Promises to keep

TEDxPiscataquaRiver asks its audience to make a difference

Saying “yes” helped make Durham native Meredith Bennett a producer on “The Colbert Report” and a co-executive producer on the upcoming “Late Show with Stephen Colbert.” And, at TEDxPiscataquaRiver on Friday, May 8, Bennett encouraged the audience at 3S Artspace in Portsmouth — and those watching online — to say “yes,” too.

“Only say no when it’s allowing you to say yes to something else,” said Bennett. “At least once, don’t say no, say yes. Say yes to everything you possibly can.”

TEDx3Meredith Bennett

Bennett was one of more than a dozen speakers at TEDxPiscataquaRiver, a local, independently organized version of the TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) talks, a set of national and international conferences featuring top scientists, entrepreneurs, thinkers, and others.

The day-long event featured talks on bringing together education and entrepreneurship, studying carpenter bees, fighting heroin addiction, and possibly saving the McIntyre Federal Building in Portsmouth. In the same way Bennett encouraged the audience of 100 people to “say yes,” this year’s TEDx asked attendees to help out local nonprofits. The event’s theme was “What’s Your Im[PACT]?” and three area nonprofits — the Untied Way of the Greater Seacoast, Safe Harbor Recover Center, and Results Seacoast NH/ME — were on hand to interact with and get help from the audience. Each audience member was asked to choose one of the three organizations and pledge to help out in some way.

“It didn’t take much encouragement for our crowd to start engaging with these organizations. I heard many passionate and positive conversations, people so happy to connect and share their ideas and offer their services to these important organizations,” said event organizer Crystal Paradis. “This day went beyond inspiration and resulted in some true commitments to better our community.”

TEDx5TEDxPiscataquaRiver host Nicole Galovski

The event highlighted a side of Portsmouth and the Seacoast not seen in the top-10 lists and national media coverage the region receives. Portsmouth, a city that has history, hospitality, and a working harbor, also has heroin and homelessness. Hidden among the playhouses, pubs, and parks is chronic poverty.

Mark Lefebvre and Sandi Coyle were at TEDx representing the Safe Harbor Recovery Center, a planned facility to help struggling addicts who have been through detox and rehab connect with support services and get back into the community. According to Lefebvre and Coyle, the center needs a location with access to public transportation and free parking. They also need $227,000 to help open the center.

According to Coyle, New Hampshire is the only New England state without community-based recovery services — an absence that’s been noticeable as the region looks for resources to fight heroin addiction. “TEDx is great to have so many different faces and skillsets (together), and to get in touch with people who might not have addiction on their radar,” she said.

Kristy Martino, better known as part of the Haigh + Martino branding agency in Portsmouth, is also a grassroots organizer for Results, a national anti-poverty organization. The response from TEDx attendees was “incredible,” she said.

“I was only aiming to get people to sign up, but I have a bunch who want to get involved by joining and taking an action,” she said.

TEDx4Sam Hayward, owner and chef at Foreside in Portland, Maine

The day’s speakers similarly focused on how to make a difference in one’s community. Sara Curry, owner of Bikram Yoga in Portsmouth, presented a talk titled “On the Mat to Recovery,” about a program she started that uses yoga to combat drug and alcohol addiction.

“New Hampshire boasts the highest per-capita illicit drug use in the nation. Our beautiful picturesque Seacoast town is in the midst of an epidemic,” she said. Curry started the “Sober Yogis” program as a response to the region’s heroin addiction epidemic and it’s having a positive impact, she said.

One of the speakers was only 19 years old. TJ Evarts, whose talk was titled, “The Kidpreneuers Are Coming,” spoke about the importance of entrepreneurship in education. Evarts is a successful entrepreneur himself — he’s already created several inventions and has appeared on the TV show “Shark Tank.”

TEDx2TJ Evarts

Evarts’ message connected with two teenage audience members.

“I hadn’t heard about this before. I’m just excited that people come together to just geek out,” said Kelsey Walker of Barrington. Her friend and Berwick Academy classmate Doug Moore said he was also impressed, especially with Evarts.

“It’s pretty cool that someone only five years older than us did all of that,” Moore said.

Top of page: Reagan Ruedig, a historical preservation expert, speaks at         TEDxPiscataquaRiver.