Grantee Update: Maine Association of Nonprofits
The onset of the coronavirus was a call to action for nonprofits across the country, and the Maine Association of Nonprofits responded by taking on a new role. While MANP continues to offer their scheduled programs for 2020, the need in the nonprofit sector and their communities pushed MANP to a different level of advocacy for nonprofits and ground level emergency assistance. As nonprofits and other large and small businesses faced shutdowns, the MANP help desk was flooded with questions about federal funds, health and safety protocols, and crisis communication strategies. As Maine nonprofits looked for guidance about continuing day-to-day operations, the federal government was negotiating large stimulus efforts and loans with ever-shifting requirements and constantly evolving application processes. MANP staff had to quickly shift from its planned programming and invent a new rapid response approach.
Within the first days of the shutdown, MANP recruited 15 volunteers to serve on a rapid response team. These volunteers assisted MANP staff in answering the many help desk calls related to the virus, especially when the federal government announced the Paycheck Protection Plan loans. In addition to quick phone calls, volunteers offered longer one-on-one coaching through some of the more complicated issues and applications. MANP hosted two live webinars about the PPP loan program, one of which was targeted to small, immigrant-led nonprofits. In August, MANP repeated this approach with live webinars to educate nonprofits about Maine’s $200 million Small Business Relief Fund. MANP’s website features current guidance about safely reopening facilities, resiliency in the “new normal,” and volunteer management during the pandemic.
MANP’s Executive Director, Jennifer Hutchins, represents the sector on the Governor’s Economic Recovery Committee which was formed in April. The committee was charged with recommending allocations for the $1.4 billion in federal funds that came to Maine through the federal CARES Act. With Maine nonprofits included in the decisions, MANP shared data about the impact of the nonprofit sector on Maine’s economy and their role in filling gaps in social services. The Committee’s recommended funding allocations prioritize Maine’s small businesses, and nonprofits are not only included but discussed in detail in the Committee’s resulting report.
The Maine Association of Nonprofits is the only organization statewide whose mission is to strengthen the effectiveness of nonprofits. The Sam L. Cohen Foundation has awarded grants to MANP to support their programs to build nonprofit board capacity, to plan for leadership change, and to strengthen immigrant-led nonprofits. In the Spring 2020 grant cycle, the Foundation awarded MANP a $10,000 grant to continue their diversity, equity, and inclusion initiative. The DEI work was in motion well before the Black Lives Matter protests and marches this summer, but that movement has pushed many nonprofits to reconsider how race and equity factor into their organizations. MANP's equity work continues alongside their new COVID-19 supports and advocacy efforts as MANP and the nonprofits they serve respond to immediate community needs and the long-term impact of events of 2020.
Grantee Update: York County Community Action Corporation
Based in Sanford, the York County Community Action Corporation (YCCAC) is one of only a few organizations in the country that is both a community action agency and a federally qualified community health center. They serve nearly 20,000 individuals annually through a wide range of supports and programs. YCCAC is a Head Start and Early Head Start center as well as serving low-income mothers through the federal WIC program. Their Nasson Health Center offers medical, dental, and behavioral health services at three locations (Biddeford, Sanford/Springvale, and North Berwick). YCCAC also offers transportation to clients through a local rides program and Connection to Cancer Care program, and they provide economic supports including tax preparation and legal advocacy. While many of YCCAC’s programs align with Foundation priorities, past grants have been directed to YCCAC’s heating assistance and weatherization programs, and in spring 2020 SLCF made $30,000 in COVID-19 emergency grants to the agency. In 2019, the Foundation awarded YCCAC a $25,000 grant to expand their pilot “Whole Family” approach into their health care centers.
In the health center setting, the Whole Family approach looks at the conditions surrounding a family that influence and impact their health. Providers at YCCAC’s health centers focus on the patient’s immediate physical symptoms, and a new screening tool helps medical providers learn more about a patient’s living conditions and access to basic needs in order to improve that patient’s health. Patients answer questions about their and their children’s housing, transportation, food security, employment, and access to social services. This wholistic approach allows providers to make a diagnosis for basic needs alongside their medical diagnosis. Because YCCAC offers such a wide range of supports, a YCCAC staff person can use a basic needs diagnosis to connect a patient in YCCAC’s health center to corresponding services within the agency. SLCF’s $25,000 grant helped YCCAC purchase the necessary screening tool for this approach and dedicate a half-time position to client referrals within the agency. In the first five months of 2020, 65 patients were referred to other YCCAC services. Since the COVID-19 crisis, YCCAC had about the same number (68 referrals) in just the two months of June and July. For both periods, housing/homelessness, transportation, and food insecurity were the top three referral needs. Ultimately, YCCAC’s goal for this approach is to demonstrate that investing in social services for families will reduce medical costs. One of the long-term objectives of this work is to engage the health system in advocacy for social service needs, and YCCAC hopes this SLCF-funded screening and referral system can assist that effort.
The Nasson Health Center is a Maine CDC-designated “swab and send” site for COVID-19 testing with test results returned within 48 hours. This emergency role as a testing site and the impact of the virus on YCCAC clients is stretching the agency’s capacity, but YCCAC remains committed to the Whole Family approach and expansion of the screening and referral system as integral to their future work in York County.
