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Bringing The Bard to Portsmouth with Seven Stages

Seven Stages Shakespeare Company (7SSC) is a professional ensemble of creative artists dedicated to generating a local and global dialogue by presenting exciting and accessible presentations of the works of William Shakespeare.
Seven Stages Shakespeare Company (7SSC) returns to Prescott Park. Photo Courtesy Bushor Photography.

Through their Power To Help initiative ENH Power will be sponsoring the 2015 summer season of the Seven Stages Shakespeare Company (7SSC).

Entering into its fifth summer in 2015, Shakespeare in Prescott Park brings full productions of the Bard’s work to Prescott Park in Portsmouth, NH.   This summer 7SSC will be back on Sunday afternoons mid-July through mid-August with “As You Like It” produced in partnership with Prescott Park Arts Festival.

From June 5th-13th 7SSC will present “What you Will, (or twelfth night)” produced at and in partnership with 3S Artspace in Portsmouth.

All of Seven Stages Shakespeare Company’s performances are FREE FOR ALL, Or Pay What You Will.  Christine Penney, co-founder and Producing Director of 7SSC relies on donors and sponsors to keep the arts affordable and accessible “our programming would be impossible without the support of our dedicated donors and sponsors like ENH Power. We think the cost of a ticket should not prohibit anyone from experiencing Shakespeare, theatre, or any art for that matter. Eliminating the financial barrier to entry allows us to bring Shakespeare to diverse new audiences. Our donors and sponsors literally make this possible, and for that we “…can no other answer make than thanks, and thanks, and ever thanks.’ Twelfth Night III.3”.

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The Power to Help, an initiative of Provider Power (ENH Power, Electricity Maine, Provider Power Mass) seeks to bring together the people who are looking to enact change (business and non-profit leaders), with an understanding of energy in everything we do. While electricity is what we sell, it is also a means for us to support and raise awareness of groups and individuals working towards positive change.  To learn more about Provider Power’s Power to Help initiative, visit www.powertohelp.com.

Unrequited love and mischievous fairies collide on a starry night in one of William Shakespeare's most-loved comedies, A Midsummer Night's Dream.
Unrequited love and mischievous fairies collide on a starry night in one of William Shakespeare's most-loved comedies, A Midsummer Night's Dream.Photo courtesy: David J. Murray, Clear Eye Photo

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Interview with Wide-Open World’s John Marshall

After reading and reviewing the well-written and thoughtful (as well as, thought-provoking) Wide-Open World: How Volunteering Around the Globe Changed One Family’s Lives Forever, I had a few questions for author, John Marshall. He graciously answered the questions that I sent him via email.

Marshall is a nine-time Emmy Award-winning writer, producer, and director. Mainers will recognize him from seeing him on local television stations, like WPXT and from his work writing and hosting a number of weekly television programs. Wide-Open World is Marshall’s first book.

How does a family know if they have what it takes for a journey like this? Were there any contingency plans in case you found out after four weeks that you and your family weren’t cut out for it?

For any family considering their own Wide-Open World adventure, you can always start small. Add a few days of volunteering to your next vacation and see how it goes. Most importantly, get every family member on board before you ship out. Dragging someone on a trip like this will not produce the best results. In our case, once we got the kids to buy into the idea, we committed to a six-month journey. The truth is…there were several times on the road that our kids asked to go home; difficult homesick times where a comfy bed, a hot shower, or a familiar face was all they wanted. Without a real commitment at the start, it would have been all too easy to pack it in at the first challenging stop along the way. For me, the length of the trip was as important as the individual volunteer opportunities, allowing the world enough time to have a deep impact on us all.

As a follow-up, are there certain types of people/families that are better suited for an adventure like this one? Any kind of prerequisites that you’d say help prepare you to take off for six months or more?

