At TEDx Event, Wide-Ranging Topics With An Underlying Theme: Connection

By Liora Engel-Smith The Keene Sentinel, N.H.

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) A recent TEDx event in New Hampshire tackled the topic of mental health and how forming purposeful connections can affect mood and behavior.

The Keene Sentinel, N.H.

A Thursday evening storytelling event that bills itself as a local platform for "ideas worth spreading" touched on family, mental health and social connection.

The speakers were local, but their ideas were universal.

This is the second time co-lead organizers Nikki Sauber of Nelson and Corinne Marcou of Fitzwilliam teamed up to put together a TEDx event.

Modeled after the famous TED conferences -- which feature talks from scientists, designers, leaders and entrepreneurs -- TEDx features short talks about big ideas. Keene's event, held at The Colonial Theatre, featured seven presentations from 12 speakers around the theme "upside down."

The event was organized by local volunteers and sponsored by the Hannah Grimes Center for Entrepreneurship, The Colonial Theatre and other local entities.

It was an evening that invited people to take a second look, Sauber said.

"We were moved by the social and political climate and the fact that a lot of perceptions that a lot of people have been living with or holding have been turned upside down, so we thought that this theme would entice speakers and presenters who might have something really powerful to share around that theme."

And share they did.

Peter Starkey, a Keene native and executive director of Monadnock Area Peer Support Agency, peppered his talk with mundane, quirky personal details. He is obsessed with hot sauce, he told the audience of about 170 attendees. He has a crippling fear of skateboards. And he has "five star, perfectly curated" AirBnB and Uber ratings, he said.

But as the talk progressed, Starkey shared deeper tidbits, things that people don't often bring up: He talked about his social anxiety and depression. And he invited everyone in the audience to do the same in their personal lives, to connect with people not only based on the laundry list of likes and dislikes, but on a deeper level. And that may mean sharing emotional hardship with others as it comes, he said.

At Monadnock Area Peer Support Agency, he said, local people are doing just that. They offer support and hold each other accountable outside the confines of traditional mental health services. The agency is comprised of locals who are there to support one another. Though it does not offer treatment -- medication or therapy -- the agency offers something else.

It offers connection.

"Every day we try to turn the conversation upside down when it comes to mental health -- not approaching people based off of their weaknesses but off of their strengths, forming those purposeful connections and building relationships," Starkey said.

And those relationships, he said, can be a salve for challenges many in the region struggle with: loneliness and isolation.

Later in the evening, another pair of speakers built on the theme of making connections. In a talk that resembled a cozy back-and-forth over family photos, Amanda Bastoni and Anthony David, both of Peterborough, told the audience how they went from being strangers to relatives, if not by blood than by heart.

Bastoni met David when she worked as a teacher at ConVal Regional High School in Peterborough. Three years ago, David, now 21, was a student in transition, he said. Before he was 17, he had moved 13 times. He then moved out of his parents' house and was in the process of being declared homeless.

One day, after hearing about David's struggles, Bastoni asked him to come live with her family. It was a spur-of-the moment request, they told the audience. She hadn't even asked her husband if it was OK before she offered, she said, and there was no real plan for his move.

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