Grantee Update: Lake Region Senior Service
Reliable, affordable transportation is a critical need for Maine’s seniors, people with disabilities, and those receiving medical treatments that can be numerous and draining. Especially for rural Mainers, lack of transportation can severely limit access to medical care and treatments. In 2002, a group of volunteers at the Bridgton Community Center saw this need among their neighbors and friends and organized a loose network of volunteer drivers to help. Six years later, the group filed for nonprofit status and became the Lake Region Senior Service. They’ve been successful raising funds to reimburse volunteer drivers’ mileage. Since 2012, the Sam L. Cohen Foundation has awarded a total of $36,000 in grants to support their efforts in rural Cumberland County.
After more than a decade, Lake Region Senior Service is still an all-volunteer, grassroots community effort. With nearly 20 volunteer drivers and a volunteer scheduler, Lake Region Senior Services serves 33 towns in southern Maine. Half-way through their current Sam L. Cohen Foundation grant period, the volunteers have provided 527 rides to more than 400 clients in rural Cumberland County. Drivers bring clients to appointments at local doctors’ offices as well as to Maine Medical Center in Portland and their cancer center in Scarborough. Lake Region Senior Services approach offers a “through-the-door” service rather than “door-to-door.” Volunteer drivers often wait with their clients during the appointment, helping when necessary. If long-term appointments (such as radiology) are necessary, the driver will get a copy of the appointment schedule to give to the dispatcher, so the client’s future rides will be scheduled immediately. Their "perfect record" of never having dropped a ride (leaving a client without transportation) is a special point of pride. Lakes Region Senior Services has maintained their perfect record for more than 14 years.
Prior to the COVID-19 crisis, Lake Region Senior Services saw an increase in younger clients due to a growing number of rural residents with appointments related to substance abuse. With the onset of the shelter in place orders, most non-critical medical appointments were cancelled by physicians and medical facilities and many clients postponed or cancelled non-critical appointments as well. However, Lake Region Senior Services was able to keep up with critical medical appointments with the help of two, willing volunteer drivers and a new set of safety protocols. Now, as COVID-19 restrictions are lifting at medical offices, Lake Region Senior Services is seeing a surge of ride requests as clients scramble to ‘catch up’ on their appointments. Like all businesses and organizations in the private and nonprofit sectors, Lake Region Senior Services is going to rely on its history of flexibility and volunteer enthusiasm to continue to meet its mission.
Grantee Update: The Locker Project and COVID-19
In just five years The Locker Project has grown from one parent’s plan to create a food pantry at her daughter’s school to playing a critical role in feeding children in southern Maine. The Sam L. Cohen Foundation was one of the organization’s first foundation supporters, awarding a $7,500 operating grant in 2015. Since then the Foundation has made grants in 2017 ($10,000) and 2019 ($15,000) to support their expanded efforts. With the onset of COVID-19 and the subsequent school closings, The Locker Project shifted their delivery systems and redirected staff to try to keep up with the deepening need for healthy meals for Portland-area school children. Last week, the Foundation granted $10,000 in emergency funds to support this work.
When schools closed, The Locker Project’s in-school food pantries were shuttered as well, but the organization was able to pivot quickly in response. For the past two December school vacation breaks, The Locker Project provided meal bags for students to take home with food either donated from grocery stores or purchased from Good Shepherd Food Bank. The Locker Project is using this school vacation delivery model now, and in the first nine days of their COVID-19 response program, they distributed 718 bags of healthy staples and produce through outdoor school meals sites in Greater Portland. The bags had more than 14,000 pantry items and 5,000 pounds of fruits and vegetables. In the first weeks of delivery, staff worked with employees from Morgan Stanley who helped pack bags with food from Hannaford and Sam’s Club. As supplies of fresh produce and nonperishables dwindled at grocery stores, The Locker Project saw an 80% decrease in available food. This pushed them to move to a new system. Good Shepherd Food Bank is working with L.L. Bean employees to pack boxes of food for Good Shepherd’s nonprofit partners, and Good Shepherd offers these boxes free of charge. This is good news for The Locker Project, because they won’t pay for the food, but it also presents a new challenge. The boxes weigh approximately 34 pounds, and many of The Locker Project’s families use public transportation and walk to and from the pick-up locations. It’s likely The Locker Project will try to harness the energy of the many offers of volunteers to shift boxed supplies into The Locker Project’s bags, but for now the staff is limiting volunteer assistance due to safety concerns. Their three part-time staff are working expanded hours in the warehouse and delivery to meet demand. Each week, The Locker Project delivers 100 bags of food to each of 14 sites including: eight elementary schools in Portland, four elementary schools in South Portland, and Westbrook High School).
