Maine FFA Association Completes Project on Homelessness and Food Insecurity

Maine FFA Association, representing nearly 400 students grades 7-12 enrolled in courses related to agriculture and natural resources, recently completed a valuable statewide community project addressing issues of homelessness and food insecurity in Maine. Four target areas, associated with nearby FFA chapters, were identified: Bangor (partnering with the Bangor Area Homeless Shelter), Waterville (partnering with the Mid-Maine Homeless Shelter), Cherryfield (partnering with Maine Seacoast Mission Food Pantry), and Presque Isle (partnering with the Aroostook County Action Program, the Sister Mary O’Donnell Homeless Shelter, Dahlgren Skidgel Farm of Hope in Caribou, Perham Food Cupboard and Washburn Food Pantry).

The goals of the project included purchasing materials to support the shelters and food pantry, sorting, packaging and distributing materials as well as learning more about the challenges and resources available to address homelessness and food insecurity. Highlights of the educational component of the project included FFA members at Narraguagus High School learning more about the services and volunteer needs of the food pantry in Cherryfield, the Aroostoock County Action Program (ACAP) preparing a YouTube video on homelessness and hosting a live Zoom panel on homelessness that included a question and answer session with FFA students.

The project was originally planned and funded in 2020, slated for implementation in March, which coincided with the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. As a result, many priority items, including some food staples and cleaning products were no longer available. Once items returned to store shelves, completion of the project became possible this spring, with items purchased, donated, sorted, packed and delivered to appreciative recipients. Project work was overseen by local FFA chapter advisors and students. As a result of the project, FFA student members came to a better understanding of social issues in their communities and outreach organizations gained many much-needed food, paper products, cleaning supplies and other staples for their facilities as well as clothing, toiletries, linens and other essentials to distribute directly to their clients.

We would like to thank the primary sponsor of this project, the National FFA Organization’s “State Day of Service” with their $8,000 contribution. We would also like to thank Wal-Mart Community Grants for their $3,000 in support with $2,000 coming from Wal-Mart Supercenter in Presque Isle and $1,000 coming from Wal-Mart Supercenter in Waterville. We would like to thank Willie Sawyer Grenier of Maine Agriculture in the Classroom for handling all shelter purchases in the Waterville area and for delivering items with her son, Jared.  Maine FFA Chapters of Ashland, Bangor, Caribou, Harrington, Mars Hill, Presque Isle and Washburn were particularly involved in the project and are all to be commended. There were also several additional local businesses and individuals in each community that contributed to this very rewarding project: thank you to all of them as well!

For more information on starting an FFA chapter in your community, please contact: Doug Robertson, State FFA Advisor, Maine Department of Education, doug.robertson@maine.gov, 207-62406744.

Brighter Days Story: Lillian from LearningWorks Afterschool

When the pandemic hit, a lot changed for 7 year old Lillian and her family. School, which she loved more than anything, all of the sudden meant learning on a screen at home. It also meant that her mom, a single parent, would be away at work each day, while Lillian and her older sister stayed at home to study. Lillian struggled to get used to this. One of her teachers could tell she needed some extra support and connection and recommended her family to the LearningWorks Afterschool program.

When she first signed in to Zoom, she kept her video turned off. “Mommy, I’m nervous! I don’t want them to see me!” she’d say over the phone when her Mom called to check on her. The program started with lots of fun games, and soon Lillian was laughing, had turned on her camera, and changed her Zoom name to “Lillian Rocks!” A few weeks into the program, her Mom said she noticed a new maturity in Lillian. She’d call home from work to make sure she was ready, and Lillian would be sitting at the table, eager to sign into Zoom early.

Her LearningWorks teachers, Ms. Molly and Mr. Matt, have become household names. Each week, Ms. Molly delivers a STEAM kit to Lillian’s doorstep. Oftentimes Lillian is waiting. The kit has art supplies as well as materials she’ll need for activities such as Wacky Science Wednesdays. Lillian features her favorite items from these kits on her desk in her room. She loves reading the instructions and knowing the plan for the week ahead of time. She has a special lab coat for her LW science experiments (such as making homemade slime) and her Mom says Lillian often wears the lab coat around the house, while teasing her older sister who is studying to become a doctor. She tells her, “You’re just studying with your books all the time, but I’m already a doctor, look at my coat!”