The #1 prerequisite is simply your decision to go. Not a passive dream of going or a desire to maybe get out the door one day, but your ironclad, set in stone, decision to hit the road. Once you make this decision, you can find a way to make a trip like this happen. As for prerequisites or certain types of people who might enjoy this kind of travel…it helps to be flexible. Things go wrong on the road. Buses are slow and uncomfortable. Accommodations are less than stellar. Where we went it was hot most of the time. One day in Thailand it was 125 degrees! And there are bugs and simple meals and toilets of every conceivable variety. If you are looking to judge every situation by Western standards and prefer room service to actual service, this might not be for you. That said, there is a world of difference between comforting a crying orphan and tipping your favorite bartender. So if you can be flexible, the rewards we discovered far outweighed the challenges.

Would you say that for most of us, getting outside of our “cocoon” in any type of fashion for an extended period helps change how we see the rest of the world? What was the biggest “aha” moment for you in that regard?

I think it’s easy to forget, at a very basic level, that we are alive. That our time is passing quickly. The routines of life are very hypnotic. They put us to sleep, in many ways. But travel is the opposite of routine. Every day is new. Every new experience requires your full attention. So this is one powerful reminder we discovered on the road. Additionally, volunteering in the developing world is a jolt of reality. It’s easy to sit at home and talk about the poor, to be sad in a general sense about world hunger or global poverty. But when I actually met real people who are poor and hungry…they were not what I was imagining. As for “aha” moments…orphaned children had the most profound impact on me. Before leaving home, I thought of them as some general, faceless mass of regrettable humanity. But when I got to know them, one on one, as children, it’s impossible for me to return home and live as if they do not exist.

I thought you did a good job of portraying your children, not as saints, but as typical suburban, middle-class kids, privileged compared to the children you met on your trip. You touched on it a bit at the end of the book, but how have Jackson and Logan continued to build on the experiences detailed in the book?

Yeah, a trip like ours can have a powerful impact on teenagers, and we certainly saw that in our kids. Our son Logan was 17 at the time and our daughter Jackson was 14. Today, Jackson is in college, studying to be a doctor and hopes to be a part of the Doctors Without Borders program, serving in the developing world. Logan has spent several years in South America, learning Spanish, volunteering and writing a blog about finding your inner superhero. Before the trip, they were already great kids and motivated people, but I feel the Wide-Open World experience magnified their best qualities and opened their hearts a little bit wider.

What were the deciding factors in traveling around the world, rather than picking a few locations, or even staying stateside?

Traveling around the world is a dream. It’s one of those long-shot bucket list items that a lot of people write down but few people ever actually do. Like running a marathon or bungee jumping in Australia. Wouldn’t it be amazing? For us, we were motivated to make it happen and so we went. But we are nothing special in that regard. If you’re interested in how to make a trip like this happen for you and your family, I wrote a chapter at the back of the book on how to volunteer your way around the world. Truly, if we can do it, so can you. If it feels like too much, try a two-week volunteer vacation and see if it doesn’t touch your heart. Or volunteer in your own neighborhood. In many ways, I believe volunteering is almost selfish because you receive so much more than you give. As I say at the end of the book: You will not change the world. But the world will definitely change you.

I understand that you’ve gone back and spent time in India at the orphanage you wrote about in the book. What was it about that place that drew you back?

I went back to India, thinking I would volunteer my way around the country, maybe write about it as a follow up book. But I ended up very sick at the start and went back to the The Good Shepherd Agricultural Mission (a large orphanage on the Nepal border), which was the only place where I actually knew people. Once there, it was the kids who really nursed me back to health, and I ended up spending most of 2014 living with them. From terrible beginnings and hopeless situations, these kids are now filled with incredible joy and an infectious love that is hard to describe. It was so inspiring to me in fact, I’ve launched a non-profit called New Orphanage that looks to find and support the best orphan projects worldwide. I also hope to have my next book be about my time at the orphanage. Like Wide-Open World, I hope it helps readers see the difference one person can make in the world. And the difference the world can make in each of our lives.

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New Beginnings Announces Plans for New Youth Drop-In Center

New Beginnings, Inc., the Lewiston-based nonprofit serving homeless and runaway youth announced that they have raised over $1 million of the $1.25 million needed to renovate the former Jewish Community Center on College Street in Lewiston.

The announcement was made with over 50 members from the community on-hand on Friday, February 13th, in a noontime ceremony. This will now serve as the home of the New Beginnings Youth Drop-In Center.