In addition to the Sam L. Cohen Foundation’s $10,000 emergency grant, The Locker Project received a $10,000 emergency grant from the Maine Community Foundation and a $15,000 emergency grant from Harvard Pilgrim. More about their mission and their COVID-19 response can be found at: http://mainelockerproject.org/covid-19-updates/
Grantee Update: In Her Presence
In 2015, two women co-founded In Her Presence with a goal to ensure that Maine’s economic agenda included aspirations and needs of immigrant women. Claudette Ndayininahaze and Abusama “Micky” Bondo initially became friends through their shared experience of immigrating to the United States. Micky came to the US from the DR Congo in 1996. In the Congo and in Belgium, she earned advanced degrees in biochemistry with a specialty in sickle cell research. With limited English and entering a system that didn’t accept her academic credentials, Micky spent her first years in the US working at MacDonald’s before going back to school to earn the two Associates Degrees that would lead her to a position as produce buyer/manager for one of Georgia’s largest grocery stores. In 2014, Claudette came to the US from Burundi, where she had been the National Sales Manager for Heineken Corp. and had served as the President of the Board of the national Girl Scouts Association. Claudette has described in interviews the isolation and frustration that she experienced working in housekeeping at Maine Medical Center when she first arrived in Portland. They began In Her Presence (IHP) from their shared understanding of the importance of a strong network of immigrant women and to teach immigrant women to value themselves and their aspirations.
At first in 2015, IHP was a small gathering of women at Portland Parkside Neighborhood Center focusing on wellness and stress reduction. Today IHP is a multi-pronged effort to support immigrant women through English-language conversation classes, health advocacy courses, and career planning assistance. English classes are offered in collaboration with USM and the Portland Public Library and led by two women who were early participants in IHP’s programs. The Library provides childcare—when women are attending the language program, their children participate in guided literacy activities in the Sam L. Cohen Children’s Library. The Health Advocacy program includes a curriculum designed by three nurses and seeks to demystify the cultural taboos around women’s health and arm immigrant women with a working vocabulary as well as the confidence to advocate for themselves at medical appointments. IHP’s career planning efforts focus on fighting “brain waste” and helping immigrant women reach their potential in the work force. As IHP’s programs have expanded, so has their impact and their visibility in the community. There were 15 women in IHR’s first English language class in 2015, and in 2018 IHR has 85 participants in the class.
Along with IHP’s growing impact, the organization’s visibility and community support is growing. IHP’s co-founders were featured in the national podcast, “50 Feminist States” sharing the story of the organization and representing Maine. Micky Bondo serves on the Board of Portland Public Schools and the Board of The Opportunity Alliance. She is also a regular presenter and workshop leader for the Nellie Mae Foundation. Claudette Ndayininahaze worked as a cultural broker for The Opportunity Alliance until her recent move to the Center for Grieving Children where she manages the Intercultural Program. She also sits on several nonprofit boards in Portland. United Way of Greater Portland’s THRIVE2027 initiative supported the first two years of In Her Presence’s English-language conversation classes at the Portland Public Library, and IHP has earned regular support from the Maine Community Foundation’s People of Color Fund and from Maine Initiatives. This support complements the Sam L. Cohen Foundation’s $10,000 operating support grant awarded in 2019. IHP also is part of a larger collaboration with another Foundation grantee—ProsperityME. IHP and ProsperityME share a mission of supporting New Mainers as they find fulfilling work and stable financial footing. The Bill and Joan Alfond Foundation awarded a three-year $250,000 for their shared work in women’s economic empowerment. Now working with women from 15 different countries, In Her Presence is expanding its reach while maintaining its founders’ original mission to create a safe and supportive space for immigrant women to meet their potential.
The Sam L. Cohen Foundation hasn’t typically supported podcasts or radio broadcasts, but two recent grants to Safe Space Radio demonstrate the medium’s potential to tackle topics that are important to the Foundation. Safe Space Radio began as a weekly broadcast on WMPG, a Portland-based radio station. The program is now a podcast with more than 300 episodes and more than 1,000 subscribers. Among a range of topics, segments have addressed mental illness, addiction, bullying, suicide, domestic violence, and homelessness. A 2013 grant of $7,500 helped Safe Space Radio’s all-volunteer staff produce a radio show focused on public health, and since then Safe Space Radio has grown to include a staff of four part-time employees led by Safe Space Radio’s founder, psychiatrist Dr. Anne Hallward. In 2018, the Foundation awarded a $10,000 grant for Safe Space Radio’s “Can We Talk?” series which included a four-part podcast series with each episode dedicated to a different topic. Topics included: navigating discussions about race and racism with children, the toll loneliness takes on health, the power of apologies, and asking for help.
Safe Space Radio used their 2018 Sam L. Cohen Foundation grant to try something new. The four-part “Can We Talk?” series included expanded offerings and deeper community engagement. Working with organizations throughout the state, Safe Space Radio organized 12 listening and discussion events. Many of the partner organizations are Sam L. Cohen Foundation grantees, including Maine Inside Out, EqualityME, Maine Wabanaki-REACH, Shalom House, and University of New England. Attendees listened to the podcasts together and each location was selected for its connection to the content of the podcast. Safe Space Radio created discussion guides to accompany each program which extends the usefulness of the episodes for future groups.
