In mid-November, students and teachers from King Middle School joined leaders from Maine Audubon, the City of Portland Parks Department, US Fish and Wildlife, and other community members to celebrate Bringing Nature Home, an ongoing project in Deering Oaks park. A short ceremony included remarks from various partners about the project and its importance, as well as a ribbon cutting to present the site to the community. Maine Audubon launched Bringing Nature Home in 2016 with funds from a long-time Audubon supporter and a grant of $15,000 from the Sam L. Cohen Foundation. Since that first grant, the Foundation has continued to support the initiative including a $12,000 grant awarded at the November 2021 Board meeting.
The school, Maine Audubon, and the City of Portland Parks Department identified an area in Deering Oaks in 2019 as an ideal spot for a “living laboratory” to practice and promote environmental stewardship. Deering Oaks is across the street from King Middle School, so it provides an ideal location for students and teachers to work with Maine Audubon staff to restore and study wildlife habitat. In particular, they are restoring habitat for birds and other wildlife by introducing a native forest understory to replace acres of lawn in the park, which is relatively devoid of direct benefits to Maine wildlife. Students research what plants grow well, what animals are benefitting, and how the site changes. For the past three years, Portland Parks has committed to maintaining this section of the park as a “no mow” area, except for paths that meander through it.
While the Deering Oaks project is on-going, Maine Audubon and King Middle School unveiled some new educational features at the recent celebration. Along the paths in the area, there are sign posts with QR codes with digital links to videos about native plant restoration made by King Middle School students. Visitors to the park can view the videos with their smart phones. A new colorful sign shares details about the project and educational information about the importance of native plants to wildlife and bird habitats along with photos of students performing research and planting native species. Inspired by the Maine Audubon partnership, the school connected with Southern Maine Conservation Collaborative to add a new Climate Change Observatory picture post at the site. Visitors to the park can use the mount on top of the picture post to take a photo, and then can submit the photo to what will become a time-lapse view of how the Deering Oaks site changes over time.
Bringing Nature Home began at Maine Audubon as a straightforward wildlife habitat restoration project involving a single classroom and teacher, but the program has evolved into a far-reaching collaboration involving middle school students, city park officials and staff, and federal biologists. The Fall 2021 SLCF grant supports expanding the program into Portland’s two other middle schools. At Lincoln Middle School, students and teachers will work with Maine Audubon and Portland Parks to renew and restore bird habitat in Baxter Woods, a site that is within easy walking distance of the school. A new school building and new campus landscape at Lyman Moore offer opportunities for students to design storm water rain gardens and work with Maine Audubon and Portland Trails to design native plant schemes along walking trails near the school. With each year, students focus on their specific project while building on the previous years’ activities, illustrating the importance of sustained commitment to environmental stewardship.
Sam L. Cohen Patient Care and Family Fund at the Maine Children’s Cancer Program
In June 2016, the Directors committed $250,000 to establish the Sam L. Cohen Patient Care and Family Fund at the Maine Children’s Cancer Program. The grant provides funds for a decade of programs, and each year the Foundation grants $25,000 to the fund. The Sam L. Cohen Patient Care and Family Fund allows MCCP’s social workers and care team members to offer special events and initiatives for patients and their families. These special projects and programs extend beyond medical care and address the emotional and social needs of the children who are receiving treatment as well as their parents and siblings. In the inaugural year of the fund, MCCP strengthened existing activities, such as their therapeutic journaling exercises with patients, and added more group therapy opportunities for patients and their families to support them as they navigate childhood cancer. Since then, the fund has made possible a wide range of activities that strengthen community support systems, improve comfort in clinics and hospitals, increase access to care, and provide tools to help patients and families cope with diagnosis and treatment.
Popular programs include large-scale outings like a family picnic at Maine Wildlife Park or a Shawnee Peak Family Fun Day as well as quieter activities such as art therapy projects to make cards for patients’ siblings or a collaboration with a stained-glass artist to create artwork for bereaved families. A typical year includes separate outings for moms and dads of MCCP patients to treat them to something special, like a spa night or a sporting event. Since 2016, MCCP has used the fund to make the clinic more comfortable for visiting families by upgrading furniture in the consultation room and purchasing iPads and charging stations for patients and their siblings to use in waiting rooms. The fund also allows MCCP to purchase meal tickets for parents and siblings of hospitalized MCCP patients to help defray the financial burden of lengthy/frequent hospital stays. The simple offering of complimentary meals at the hospital is an important gesture that recognizes the financial and emotional stress MCCP families are under. The fund has also helped MCCP provide patients and families with resources to cope with diagnosis and treatment. In 2018, MCCP used the fund to create a Library on Wheels with books on pediatric cancers, nutrition, mental health, and coping with stress. The Library on Wheels is available during long visits to the clinic and has two iPads with headphones so patients and families can listen to stress reduction and meditation programs or audiobooks. Because the fund is a reliable source of support, MCCP has the flexibility to use it for planned events and gatherings as well as more behind-the-scenes needs such as interpreters for children with sickle cell disease. In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic presented major challenges and required extra precautions for children who are already at increased risk of infection. The previous year, MCCP had used the fund to purchase webcams to allow them to provide group therapy via telehealth. Initially, these remote counseling sessions were intended to serve families who live a significant distance from MCCP. Thanks to the fund, the telehealth structure was in place in 2020 and allowed MCCP’s social work team to carry on with support groups uninterrupted throughout the pandemic.