Her interest in science and math has skyrocketed this year through her lessons with LearningWorks. She’s begun to develop a critical and process-oriented mind — often very focused on the steps it takes to solve a math problem or discover a truth. “Some people just believe things right away — I want to understand how it actually works,” she says. Lillian’s mom has noticed how this way of thinking has translated to her experience of the pandemic and the rules around mask wearing and social distancing. Because Lillian genuinely understands the thinking behind these health & safety measures, she wholeheartedly follows them. LearningWorks has become a fun place for her to experiment, to connect with others, and to nurture her inquisitiveness. She’s begun to find the language and confidence to express her clear and discerning mind. “This program is special to me,” she says. She thinks it could be for other kids too. Her message to them: “Take a deep breath and tell yourself that you can do it. Then…do it!”

Information for this article was provided by LearningWorks Afterschool, a 21st Century Community Learning Center Program. Photos and story by Molly Haley.

MEDIA RELEASE: Seven Maine Seniors Named U.S. Presidential Scholar Semifinalists

U.S. Department of Education has named seven Maine students as semifinalists in the 2021 U.S. Presidential Scholars Program. The national program recognizes seniors across the country as being among our nation’s most distinguished graduating seniors.

“I am incredibly proud of the continued academic accomplishments of Maine students through the inevitable disruptions over the past year,” said Maine Education Commissioner Pender Makin. “I applaud these talented students on their well-deserved recognition and wish them the very best as they transition into the next exciting chapter of their lives.”

The semifinalist scholars are chosen on the basis of their accomplishments in many areas including academic and artistic success, career and technical fields, leadership, and involvement in school and the community.  They represent excellence in education and are among the most accomplished youth in our country.

From nearly 3.6 million graduating high school seniors from across the country, over 6,500 students were identified as candidates in this program. 625 semifinalists were selected, 7 of whom are from Maine.

Maine U.S. Presidential Scholar Semifinalists:

Harshini K. Chaganti
Scarborough High School

Devon Michael Hunter
John Bapst Memorial High School

Pedro Santiago Little-Siebold
Ellsworth High School

**Culiandra Rose Nero
Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School

Swetha Palaniappan
Cape Elizabeth High School

Wade F. Wahlig
Falmouth High School

Aislynn K Worden
Sanford High School

** Semifinalist for U.S. Presidential Scholar in Career and Technical Education

The semifinalists form the pool from which the 2020 U.S. Presidential Scholars will be chosen in May. Visit http://www.ed.gov/psp for the complete list of semifinalists across the country.

Opportunity for Child Care Subsidy Assistance for Families

Please share this information from DHHS Office of Child and Family Services’ (OCFS) with your school communities.

Are you a family in need of support for the cost of child care?  The Office of Child and Family Services’ (OCFS), based in Maine’s Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), administers the Child Care Subsidy Program (CCSP) which helps eligible families to pay for child care so they can work, go to school or participate in a job training program.

Eligible families must meet the income guidelines and at least one of the following activities: work, school, and/or job training program. The CCSP is available for children ages 6 weeks to 13 years, as well as for children with identified special needs or under court supervision up to age 19. For more information on CCSP please visit: https://www.maine.gov/dhhs/ocfs/ec/occhs/step.htm

Through the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriation Act (CRRSA) Child Care Development Block Grant (CCDBG), CCSP will be waiving copayments from 03/27/21 through 03/25/22 or until funding is no longer available.  CCSP will be reimbursing providers for the full amount of care based on individual award letters. For more information on OCFS’s CRRSA strategies please read the following: https://www.maine.gov/dhhs/ocfs/documents/covid-19/CRRSA%20Funding%20Strategies.pdf

For more information, please contact your county specialist at: Financial Resources Specialist

Emergency Rental Assistance Program Available for Eligible Families

The Maine Department of Education asks that our school and district partners please share this important information with families that may need housing assistance during the COVID-19 pandemic.

MaineHousing and Maine’s Community Action Agencies are accepting applications for the Emergency Rental Assistance Program. This program helps pay rent and utility costs for eligible renters affected by COVID-19. Maine’s Community Action Agencies are running this program in communities across Maine.

Program information and the application link can be found here: mainehousing.org/covidrent

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For further information or questions, please reach out to MaineHousing at (800) 452-4668 or (207) 626-4600.