At the time the grant was awarded, Safe Space Radio was working with Maine Public Radio to broadcast the “Can We Talk?” series and promote the listening and discussion events. Maine Public Radio decided to broadcast the series in May 2019 as part of National Mental Health Awareness month, and the series drew national attention through additional broadcasts at other public radio stations. WBUR in Boston broadcast the series as well as public radio stations in New Orleans, San Diego, and Houston. All four of the “Can We Talk?” podcasts are available online at www.safespaceradio.com as well as on Maine Public Radio’s website.
The use of new media to tackle current issues is an interesting approach. Safe Space Radio’s “Can We Talk?” series and correlating public events, allowed the organization to use an online program to foster a face-to-face, focused community discussion. At the same time, their outreach to public radio stations across the country broadened the conversation to include a national audience. Inspired by the success of the first “Can We Talk” mini-series, Safe Space Radio plans to launch a similar series in 2020 with a focus on climate change in partnership with the National Wildlife Federation, the Nature Conservancy, and 350.org.
Grantee Update: Maine Historical Society
Energized by new curators and educators, the Maine Historical Society’s exhibitions and programs are reaching new and increasingly diverse audiences. In recent years, the Sam L. Cohen Foundation has made small grants to the Maine Historical Society (MHS) to support connections between local school children and local history. MHS has made regular requests to the Foundation, but the Board has awarded grants only for those projects that expand curriculum to include new ways of exploring the intersections between Maine’s history, science, and art. In the Spring 2018 grant cycle, MHS proposed an exhibition to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Maine statehood, using a non-traditional planning process and an inclusive team of co-curators. The resulting exhibition, “Holding Up the Sky: Wabanaki People, Culture, History and Art” opened in April and is on view through February 1, 2020. Along with the exhibition MHS produced curriculum materials and professional development workshops for educators which were made possible by a $10,000 grant from the Foundation.
MHS made an interesting choice to put Wabanaki culture and history at the fore front of their state bicentennial celebration, and their structure for planning the exhibition was also new for the organization. The exhibition is one of the largest and most in-depth explorations of 13,000 years of Wabanaki residence in what is now known as Maine. “Holding Up the Sky” focuses on Wabanaki philosophies of leadership and obligation to humans and to nature, so MHS developed the exhibition with a team of advisors that included leaders from the Abenaki, Penobscot, Maliseet, and Passamaquoddy tribes. These seven Wabanaki advisors guided the exhibition, working with MHS staff and providing context and interpretation of artifacts and artwork in the exhibition. “Holding Up the Sky” includes historical artifacts and Wabanaki heritage items, but also contemporary art and even several pieces by Wabanaki artists that MHS commissioned. The Wabanaki co-curators guided MHS to ensure that the exhibition shows Wabanaki people in both contemporary and historic contexts. In addition to the exhibition, MHS worked with the Wabanaki advisors and with Maine classroom teachers to develop curriculum materials for use in grades 3 - 12. Since the exhibition opened in April, more than 1,100 students have visited the exhibition, and the response has been extremely positive. For example, in early 2020, Westbrook Schools has scheduled field trips for 800 students to see the exhibition. MHS has worked closely with Portland Public School’s Wabanaki Studies Coordinator to organize professional development for southern Maine teachers that aligns with state standards, and MHS brought one of those teacher workshops to northern Maine as well. Seventy teachers traveled from northern Maine towns to attend the MHS workshop in Brewer, Maine.
Teachers throughout the state will continue to access curriculum materials online after the exhibition closes, especially as MHS sees this Wabanaki-focused exhibition as the first of two exhibitions celebrating Maine’s Biennial. After “Holding Up the Sky” closes in February, MHS will open “State of Mind: Becoming Maine”. This second exhibition continues the conversation and explores Maine as the homeland of the Wabanaki people, as a European province, as part of the District of Massachusetts, and then as the State of Maine. Between the two exhibitions, and with support from the Sam L. Cohen Foundation, MHS is keeping Wabanaki culture in the classroom conversations as students discuss the long and comprehensive history of Maine.
Grantee Update: The Camden Conference in the Classroom
The Camden Conference began in the late 1980s to bring “the world to mid-coast Maine,” and since then the conference has expanded from a small-scale, one-day discussion to a series of educational events and public programs that continue through the year and reach into classrooms throughout Maine. Beginning in 2012, the Sam L. Cohen Foundation made a series of grants to the Camden Conference to assist their expansion into southern Maine and to support broadening their audience to include high school students and teachers.
Early grants to the Camden Conference supported a pilot program, Camden Conference in the Classroom, that brought students from Portland High School and their teachers to attend the conference. With the success of that SLCF-funded pilot, Camden Conference in the Classroom has expanded to include two professional development workshops for teachers where they develop curriculum specific to the Conference theme, student and teacher participation in the Conference, and an essay contest with prize money awarded to the winning students. The Sam L. Cohen Foundation’s 2018 grant of $5,000 supported participation for 43 students from five Cumberland County high schools and their teachers. The 2019 Camden Conference, “Is This China’s Century?”, brought international experts to Camden, livestreamed to sites throughout the state, and incorporated into Maine high school curricula. The subject inspired 17 Maine students to submit essays related to the Conference. Sophie Laurence from Gould Academy wrote the winning essay, entitled “Cybersovereignty: Redefining Digital Citizenship in the Cyber Era”. Second prize and third prize essays were awarded to students from Piscataquis Community High School, discussing “A Global Solution” and “Human Rights in China”. With support from the Sam L. Cohen Foundation, the Portland program has become the strongest of the Conference’s educational offerings. Because it serves a wide range of students from schools that are rural and urban, public and private, large and small, the program gives students access not only to the ideas and experts presented in the conference but also introduces them to a new peer group outside of their school.