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The announcement was made jointly with the Androscoggin County Chamber of Commerce. Chip Morrison, Chamber president, served as emcee during Friday’s ceremony. Morrison mentioned the special place that the Jewish Community Center holds for many local residents.

“So many people in this community have positive memories of this place—as a daycare, community center, and so much more,” said Morrison. “I am just thrilled to see that it will soon come back to life and serve families again.”

The new facility will house New Beginnings’ Outreach Program. It will also be a place where young people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness can come for basic needs—things like a warm meal, a hot shower, and a safe space off the streets. The Outreach program has outgrown their current space in downtown Lewiston.

Kristen Cloutier, Lewiston Ward 5 city councilor spoke to the successful fundraising efforts behind the capital campaign by New Beginnings.

“It’s impressive that New Beginnings has already raised $1 million of their goal of $1.25 million,” said Cloutier. “I’m happy to be here this morning celebrating a new beginning and a safe haven for countless youth in this community.”

New Beginnings purchased the College Street building at the end of 2011. Plans are for it to also serve as their new agency home and headquarters. There will also be space for community and nonprofit classrooms, and a full gymnasium big enough to accommodate a variety of services, events, as well as community-wide trainings.

Support for New Beginnings’ building campaign has come from local businesses, individuals, and private foundations—including the John T. Gorman Foundation and a $500,000 grant from the Next Generation Foundation of Maine.

“This impact of this grant is enormous for our agency and the 700 young people we serve each year,” said New Beginnings Executive Director Bob Rowe. “Before this award, we planned to complete the renovation in phases over several years.  We are so grateful to the Next Generation Foundation for allowing us to proceed with renovating the whole project at once, so that we can focus on our core mission of helping vulnerable youth and families.”

More Information about the project can be found at the New Beginnings website, or by calling Development Director, Rachel Spencer-Reed, at 207-795-4077.

New Beginnings is an Electricity Maine  Power To Help partner. As a Maine owned company, we share in the responsibility to build community.      In addition to financial support, Electricity Maine also provides other resources to help non-profits be successful, including technical expertise in areas such as marketing and IT, as well as volunteers for a variety of activities.

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Waterville Creates! Offers Up Arts and Culture

Downtowns in the United States began emptying out during the 1960s and early 1970s. This suburban exodus, encouraged by federal programs like urban renewal, along with the weakening of America’s social contract, left places like Waterville with urban-like infrastructure and buildings, but little economic vitality centered in its downtown district.

With two exits off Maine’s major north/west thruway, Interstate 95, Waterville looks just like countless other places located along America’s car corridors. Retail establishments and chain eateries with their ubiquitous drive-thrus make it all-too-easy for motorists to jump off, and never take the time to visit the rest of the city, including its historic downtown.

With the proliferation of strip malls and big box centers along Kennedy Memorial Drive and the section of Main Street near the interstate, Waterville’s once vibrant retail district bordering the Kennebec River was left with vacant storefronts and not much else to lure visitors. This accelerated downtown’s downward economic spiral. The trend towards sprawl development has continued unabated for the past 40 years in this Central Maine city, an hour north of Portland.

Like other mill communities located along the rivers of Northern New England, Waterville was once a textile center, its mills occupying prime real estate along the waterfront. During the first part of the 19th century, C.F. Hathaway saw that Waterville’s surrounding farming communities were a source of cheap labor. That and the loyalty of a workforce that was 95 percent female, kept America’s oldest men’s shirtmaker humming along after others had closed. Then, at the dawn of the 21st century, a globalized economy and the lure of even cheaper offshore labor deemed Waterville’s workforce and average hourly wages of $7.50 too costly for maximizing profits. The Warnaco Group, Inc., the company the bought it to squeeze out the last remaining profits, tried closing the factory in 1996. A group of investors was secured by then Maine governor, John McKernan, managing to limp along until closing for good in 2001, after 165 years.

Nate Rudy, the newly-hired executive director of Waterville Creates!, a downtown-based nonprofit focused on facilitating closer collaboration among the city’s arts groups, is bullish about the role of arts and culture in reviving downtown Waterville. He also touched on national trends and demographics that are once again viewing urban space and walkability in a favorable light. Millennials in particular want places where they can live and work in close proximity to one another.

