Grantee Update: The Locker Project

The Locker Project began unofficially in 2010 when Katie Wallace was volunteering helping set up “snack time” at her daughter’s classroom at Portland’s East End Community School. When she saw the number of kids who didn’t have snacks during the day and realized the number of families who likely were without enough food at home, Wallace worked with the Good Shepherd Food Bank through a $4,000 grant to create the first food pantry at the East End School. The Locker Project was formed in 2014 to replicate Katie's pantry to more schools in Portland. Since 2014, the Locker Project has made rapid progress toward the goal of providing healthy food to children and families through school-based food pantries, distributing produce at scheduled sites throughout Greater Portland, and providing nutritious food for children and families to take home from special events. The simple goal of allowing every student access to nourishing food at snack time has turned into a program that has stretched to 24 schools in southern Maine.

In November 2015, when the Locker Project was in its first year of official nonprofit status, the Sam L. Cohen Foundation made a modest operating support grant of $7,500 to support their work in southern Maine schools and to assist the Locker Project as they strengthened their board and professionalized their operations. The Locker Project had one paid employee (a part-time Director), and a small group of dedicated volunteers that maintained food pantries at eight schools. During the grant year, the Locker Project team opened pantries at eight additional schools and doubled the number of children served. In recognition of their mission and their efficient and energetic approach, the Foundation made a second operating support grant ($10,000) in November 2017. The Locker Project has expanded the Director’s position to full-time and added a part-time delivery driver and a part-time volunteer coordinator to the staff. They now serve children in southern Maine through 24 school-based food pantries, and in some cases the food pantries were started by students at the school with the Locker Project acting as consultants to the project. On August 30th the Locker Project opened a new pantry at the Head Start Program at the East End Children’s Workshop. To ensure the greatest access to the most kids, the Locker Project began setting up tables outside of schools and youth centers (including SLCF grantees My Place Teen Center and Boys and Girls Club) where children can help themselves to fresh produce and nutritious food. They now set up free produce stations at 19 sites around Greater Portland, and the Locker Project is present in the community every weekday of the month. The Locker Project’s speedy success is due in part to their nimble approach to problem solving and their willingness to contribute to partnerships in ways that are appropriate to their scale and resources.  When Wayside Food Program and Cultivating Community provide a free, full dinner at a “pop-up picnic” in a low-income neighborhood, the Locker Project schedules volunteers to staff tables with free produce, meat, and bread. The Locker Project works closely with Good Shepherd Food Bank, serving as a small specialized arm of Good Shepherd’s larger statewide effort, and Mayo Street Arts (another SLCF grantee) hosted a community dance party, “Blue Moon Ball,” to benefit the Locker Project.

Since the Sam L. Cohen Foundation’s early support in 2015 and continued support in 2017, the Locker Project is on task to meet their mission to connect food-insecure children in Maine with nourishing food to improve their learning capacity, health, and future. More about their mission and program is available at http://mainelockerproject.org/about/media/

 

Grantee Update: Gulf of Maine Research Institute

In 2004, a Sam L. Cohen Foundation grant of $300,000 provided transformational support to the Gulf of Maine Research Institute (GMRI). The Foundation Initiated Grant supported GMRI’s education initiative, LabVenture!, in a new Sam L. Cohen Center for Interactive Learning (SLCCIL). GMRI has grown rapidly since opening the laboratory and education center in 2005. What began as a staff of fewer than 20 and an operating budget of $3.5 million is now an $11 million annual operation that employs more than 70 scientists, seafood experts, and education professionals. Since the SLCF grant in 2004, the Foundation has made grants to GMRI to ensure that students from York County experience the SLCCIL and most recently to support the staff position to lead a complete re-design of the SLCCIL. To date more than 120,000 Maine students have visited the SLCCIL. On June 1, students from Bonny Eagle Middle School in Standish were the last group to experience the former layout of the SLCCIL.  This summer, with the help of a $6.5 million grant from NASA, the Sam L. Cohen Center for Interactive Learning will be transformed into a new, higher-tech interactive experience for Maine’s 5th and 6th graders.