The 2019-20 Camden Conference theme is “The Media Revolution: Changing the World” which will have interesting opportunities for public programs as well as high school curriculum. The Conference includes a program at Hannaford Hall on October 7 that discusses “Violence, Victims, and Healing: How the Media Covers Tragedies.” The program features journalists from the Boston Globe, the Press Gazette in Pittsburgh, and the Sun Sentinel in Florida, discussing their coverage of the Boston Marathon bombing, the Tree of Life massacre, and the mass shooting at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas School in Parkland. The three-day Conference in February will stream live from the Camden Opera House to three sites in Maine (the Hutchinson Center in Belfast, the Strand Theater in Rockland, and Hannaford Hall at University of Southern Maine in Portland) and to the Osher Life Long Learning Institute at Dartmouth College.
Grantee Update: Wayside Food Programs
The Sam L. Cohen Foundation has granted strong support for Wayside Food Programs for more than a decade. Wayside’s impact in Greater Portland grows out of its effective use of more than 800 volunteers and its efficient network for collecting, rescuing, and redistributing food. More than a food bank, Wayside has a dual mission of tackling food insecurity while building community around healthy meals. To meet its mission, Wayside Food Programs sources and redistributes salvaged and donated food to 50 programs and agencies throughout Cumberland County as well as organizing community meals at ten community sites. This approach to fostering community through nutritious, no-cost meals has drawn significant support from the Foundation. Since 2006, Wayside Food Programs has received five operating support grants ranging from $20,000 - $25,000.
Wayside Food Programs had two standout initiatives during the most recent grant period. Through a partnership with Cultivating Community (another long-time SLCF grantee), Wayside hosts an annual “Pop Up Picnic” series, offering tours of one of Cultivating Community’s community gardens, performances by local musicians, and outdoor games for families. Last year, attendance at Pop Up Picnics nearly doubled, and more than 600 meals were shared. The event is volunteer-driven and zero waste. The Wayside Catering Collective expanded during the grant period as well. The Wayside Catering Collective brings individuals and community groups to Wayside’s commercial kitchen to prepare meals for community gatherings using rescued ingredients. The meals often center around a specific cultural tradition. During the grant period, Wayside’s Catering Collective shared a record-breaking 1,350 meals with community groups at organized community gatherings. These special activities complement Wayside Food Programs’ ongoing activities. Wayside provides meals at community gatherings for thousands of food insecure seniors and families and offers more than 7,000 healthy snacks for youth in community programs.
In June, the City of Portland reached out to Wayside Food Programs to assist in the effort to welcome, shelter, and feed more than 200 asylum seekers who were housed at Portland’s Expo. Wayside was part of the team working alongside other SLCF grantees such as the Preble Street Resource Center, Maine Immigrants’ Rights Coalition, and Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project. Wayside Food Programs provided volunteers to prepare and deliver lunches to the Expo three days per week. The meals were prepared by participants in the Wayside Catering Collective, and they incorporated as many traditional foods as possible. In addition, Wayside Food Programs coordinated snacks and food to support nonprofit partners who needed extra supplies to meet the heightened demand at the Expo.
With a $25,000 operating support grant from the Sam L. Cohen Foundation, Wayside Food Programs was able to keep 425 tons of food out of landfills and serve thousands of families, seniors, and children through mobile food trucks, community meals, and programs with 20 nonprofit partners. More information about Wayside Food Programs is available here.
Grantee Update: Maine Immigrants’ Rights Coalition
The Maine Immigrants’ Rights Coalition (MIRC) began in 2012 as a small, informal monthly gathering of immigrant-led groups and has grown into an independent, non-profit organization with a professional executive director and strong board leadership. MIRC’s board represents both established non-profits and burgeoning immigrant led community groups. The Sam L. Cohen Foundation has made two grants to MIRC, and both grants supported MIRC’s evolution from emerging network to effective advocacy organization.
In 2015, the Foundation’s grant of $10,000 contributed to MIRC’s strategic planning efforts. For that planning process, MIRC enlisted Shenna Bellows to serve as a strategic planning consultant. The process helped MIRC’s board and membership recognize the organization’s potential to move from a group that was loosely organized around information sharing to a non-profit coalition that would advocate for policies that impact new Mainers. A leadership transition in 2017 brought a new executive director, Mufalo Chitam. Since emigrating from Zambia to Portland with her husband and daughter in 2000, Mufalo has worked for many non-profit organizations, and she is known as an important community leader. Mufalo has been recognized with awards from the Maine Women’s Fund, articles in Maine Women’s Magazine, and as one of Maine Magazine’s “50 Mainers” in their annual issue. In 2018, MIRC launched several initiatives to strengthen their memberships’ voice in conversations about Maine’s economic future and the policies that shape immigrant’s lives. MIRC has inventoried and begun mapping the range of services and programs offered by and for the refugee and immigrant community. The resulting inventory will allow MIRC to identify and address gaps and duplications in services.
