This article was written by Maine DOE Intern Simon Handelman in collaboration with community members from the Emergency Action Network (TEAN) in Brunswick.
When Sarah Singer, Teresa Gillis, and other community leaders founded The Emergency Action Network (TEAN), they were responding to the rising poverty and homelessness afflicting students at Brunswick Schools. TEAN worked with teachers and administrators in Brunswick schools to identify the needs of struggling students and families. Once a specific need was clear to TEAN, they utilized the Yard Sale feature on Facebook to collect donations or, members of TEAN purchased the necessary item outright and delivered it to the Superintendent’s office.
Each fall TEAN members visit faculty in all four Brunswick schools. They connect with educators and identify needs the taskforce is equipped to address. When a child needed running shoes to participate in gym class, TEAN got those shoes to the student. Singer expressed how happy the recipient was once he was able to participate in activities with the rest of his class. When mobile home park Bay Bridge Estates experienced well failures, TEAN delivered a U-Hall filled with Poland Springs bottled water to the residents. These examples of TEAN’s excellent work explain Singer’s classification of the organization as a “catch-all safety net” and a “crisis response group.”
In recent weeks, the organization has committed itself to assisting families of asylum seekers in Brunswick. Erin Mangalam and Singer, both on the board of directors for TEAN, use their own multi-lingual skills to connect families to the resources they need. Maggy Jansson, another director, is using her background as a home visiting pediatric nurse to help families access healthcare services. However, TEAN understands they do not have the necessary background to provide optimal assistance, for this reason the taskforce pushed the town of Brunswick to hire a Cultural Broker. Nsiona Nguizani has been working in the Maine immigrant community for several years. His job is to break down linguistic and cultural barriers so support groups like TEAN or Mid Coast Hunger Prevention Program (MCHPP) can more efficiently meet the needs of these new Brunswick community members.
Support groups in Brunswick learned from Musalo Chitam at the Maine Immigrant Rights Coalition that newcomer families often travel thousands of miles over the course of several months. These families know how to be independent–they just need to become oriented in their new home. In response to this message, Mangalam and Dana Bateman (another TEAN volunteer) collected bikes for the families. TEAN does not have the resources to buy every family a car, but they can mobilize the community to get a significant number of bikes for families. Once the bikes were collected, Bruno Inacio translated Kris Haralson’s bike safety training from English to Portuguese so as many people as possible could understand the information.
TEAN is working on many projects, and more information can be found on their website and Facebook page. Moreover, TEAN is just one of many support groups working hard to help their neighbors, new and old. Similar efforts are being undertaken in Topsham by Mt. Ararat TEAN, and in Freeport by Freeport Friends. Singer says the goal was to build a “totally replicable model.” She says that it is necessary to understand that needs are different in each community. In some towns like Brunswick, the role of support groups is changing rapidly. However, dedicated people with open minds can alleviate some of the burdens for families, students, and teachers by building networks like TEAN in their own communities.