The Sam L. Cohen Patient Care and Family Fund supports a critical component of MCCP’s patient care. The social work aspect of the program is something that sets MCCP apart, extending emotional support to children as well as their families and caregivers.
University of Southern Maine hosts one of the world’s finest collections of historic maps and cartographic artifacts thanks to the generosity of Dr. Harold and Peggy Osher. The nearly half a million items are global in scope and date back to 1475, and more than 75,000 items are available to view online. When the Osher Map Library (OML) opened an expanded gallery and education space in 2009, the Foundation granted $500,000 to create a classroom, the Sam L. Cohen Education Center, for K-12 field trips, family programs, and college-level seminars. A later grant of $25,000 supported a position for an education and outreach coordinator. After more than 10 years of student visits, OML is rejuvenating the SLC Education Center to make it more colorful and welcoming and to incorporate new technology that maximizes the educational potential of the collection. A $20,000 grant in Spring 2021 supports the renovations.
When K-12 students are welcomed back to OML for in-person visits in October, they will be greeted by a wall-sized mural of a world map painted by a local artist that makes it easier for younger students to interact with the map and inspires more engaging activities. OML educators can highlight countries where many Portland-area students have lived, traveled to, or have relatives. With updated technology, interactive touchscreens, and high-resolution projectors, OML educators can zoom in on some of OML’s most intricate maps and share hard-to-see details with groups both at the Center and remotely. During the 2020-21 school year, OML devised creative ways to connect students to their collections with online resources and classroom visits led via Zoom. Despite COVID closures, 2020-2021 was OML’s second busiest K-12 year ever, and they worked with nearly 4000 students and teachers entirely through remote programs.
While OML awaits the return of in-person K-12 programs, the galleries are open for visitors. The current exhibition, “Where Will We Go From Here: Travel in the Age of COVID-19” offers a clever, crowd-sourced approach to exhibition design. OML staff put out a call for stories from around Maine and beyond. More than 150 people shared the tales of their canceled travel plans and some 45 of those accounts appear as text, next to historic maps of the places the stories were about. Some 60 maps and related cartographic items are in the exhibit. While the exhibition calls attention to thwarted weddings, family vacations, and study abroad plans, it also illustrates the shared experience of the pandemic and the important role travel and destinations play in our lives.
In addition to upcoming exhibitions, OML is using the summer to re-design their website and add new lesson plans created by their first-ever Summer Teaching with Maps Fellows. The goal is to jumpstart in-person offerings in fall 2021 and set a new standard of attendance in the Sam L. Cohen Education Center by reaching 5,000 Portland-area students in the new school year.
Across every issue area, COVID-19 pushed Maine’s nonprofits to reinvent their programs and program delivery and to redefine their roles in their communities. Arts organizations, whose success relied on ticket sales for live performances and admission to exhibitions, faced unique challenges as they strove to connect to long-standing and future audiences. In downtown Portland, SPACE Gallery managed to rethink programs in innovative ways that have brought new audiences both local and international.
When shelter-in-place rules were at their most strict in spring 2020, SPACE’s popular music programs became “house concerts” where performers broadcast live from their homes. Artists who would have had exhibitions in the galleries redesigned their installations to fit into SPACE’s storefront windows where artists’ work would have even greater visibility. SPACE received a Kindling Fund grant from the Warhol Foundation that was meant to support a small number of selected artist projects, but SPACE negotiated with the funder and raised additional funds to provide rapid-response emergency grants to 75 artists in southern Maine.
SPACE took lessons learned from 2020 to design new online programs for 2021. They have found that the online format can include more new voices in presenting programs, as well as allowing a bigger, broader audience. In February, their program “Pulling a James Baldwin” had an online open mic format where 36 community members volunteered to read their favorite passage from a work by James Baldwin. When SPACE held a book launch for Portland-area author Phuc Tran’s memoir Sigh-Gone more than 500 people attended online, including many of Tran’s family members in Viet Nam. As “zoom fatigue” set in this spring, SPACE created a screen-free way to connect with Maine poets. The Poetry Hotline is a 24/7 opportunity to call-in and hear a poet read their work to you over the phone. The Hotline has been so popular that SPACE staff have had to turn the ringers off on all their office phones, because the hotline rings off the hook all day. In summer, SPACE will launch a series of COVID-safe outdoor programs in Congress Square Park, including a film about women in contemporary music (“Sisters with Transistors”) with a synthesizer petting zoo and the return of SPACE dance parties for families with young children (“Family Mixed Tapes”). SPACE rebranded their programs with a temporary logo to better capture their switch to content-producer/broadcaster.
SPACE made some interesting, permanent changes in 2020-21 as well. In response to Black Lives Matter marches, SPACE reconsidered systems they had in place that excluded certain artists and community members from contributing to SPACE’s mission. In summer 2020, SPACE designated two of the studios in their building to be rent free for young BIPOC artists. In spring 2021, SPACE created a new system for recruiting board members, where community members can nominate themselves to serve on the board. The new system saw a clear, positive response from younger people from communities of color with more than 30 people nominating themselves to sit on the SPACE Board of Trustees.
SPACE Gallery is midyear in their most recent Sam L. Cohen Foundation grant. In the Fall 2020 grant cycle, SPACE received a $15,000 grant to support the shift from their usual in-person programs to programs that were responsive to COVID-19 protocols and changing community need. In June, the galleries will reopen to visitors, but SPACE plans to continue learning from the 2020 experience to include more new voices and audience members.