When the Center re-opens on September 21, the SLCCIL will feature a mix of both high- and low-tech methods and real-life scientific inquiry where students gather data, test theories, and compare evidence regarding fish and marine life in the Gulf of Maine. The new SLCCIL will have a two-story, wall-sized topographical map of the Gulf of Maine and state-of-the-art projection technology to broadcast data and video streams on a panorama screen. Students will work in teams at table-top touch screens where they will perform virtual experiments, like dissecting black sea bass to determine whether their diets are impacting lobster population, and compare their findings to data collected by GMRI scientists. Students are introduced through video to a variety of experts including GMRI’s lead scientist, a Maine lobsterman who has an academic background in science, and a doctoral candidate who is studying the impact of black sea bass on lobster in the Gulf of Maine. The re-designed SLCCIL has the potential to reach thousands of school children over the next decade, and more than 50% of GMRI’s school-aged visitors come from York and Cumberland County. In addition to school audiences, GRMI plans to extend the reach of the SLCCIL to include adult learners through new programs and events hosted there.

GMRI celebrates the new Sam L. Cohen Center for Interactive Learning in conjunction with the conclusion of a separate fundraising campaign for operating and endowment funds. That campaign launched in 2014 and created endowments to fund leadership positions, research scientists, and transportation costs for student visits to the SLCCIL. The endowment campaign concluded this summer when GMRI met its $22.8 million campaign goal.

PIWC

Grantee Update: Greater Portland Immigrant Welcome Center

The Greater Portland Immigrant Welcome Center (GPIWC) celebrates its first anniversary on July 31, a milestone that marks 12 months of rapid growth in programs, increased visibility, and expanded community outreach. GPIWC was established by a group of new Mainers, local entrepreneurs, and Portland-based nonprofit leaders with a vision of creating a hub for immigrant-led small businesses and entrepreneurial new Mainers. Located at 24 Preble St., near the Portland Public Library, GPIWC has nearly 4,000 square-feet of office space and offers co-working space, meeting space, peer-to-peer mentorship, and programs that pair established Maine business leaders with new Mainers. In November 2017, the Sam L. Cohen Foundation made a $30,000 grant to support operations at GPIWC. Since that grant, GPIWC’s Board and Executive Director have established a three-pronged approach to their work that continues the emphasis on immigrant-led businesses and adds an English language program and a citizenship and civic engagement initiative.

GPIWC’s available co-working and individual office space is at 99% occupancy, and at the close of their first year the business hub is very close to being self-sustaining. GPIWC offers member benefits including connections to services at SCORE and Seaport Credit Union. For example, Seaport is working with GPIWC to establish a small business loan program that can support specific needs of new Mainers. With the success of the business hub, GPIWC’s board decided to expand into a second floor of their building, and the Board contributed 80% of the funds necessary for the expansion. This expanded space will include additional office space for lease as well as a large digital language lab. The new language lab will feature state-of-the-art technology that allows individualized language instruction for as many as 20 adults per class, and the technology can be customized to accommodate specific jobs or work environments. UNUM recently made a $25,000 contribution to the language lab, and GPIWC is in conversations with MEMIC, WEX, and Clark Insurance to determine how those companies can transition GPIWC language lab students into employment. The expanded space will also house resources for GPIWC’s citizenship and civic engagement initiative including citizenship tool kits, information about voter registration, and information about Seaport Credit Union’s low-barrier loans to cover citizenship fees. The citizenship and civic engagement initiative was developed by the GPIWC board with the belief that “we can’t build an inclusive economy without an inclusive democracy,” and the initiative is supported by an advisory committee that includes leaders in the immigrant community as well as former Maine legislator Justin Alfond and Cathy Lee of Lee International Consultants.