MIRC has also coalesced its advocacy efforts around a platform of legislative priorities. In October 2018, representatives from 33 of MIRC’s member organizations met with Maine’s congressional delegation to discuss “the public charge” and policies that impact new Mainers. MIRC’s membership has grown from 20 to 53 members who represent organizations from the Congolese Community of Maine and Iraqi Community Association to the ACLU and Congregation Bet Ha’am’s Tikkun Olam Council. MIRC’s 2018 operations were supported in part by a $15,000 grant from the Sam L. Cohen Foundation.
MIRC’s organizational capacity has been tested in the past month, as they stepped forward to assist the City of Portland and the hundreds of asylum seekers that arrived in Portland in June. MIRC took the lead in recruiting and organizing volunteers to provide transportation to arriving families to shelter at Portland’s Expo, to serve as language interpreters to help with in-take forms and interviews, and to serve meals provided by Preble Street. The strong organizational foundation that MIRC built, in part using operating support grants from the Sam L. Cohen Foundation, has positioned them to step in at this critical time for the immigrant and refugee community and for Maine. MIRC’s story is a strong example of how a combination of leadership and community and philanthropic support can position a small organization to make a big community impact.
Grantee Update: Consumer's for Affordable Health Care
Consumers for Affordable Health Care (CAHC) plays a unique, critical role in Maine—100% of their efforts are focused on ensuring that all Mainers have access to quality, affordable healthcare. CAHC uses a two-pronged approach where they help individuals and families navigate complicated systems to get the care and coverage they need while working to improve health care policy in Maine. The Sam L. Cohen Foundation has recognized the importance of CAHC’s efforts with several grants, and most recently awarded a $20,000 grant for their Consumer Assistance Program.
CAHC has become Maine’s expert on an increasingly complicated health care system, and their expertise in public policy is in high demand as the new Governor and Maine legislators look to improve access to health care. Since the Cohen Foundation grant in 2018, CAHC was instrumental in passing LD1, An Act To Protect Health Care Coverage for Maine Families, which codifies important consumer protections of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), including protections for pre-existing conditions and Essential Health Benefit requirements. LD1 also strengthens nondiscrimination provisions that prohibit carriers from denying coverage based on sexual orientation. Going forward, CAHC’s public policy goals include efforts to expand adult Medicaid benefits to include oral health and legislation to set payment thresholds and transparency for prescription drug costs. CAHC worked closely with their advocacy partners on the voter-approved Medicaid expansion. As anticipated, the need for CAHC’s Consumer Assistance Programs has increased significantly in the brief period since the Governor approved the expansion.
Mainers rely on CAHC’s HelpLine to navigate enrollment in ACA Marketplace plans, Medicaid, and private insurance plans, and to make sure that they are not at risk of losing coverage. In 2018, CAHC answered more than 6,500 calls, with more than 1,000 of those calls from ACA Navigators and health or other insurance professionals. The fact that professionals reached out for HelpLine assistance more than 1,000 times is evidence of the complex health care system in Maine. To that end, CAHC offers trainings for healthcare professionals, caseworkers, and other social service agency staff on Medicaid and ACA eligibility and enrollment. Most recently, Southern Maine Medical Center in Biddeford hosted a CAHC training, and York County Community Action Program has a training scheduled during the SLCF grant period. Through a new partnership, CAHC is training and supporting case workers and probation officers to ensure that eligible individuals have insurance coverage for their court-ordered treatment programs. Through their Consumer Assistance Program, CAHC provides free help getting medical bills paid and filing complaints and appeals with insurance companies. Since the start of that program, CAHC has recovered nearly $700,000 in denied medical claims for Maine people.
Secured funding for programs such as the SLCF grant for the CAHC’s Consumer Assistance Program allow CAHC to respond quickly as need arises. When British credit-card processing company Barclaycard announced in January that its Wilton, Maine call center will close at the end of March, CAHC worked with local nonprofits to help the 227 individuals who will be laid off understand how to sustain health care coverage. The state plans to open a temporary call center at the Wilton Career Center to assist with the state’s Medicaid expansion, and CAHC will continue to provide expertise and support to employees at the temporary call center. The $20,000 Sam L. Cohen Foundation grant made in spring 2018 for program support provides a springboard for CAHC to launch additional rapid response initiatives as the new administration shapes Maine’s healthcare policy.
Grantee Update: Sarah Orne Jewett House
Sarah Orne Jewett is recognized as one of few 19th-century American women authors whose work was published and admired during her lifetime. Jewett’s stories depict 19th-century small town life and the quiet of rural York County, Maine. As a child, Sarah Orne Jewett developed a reverence for nature by spending time alone in the countryside near her home in South Berwick. This house, built in 1744, still stands today and is a national historic landmark preserved by Historic New England. Jewett House is used as a teaching tool for lessons about life in 19th-century York County and the places that inspired Sarah Orne Jewett’s novels. In 2016, the Sam L. Cohen Foundation made its first grant ($7,500) to support efforts to build on a small field trip program for local 3rd graders and to pilot expanding educational programs into other classrooms. A second $7,500 grant in 2018 provided for further expansion into first grade classrooms and to two area high schools. With support from the foundation, the historic house is helping York County schools meet state requirements that students “learn the history of where they live.”