“After World War II, people were looking to get as far away as possible from those dense neighborhoods that they grew up in,” said Rudy.

Rudy arrives at this new role in Waterville after serving for nearly four years as Gardiner’s economic and community development director. Waterville Creates! gathers a diverse mix of arts and community groups in Waterville, and across the Kennebec Valley region. The new organization was formed under the umbrella of the Waterville Regional Arts and Community Center (WRACC), a nonprofit group that owns The Center building at 93 Main Street, in what was once the former Sterns Department Store. Rudy, indicating that this a re-branding of sorts, also recognizes the importance of partnering more intentionally in Waterville.

“Technically, we are still the Waterville Regional Arts and Community Center—doing business as Waterville Creates!—so there’s no real change there,” Rudy said. “However, arts and culture have the potential to be a community and economic driver for the City of Waterville and the Kennebec Valley. The role of Waterville Creates! will be to promote the existing arts and cultural resources and organizations who are part of this community.”

Jennifer Olsen, director for Waterville Main Street, serves on the Waterville Creates! board. She is excited about this new emphasis on arts and culture, and the push to bring even greater vitality to the Main Street business district at the heart of Waterville’s downtown.

“I think Nate’s economic development background, as well as his passion for the arts make him an ideal fit for this new position,” said Olsen.

Waterville Main Street is a partner organization of Waterville Creates!. Their role since 2001, when the city was designated a Main Street Maine community, has been to advance efforts in developing downtown into a thriving and energetic commercial hub, centered on social, cultural and entertainment destinations.

“Waterville has some wonderful assets and arts infrastructure,” said Olsen. “We have the Opera House, as well as the influence and role that Colby (College) plays in promoting the arts,” she said.

Olsen mentioned that Waterville serves as a regional downtown, drawing people from across the river in Winslow, as well as from surrounding communities. She sees the city’s potential as a destination for historic architecture, with events like the Maine International Film Festival, entering its 17th year, and potential to expend the arts and cultural activities spearheaded by Waterville Creates!.

Mural-Downtown Waterville
Mural-Downtown Waterville

Rudy has concerns about the ancillary way that downtowns have been viewed by economic developers, some local business leaders, and policymakers. Regional economic decisions, like FirstPark, centered economic hopes on suburban business models involving one person driving one automobile—at the very same time that downtown leases were affordable and available. The suburban build-out that’s taken place over the past three decades bypassed tangible assets in the community.

“I think there’s been a real lapse in aesthetics in public policy in the planning and building of our physical environment,” said Rudy. “I think this is manifested—with the worst examples of this in terms of form and aesthetics—in the urban renewal that occurred during the 1960s.”

This was when economic vitality began leaving Waterville’s downtown, as well as former downtown districts across the state and nation.

The community’s mill structures, like the former Hathaway mill, and the death of textile manufacturing, also contributed to the hollowing out of downtown business districts like Waterville’s.

“Without sounding overly political on this—globalization played a role, as did cost-cutting, and corporate structures that were focused more on short-term profits, rather than people and workers and what was best for communities,” he said.

Assets like the ones downtown Waterville has could be leveraged in attracting a younger demographic to the area at a time when Maine is growing older by the day. Rudy ticked off several of these:

  • Waterville’s physical proximity to the rivers; the convergence of the Sebasticook and Kennebec Rivers (just east of the Carter Memorial Bridge, between Waterville and Winslow)
  • The mills and downtown’s historic architecture
  • The sense of place that Waterville’s past history represents, giving residents a sense of who they are
  • Downtown represents ties to that past, and the history of how communities were formed

Part of the conversation also broached an important topic when discussing “arts and culture,” and how sometimes, people feel that they don’t know enough about them to participate in events centered in that sphere. Rudy elaborated on this, especially in relation to the role Waterville Creates! plays in including, rather than excluding people.

“The challenge becomes how to create places that are inclusive and that attract people that aren’t necessarily all like one another,” said Rudy. “Too often, you have these ‘educated’ discussions that can be intimidating and leave many on the fringes of the conversation.”