When the Sam L. Cohen Foundation made the grant to GPIWC in November 2017, the organization was just beginning its fourth month of operations, and the grant was made to support the planned vision of GPIWC. Since then, with the Cohen Foundation’s grant and on-going support from the Broadreach Fund at the Maine Community Foundation, GPIWC continues to strengthen its corporate partnerships and to work with both immigrant-led and established nonprofits to meet their mission to serve as a hub of collaboration that strengthens the immigrant community and all of Greater Portland.

 

MSM

The Maine State Museum and the exhibition “Maine+Jewish: 200 Years”

“Maine+Jewish: 200 Years” is a first-of-its-kind exhibition for the Maine State Museum.  The exhibition will use more than 150 artifacts alongside historic and contemporary photographs, artwork by Maine artists, video, and interactive displays to tell the story of two centuries of Jewish community in Maine. While Maine State Museum staff has organized large-scale exhibitions on subjects ranging from “Malaga Island, Fragmented Lives” to “Maine Voices from the Civil War,” this is the first exhibition they’ve mounted that focuses on a single Maine community and studies the history, present, and future of a living community in Maine. It is also the largest (2,000 sq. ft.) public exhibition on Maine Jewry ever presented. The planning process also is new to the Museum as it involves a guest curator, a community advisory group, student-designed pop-up exhibitions, and input from community conversations throughout the state. In spring 2016, the Sam L. Cohen Foundation made a grant of $40,000 (paid over two years) to support the research and development of the exhibition.

Since the 2016 grant, Guest Curator Dr. Amy Waterman has travelled throughout Maine locating unusual historic pieces as well as works by artists living in Maine. Visitors will be introduced to the exhibition by entering a modern interpretation of a full-sized sukkah designed and installed by artist Asherah Cinnamon. The exhibition will be divided into various themes such as immigration, life cycle events, work and work life, community, and philanthropy. Themes are illustrated by a wide variety of artifacts including traditional elements, like the Havdalah spice box from Etz Chaim Congregation, Biddeford, in contrast with more whimsical ones, such as the mid-century Purim noisemaker decorated with Halloween illustrations or a moose menorah on loan from Angus King and Mary Herman, as well as somber subjects in photographs by Judith Glickman Lauder. Visitors can interact with artist Jo Israelson’s piece “Sarah’s Generosity” which features hand-printed aprons with pockets that hold information about the Jewish women on House Island who welcomed immigrants to Maine.  The centerpiece of the “life cycle events” section is a Torah ark from Temple Beth Israel, Lewiston which was disassembled onsite at the synagogue and will be re-built in a special alcove of the exhibition.

This exhibition is a truly unique and transformational one for the Maine State Museum.  Some of the objects in the exhibition are lent by historical societies and synagogues, but many come from individual Maine families. In several instances, those loans have been converted into gifts to the Maine State Museum’s collection which helps the Museum build a strong permanent collection related to Maine’s Jewish history.  The exhibition has an accompanying online curriculum for Maine schools and a 40-page exhibition catalogue. Both will be available during the exhibition and after it closes. “Maine+Jewish: 200 Years” opens on September 14, 2018 and will be on view for 18 months. Maine State Museum staff estimate that of the 75,000 visitors to the exhibition, 30,000 will visit on school tours and through education programs.  

 

Engine

Engine in Biddeford

Engine is a small arts organization that has had a big impact on downtown Biddeford. Engine’s mission is to promote art and design as an engine for economic development. For its first two years, Engine operated without a home base with founder Tammy Ackerman installing temporary exhibitions in vacant spaces in the North Dam Mill, facilitating artist gatherings, and coordinating the monthly Biddeford Artwalk. In 2010, Engine and a consortium of Biddeford redevelopment organizations received the first Creative Communities Economic Development grant from the Maine Arts Commission, and Engine secured a physical location on Main St. in Biddeford. Engine stages ten visual arts exhibitions annually and hosts weekly large and small scale public events ranging from art parties and film festivals to concerts and community dinners.  Director Tammy Ackerman is a regular member of city planning committees, Biddeford School committees, and small business work groups. Engine has become a magnet for designers, artists, and entrepreneurs looking to capitalize on Biddeford’s affordability and the potential of a rejuvenated Main St.