Prior to the foundation’s 2016 grant, third-graders from the nearby Central School took an annual field trip to visit the historic house. With SLCF support this single visit has expanded to include an in-class activity taught by the Jewett House’s Education Coordinator where students make their own sketchbooks to use during the upcoming visit to the house, use magnifying glasses to study details in reproductions of historical maps and photographs, and learn about the author’s childhood in their town. The house is within walking distance of the school, and after visiting the house, each third-grader makes a map that includes their own house, Sarah Orne Jewett’s house, and the rivers and hills between the two that were so important to Sarah as a young girl. With foundation support, the education program also expanded to include high school art students from Berwick Academy and Marshwood High School. The program “Make History” invites area high school students for two, one-hour visits that use quotes from the author’s letters and writing as prompts for sketching activities in the house. The students use these prep sketches when they return to their art class to create a body of work inspired by the author and her home. Students work in a variety of media, including photography, printmaking, and sculpture. The student artwork is featured in an exhibition at the adjacent visitor center and the community is invited to the exhibition’s opening.
Using the 2018 grant, education programs reach into first-grade classrooms through a partnership with Central School’s music teacher and the Jewett House Education Coordinator. First graders prepare for their visit with a classroom activity where they make child-sized telescopes decorated with rubber stamps of architectural details from the woodwork in the house. On their field trip, the students use their telescopes to focus on details in the house, and the telescopes convert into kazoos for the musical part of the lesson. A new program for eighth-graders incorporates Jewett’s story, “The White Heron,” into discussions about preserving the environment and individual responsibility.
The programs made possible by the foundation call attention to art programs in rural York County schools as the schools promote the collaboration in their newsletters and local media covers the student exhibitions. The Sarah Orne Jewett House Education Coordinator regularly shares the program’s success with Maine’s arts education community through her connections in/with Maine’s Department of Education. The foundation’s support of programs at the Sarah Orne Jewett House are a strong example of how a small grant can expand into a multi-pronged arts education program that connect rural York County students with one of their region’s best-known authors.
Grantee Update: Portland Adult Education
Portland Adult Education plays a critical role in extending the Portland Public School student experience into adult learning and work force development, and reports from their most recent academic year indicate the vitality of their programs. In 2018, Portland Adult Education (PAE) was able to expand programs by leveraging a grant from the Sam L. Cohen Foundation to garner new support. Serving nearly 4,000 students during the 2017-18 academic year, PAE offers courses in math, language arts, science, and social studies to prepare students to earn a high school diploma or enter college. PAE’s Street Academy serves homeless youth, and in 2017-18 PAE helped 22 homeless youth enroll in a Portland Public School, while ten earned a high school diploma. Their English Language and Literacy programs served more than 2,000 immigrants from 82 countries, and of the 523 students who took job skills classes, 129 students earned necessary credentials to work in health care. In 2014, the Sam L. Cohen Foundation made a $25,000 grant to support jobs training courses that were taught in collaboration with another SLCF grantee, Community Financial Literacy. The foundation granted PAE $15,000 to create a new Learning Laboratory in 2017. The Learning Laboratory serves students whose prior experiences, schedules, or learning styles have prevented them from obtaining high school credentials or preparing for college and uses online tools, academic support, and one-on-one mentorships that help students stay motivated.
While the $15,000 grant is not the largest grant the foundation has made to PAE, the grant helped PAE launch a new program, gather strong evidence of the program’s success, and use that evidence to attract a new, larger grant. Since March 2018, more than 85 students have used the Learning Laboratory to study for the HiSET (formerly GED) and for the ACCUPLACER exam that assesses student readiness for entering post-secondary and certification programs. In the first six months of opening, four students passed the HiSET and an additional four passed the ACCUPLACER exam. Also, thanks to the grant, the Learning Laboratory stayed open for six weeks during the summer, when most adult education programs do not have summer classes, and PAE was able to hire a peer mentor who offered consistent support to Learning Laboratory users. With the data from the SLCF grant, PAE secured a larger grant from United Way of Greater Portland through the THRIVE 2027 initiative. The grant supports the Cumberland County Adult Education and Career Development Hub and strengthens marketing efforts to Cumberland county residents without a high school diploma. A series of TV ads ran through the month of December, and PAE is already seeing a return on that investment with new participants registering for Learning Laboratory programs.
In 2019, the effects of the SLCF 2017 responsive grant continue to expand as Portland Adult Education’s partnership with other adult education programs in Cumberland County and their support from THRIVE 2027 helps the Learning Laboratory attract new students and strengthen programs.
Grantee Update: Heart of Biddeford
Heart of Biddeford was founded in 2005 when the National Trust for Historic Preservation identified Biddeford as one of ten certified “Main Street” communities in Maine. Initially, this mostly-volunteer organization hoped to improve the quality of life in Biddeford through a modest slate of programs. Heart of Biddeford (HOB) worked with the City of Biddeford to improve safety in public parks, create volunteer opportunities that would transfer into paid work for low income residents, and to promote downtown Biddeford through community events. The Sam L. Cohen Foundation made grants of $10,000 in 2015 and 2017 to support HOB’s operations, and during that relatively brief time HOB has fostered new community partnerships and drawn significant new funding to benefit Biddeford residents.
