” which touches on poverty, so it was a great discussion,” Trombly said. “We talked about various kinds of gift bags, and the kids came up with the idea of creating personal care kits.”

Trombly said some students were unable to go shopping so they’ve been donating a few dollars here and there, which she uses to purchase more items. Some students reached out to family members and parents, who handed them cash to buy some supplies.

“In addition to roughly 150 seventh graders who are taking part in this effort, a number of fifth-, sixth- and also eighth-graders have donated as well,” Trombly said.

“I think it’s good that the seventh grade is doing something positive to help the community during the holidays,” said seventh-grader Ryan Link.

“As a volunteer at the Open Hand Pantry, I like to see my peers helping out too,” said seventh-grader Braeden Atwood.

On Dec. 19 and 20, students will fill individual gallon-size bags with the items they collected. A parent will deliver them all to the Open Hand Pantry for distribution, Trombly said.

Another teacher at the school had recommended the Open Hand Pantry as they accept donations of personal care items in addition to food that is distributed to Haverhill’s most needy individuals and families.

“This worked out perfectly as a parent volunteered to deliver it all,” Trombly said. “I’m hoping to make this an annual event.”

— Mike LaBella 

One call to City Hall: 311

After months of tweaking, the city is about to institute its new "one call to city hall" system. Beginning Jan. 3,  dialing 311 from your land line or cell phone will hook up up to a real person and not a voice mail asking you to punch in this or that number.

In the event of an emergency, residents and others are advised to dial 911. Otherwise, starting Jan. 3, use the "one call to city hall" system by dialing 311 from anywhere in the city. Once operational, the service will be available weekdays from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

With the help of a $60,000 state grant, Haverhill has joined six other Massachusetts cities this year implementing a 311 information line to help answer the public's questions and address concerns.

"All too often when you call a large company for service you are run through a series of "press this number " and it often takes 15 minutes or more to get a real human being on the phone," said Mayor James Fiorentini. "I find it so frustrating. I want you to have better service than that."

Fiorentini said the call service will free up the heads of city departments and their staff to handle daily tasks and administrative duties. The service will cost the city about $140,000 per year, he said.

"There will be no more transfers of calls. All of our employees, department heads and the city clerk get hundreds of calls over the course of a month asking, 'How late is City Hall open? How much is my tax bill?'" Fiorentini said. "With 311, you make one call and people will take care of you."

Fiorentini said the city has been working out the details of the new dialing system, which operates with three highly-trained call center representatives who are getting ready to take your calls.

Are you having a problem with your trash pickup? Do you need to know how much your tax bill is? Is there a vacant building in your neighborhood? Do you need a pothole patched? Residents with these and other concerns can simply dial 311.

"Our goal here at city hall is give you the very best service that we can," Fiorentini said.

To test out the new 311 system, call 978 358-1311.

— Mike LaBella 

Police seeks suspects in recent robberies 

Police are seeking suspects in several recent cases of robbery, theft and attempted robbery of banks, a downtown pawn shop and a fitness center patron.

Police spokesman Detective Lt. Robert Pistone said investigators are narrowing their search for a man who stole a set of car keys that were in a locker at Cedardale Health & Fitness and then used the keys to gain access to a vehicle. Police said the suspect took a wallet containing credits cards from the vehicle then used one of the cards to purchase goods at the Home Depot in Methuen.

Pistone said a Cedardale patron reported the theft on Nov. 19 at 5:48 p.m. who discovered his car keys were missing from his locker and his car had been entered. Police released a surveillance image of the suspect walking into the lobby of Cedardale in Bradford.

Pistone said a similar incident took place at a Latitudes Sport Club in Methuen.

"We are still investigating and we expect an arrest soon," Pistone said.

Police are also looking to speak to two "persons of interest" in connection with theft of merchandise from the House of Pawn, 24 Emerson St., on the evening of Nov. 14. Police said two suspects broke in between 9:30 and 10 p.m. and stole more than $1,000 worth of goods.

Pistone said one of the men left behind a tool bag and flashlight and may work in the building trades, based on what he left behind.

The suspect left the shop after looking directly into a security camera that captured the break-in, Pistone said. He described one suspect as having a "distinctive chin and nose."

Police released updated images of two men they are interested in identifying and or speaking with. Pistone said the two men in the images were in the store prior to the robbery.

In another incident, police are asking the public's help in identifying a man suspected of trying to rob the Santander Bank in October. Police believe the same man successfully robbed the Haverhill Bank at 1094 Main St. on Wednesday.

Pistone said that on Oct. 19 at 3:54 p.m., a man entered the Santander Bank at 340 Main St., then mumbled something to the teller, who asked the man to repeat himself as she could not understand what he said.

"The suspect walked into the bank and in both cases he may have had a speech impediment as the tellers in both cases did not understand him at first," Pistone said. "The teller in this case did not understand him and asked the suspect to repeat himself."

Pistone said the suspect continued to mumble and demanded money from the teller.

Pistone said that when the teller responded, "are you kidding me" the suspect responded, "no I'm not f...... kidding you" then turned and ran out of the bank.

Pistone said that in this latest robbery, a man walked into the Haverhill Bank at 1094 Main St. at 11:47 a.m. on Wednesday and told a teller that he had a gun, but did not display one, before demanding money. Pistone said the man left with an undisclosed amount of cash and is believed to have driven off in an older model Dodge Intrepid.

"Now that we see the video and photos from this latest robbery, it appears to be the same suspect who tried to rob the Santander Bank in October," Pistone said.

Anyone with information about these incidents is asked to contact police at 978-373-1212. 

You can also leave a message on the police anonymous tip line by dialing 978-373-1212 and following the prompts.

— Peter Francis

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