In spring 2016, the Sam L. Cohen Foundation made a grant of $12,500 to strengthen Engine’s work with Biddeford youth. At the time of the grant, Engine had a strong slate of programs for adults, but felt they weren’t reaching their potential with younger audiences. During the grant period, Engine hired its first Education Coordinator and reached out to Biddeford Schools to collaborate in bringing more kids to Engine’s downtown studios. The resulting programs include a year-long illustration studio class and a multi-part computer animation class for Biddeford Middle and High School students taught by professional illustrators and animators, as well as sold-out school vacation week “Maker’s Camps” taught by students in the Maine College of Art’s MAT program, and regular drop-in hours in Engine’s “FabLab” where Biddeford High School students help younger kids use computers for graphic design, animation, and 3-D design using the “FabLab” 3-D printers. With Engine’s focus on arts and entrepreneurs, they created the “Makers & Marketers Club” where, with the help of a community mentor, students tackle and execute the design process from commission to client approval to market placement. The new logo for the City of Biddeford’s “Age-Friendly Biddeford” campaign was designed by a student in Engine’s “Makers & Marketers Club.” Biddeford Middle School enlisted the club to create a video to educate parents about the school’s new project-based curriculum. With support from the Sam L. Cohen Foundation, Engine is applying the same entrepreneurial approach to its youth programming that it brings to its community development efforts.

While Engine is expanding youth programs, the organization continues work on a major restoration project for a future home—the Marble Block Building. In 2010, while researching viable storefronts, Engine developed a relationship with Bob and Mary Kate Reny, whose family trust still owned a vacant 18,000 square foot white marble-face building on lower Main St. The Renys sold the vacant building – referred to as the Marble Block – to Engine for $1 in 2011, in support of Engine’s mission to create a space for the arts on Main Street. Seven years later, Engine has received grants from the EPA ($400,000) the Southern Maine Planning/Development Commission ($200,000), the Quimby Family Foundation, the Maine Community Foundation, and others to restore the building. Engine recently received a $25,000 economic development grant to work on a business plan that would incorporate York County Community College activities into the Marble Block Building, and the Engine board is working with a consultant on a feasibility study for a capital campaign. Plans include expanded exhibition space, a rooftop garden to supply an on-site café, and improved space for the youth programs were seeded with the 2016 Sam L. Cohen Foundation grant.

 

Cultivating Community

Cultivating Community

Since 2001, Cultivating Community has used local, healthy gardening projects to strengthen neighborhoods, entice Portland youth to be more involved in their city, and assist farmers with sustainable growing practices. CC’s original program provided garden-based education and nutrition education to schools throughout southern Maine, including five Title I elementary schools. Programs that followed include: a teen gardener program that now delivers annually more than 2,000 pounds of vegetables to low-income seniors and others needing food assistance; a network of farm stands accessible to people of all incomes by facilitating SNAP and WIC access at the stands; a mobile farm stand, the Grow Cart, that sets up shop in low-income communities. Cultivating Community’s New American Sustainable Agriculture Project (NASAP) helps immigrant and refugee farmers build successful farm businesses. In spring of 2015, CC opened Portland’s first major rooftop garden on the roof of a downtown affordable housing building. The Sam L. Cohen Foundation was an early supporter of Cultivating Community’s efforts, and the most recent grant in Spring 2017 has already yielded strong results.