HOB’s success is due in part to their small but high-energy team that brings together representatives from diverse demographics in Biddeford. This year, HOB had a very successful, first-time effort with UNE to have a student orientation event in downtown Biddeford and welcomed 700 new students to Main Street on their first night on campus. HOB is involved with Biddeford Schools and the Biddeford Rising effort to connect New Mainer students to resources and providers. HOB’s newest AmeriCorps Vista started this fall, and the students have particularly loved connecting with her, as she is Haitian-American and is just seeing snow for the first time. Along with efforts to connect with Biddeford youth, the group “Age-friendly Biddeford” has now joined Heart of Biddeford as an advisory group. HOB is in regular communication with service providers in Biddeford, many of whom are Sam L. Cohen Foundation grantees (Seeds of Hope, Engine, Biddeford Food Pantry, and others). As Biddeford becomes increasingly appealing to higher-income residents, HOB is working with a wide-range of community groups to ensure that HOB continues to be relevant and to address inequalities and mitigate gentrification.
HOB’s recent success includes generating significant grant dollars for Biddeford. This year alone, HOB spearheaded a collaborative grant application for $50,000 from the Sewall Foundation to improve Clifford Park, the 140-acre park adjacent to the downtown, and HOB won a $150,000 grant to preserve the Biddeford City Hall clocktower from an American Express contest. The winning campaign told Biddeford's story of diversity and included the video, It's Our Time. In early November, HOB put Biddeford in the running for a $500,000 prize from Deluxe Business Solutions and the Hulu TV show, "The Small Business Revolution." Out of 12,000 applicants across the country, Biddeford made it to the top 20 and will learn in December if the town is named in the top 10. The winning town becomes the focus of the Hulu TV show, and Deluxe Business Solutions will invest $500,000 in six of Biddeford’s small businesses (including Reilly’s Bakery).
On December 7, HOB’s annual downtown holiday celebration includes Congregation Etz Chaim in the Menorah and Tree Lighting festivities.
Grantee Update: Mayo Street Arts
Mayo Street Arts began as a nonprofit performing arts center housed in the historic former St. Ansgar’s Church in Portland’s East Bayside neighborhood. Founded in 2009, Mayo Street Arts has grown over the past decade to serve as a vital community hub not only for visual and performing artists but also for youth and families in the surrounding neighborhood. Located on the edge of the Kennedy Park Housing Development, the arts center abuts the most ethnically-diverse and densely-populated square mile in Maine. With more than 150 programs presented annually, audience members and artists are from Maine, Somalia, DR Congo, Angola, Honduras, Iran, Iraq, and the Sudan. Since 2013, the Sam L. Cohen Foundation has made three grants to support Mayo Street Arts and its efforts to strengthen their neighborhood through arts and community activities.
Mayo Street Arts has seen rapid growth in the number of program participants and recipients of services offered at the art center. The Sam L. Cohen Foundation’s initial support helped Mayo Street Arts bring together a small group of students to participate in their weekly “Club Hip Hop”. Since that 2013 grant, Mayo Street Arts has more than tripled the number of neighborhood children who participate in programs. This impressive increase can be attributed to Mayo Street Arts’ small and dedicated staff that relies on their creativity and their ability to engender robust community partnerships. They host a wide range of arts programming including classes led by students in Maine College of Art’s Public Engagement program, puppet theater for neighborhood children, and the continued success of “Club Hip Hop” led by teachers from Portland Youth Dance. Intersecting with their arts programs, Mayo Street Arts has become a hub of community services. Mayo Street initiated a Neighborhood Watch program and hosts the National Night Out Neighborhood celebration each year. The Bangor Daily News documented the August 2018 National Night Out with a colorful photo essay. Mayo Street Arts also provides a study center and homework club, and with support from the Sam L. Cohen Foundation the RAD summer program (Reading Art Dance) completed its fourth year, providing free reading tutoring and art instruction for ELL students from the Kennedy Park neighborhood. Mayo Street Arts hosts the East End School’s summer tutoring program and was the site for the neighborhood’s free summer meals program. They also work closely with East Bayside Community Policing, and the arts facility is a regular stop for the Portland Public Library Bookmobile.
The community’s affection for Mayo Street also played a role in a recent fund-raising effort by the center. A routine fire inspection revealed a necessary overhaul to the sprinkler system, and Mayo Street Arts was able to raise $14,000 in four days. More than 100 of the contributions were $25 or less, and most were small contributions from “friends of friends” of the art center. Mayo Street Arts continues to make improvements to their historic building, and this past summer constructed an outdoor classroom and theater space in the church’s backyard. Mayo Street Arts is in the final months of their 2017 operating support grant where Sam L. Cohen Foundation funds support the 2018 season of international music, dance, and art that reflects and celebrates the diversity of the neighborhood surrounding the center.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.