In 2017, Cultivating Community (CC) used a $15,000 grant from the Foundation to launch an initiative that makes the city’s community gardens accessible to low-income residents. Cultivating Community saw the community gardens as a potential resource for low-income Portland residents to have healthy, affordable, home-grown food and to introduce them to fellow gardeners in their neighborhoods. Working with the city, CC established two new gardens—one in Libbytown and the other in East Bayside’s Kennedy Park. To advertise the new program and the new garden plots, CC harnessed the energy of students in the Youth Leaders program and tasked the teens with spreading the word in their home neighborhoods. Since many of the students are multi-lingual, they were able to explain the opportunity to adults with limited English, going door-to-door describing the benefits of home-grown produce. During the marketing effort, teens knocked on 200 doors of low-income households and hosted 22 community-building events. CC collaborated with Wayside Food Program (a SLCF grantee) and others for Pop-Up Picnics at the gardens with music, gardening education, and activities for kids. While CC is only half-way through the grant year, the Foundation’s $15,000 investment in the program has already seen significant returns in the community.

Cultivating Community set a goal for the project that in two years 25% of the community gardeners would self-identify as low-income, and the program met that goal in its first eight months. The gardens now have room for 546 gardeners—46 more than last year, and because of the added plots, wait-time to participate has been reduced from four seasons in 2013 to one season in 2016. Cultivating Community was able to use the $15,000 grant from the Foundation to leverage funds from other foundations to create a scholarship pool for families who cannot afford the fee for a garden plot. As a result, the number of community gardeners who participated in 2017 and who self-identified as low-income by applying for a plot fee scholarship increased to more than 100. Only ten households received fee plot scholarships in 2013. The program will build on its 2017 success as Cultivating Community explores new ways to engage more Portland families in programs and projects that promote and provide healthy, home-grown produce.

 

PPL

Early Literacy and the Sam L. Cohen Children’s Library at the Portland Public Library

The Portland Public Library has a strong (and long) tradition of engaging children and families through books, programs, and services designed to educate and entertain. The Library celebrated its 150th birthday in 2017. Since 2010 when the Portland Public Library (PPL), opened its renovated downtown building with the support of a $300,000 foundation-initiated grant, the Library has intensified efforts to reach its youngest patrons. The renovations included the opening of the Sam L. Cohen Children’s Library which hosts as many as 20 programs each month for children and their families. Programs in the Sam L. Cohen Children’s Library range from story-hours and sing-a-longs to the popular “Come! Sit! Read!” with PPL’s Reading Dogs the “Smart Girls Read” book group, “Family Science Backpacks” to borrow, and “Eat Your Words” workshops combining children’s books and recipes. 

In 2015 the Library used a $26,000 responsive grant from the Foundation to formalize and assess a slate of programs offered at the Sam L. Cohen Children’s Library. The grant supported programs for children 0-5 in five critical early literacy practices: talking, singing, reading, writing, and playing. The grant also allowed Library staff to create a more structured approach to PPL's Summer Reading program for children ages 5-12. The Summer Reading program works to reduce the notorious "summer slide" in reading skills and keep children on track with reading at grade level. PPL measured outcomes as well as program attendance, using a program evaluation method developed for public libraries, and they saw a strong response to their surveys. Participating parents reported significant increases in frequency of time their kids spent reading (82%) as well as increased confidence in reading (89%) among other positive outcomes.

While the assessment of the PPL program was strong, the grant to the Library had additional positive effects. The Library was able to use the assessment to demonstrate the effectiveness of PPL’s Summer Reading program to other organizations (many of which are SLCF grantees) and help those organizations replicate the Library’s approach for their students. For example, two important community players, The Portland Public Schools and the Boys and Girls Clubs, have adopted the PPL’s model for Summer Reading. The 2015 grant also increased visibility of the Library’s Pre-K programs, and the Early Literacy Librarian in the Sam L. Cohen Children’s Library now provides training to teachers at the Opportunity Alliance’s Public Pre-K and to Head Start teachers. And the Library’s Director, Sarah Campbell, represents PPL at Portland ConnectEd.  In 2018 the ripple effects of that 2015 responsive grant continue as the Library will work with the Portland Schools and Boys and Girls Clubs to launch the “Card for Every Student” initiative.