Rudy thinks that while it’s essential that Waterville has these conversations, incorporating them into an array of arts and cultural events, along with education about “what is art, it’s equally important that they remain inclusive and open to everyone.

“I think these are important discussions to have in the community,” said Rudy. “I also think Waterville Creates! is the facilitator that can bring people together in having them.”

Waterville Creates! being able to facilitate this offers the potential of bringing new energy to Waterville’s downtown. There is also the real potential represented by this, because in our 21st century world, there are fewer and fewer places where this is happening. Also, downtowns like Waterville’s are attractive to both younger Mainers, seniors, as well as others, looking for places where they can live, work, and connect, without relying on automobiles to make this happen.

Waterville Creates!, focused on Arts and Culture in downtown Waterville.
Waterville Creates!, focused on Arts and Culture in downtown Waterville.

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Seacoast United: Healthy Living and Youth Sports

Seacoast United has remained true to its mission—to advance the physical and social well-being of children and young adults through youth sports. Through their foundation, Seacoast United also make sure that any athlete, regardless of financial situation is able to participate.

Physical activity is important in the healthy development of children. Most of us know this, but children are less active now than ever before. The National Association for Sport and Physical Education notes that only one in three children are physically active every day.

Increased physical activity delivers physiological, psychological and social benefits. This is especially important during the developmental years, and it carries forward into adulthood. This latter factor is borne out by organizations like the American Heart Association, which indicates that increased physical activity leads to increased life expectancy and decreased risk of cardiovascular disease, along with other health benefits.

Seacoast United, founded in 1992 by Paul Willis, began with a simple mission—to advance the physical and social well-being of youth and young adults through sports like soccer. For the past 22 years, this organization has been true to that mission, one that has been getting young people up and off the couch and onto athletic fields in New Hampshire (and now, Maine). They’ve recently expanded into other sports, also.

According to James Peterson, director of sales and marketing for Seacoast United, Willer’s vision was for Seacoast to be both an exclusive soccer training program, but also an inclusive one. What this means is that while there are a myriad of opportunities for highly-skilled players to play at the upper echelons of competition, Seacoast will never turn anyone away from their programs due to economics or if they aren’t an elite skill-level player, which is unique for a program like this one.


SeacoastUnited
“Seacoast started with just two youth teams, and now, we have more than 5,000 athletes enrolled in our various programs,” said Peterson. “We’ve also branched out from soccer and are now offering team sports like baseball, softball, field hockey, and lacrosse.”

Peterson mentioned that while the focus is always on getting kids introduced to soccer (and other sports), the sports programming has continued growing and evolving.

“We now have select, elite, and professional level teams,” Peterson said. “Our summer college league (minor league) team is a nationally-recognized program. Last year, they won their league, which is part of the Premier Development League (PDL),” he said.

Peterson mentioned that Seacoast affiliates itself with outstanding coaches.

“50 percent of our staff has international experience,” Peterson added.

Peterson himself came to Seacoast after a stint with Oxford United, a premiere club program in Great Britain.

He talked about the important life lessons that sports offers those who choose to participate, like the “three P’s.”

“Sports is a great tool for young people to learn about teamwork, discipline, dealing with adversity—all things that are important for success in life.”

According to Peterson, Seacoast also has a significant number of players progressing up through their ranks.

“We had a case study done that indicated that 60 percent of our junior academy players went to our premiere and select division teams,” said Peterson.

Seacoast isn’t just a New Hampshire-based program any longer. While they have a state-of-the-art 70,000-square-foot indoor facility in Hampton and a four-field outdoor complex in Epping, they’ve expanded their soccer and baseball programming into southern Maine, as well as now having Seacoast affiliates in Portland, Topsham, and Bangor.

The Seacoast Foundation holds fundraising and charity events to support the overall goals and programming of Seacoast United. Much of the funding generated each year provides scholarships for athletes who may not be able to afford to participate with town club teams, or go on to elite level competitions. This includes traveling to national and international tournaments.

Peterson mentioned that they hold two major fundraisers each year.

“We have our annual soccer-a-thon, which takes place over a 24-hour period in April. We start games at 4:00 pm on Friday and these go continuously through Saturday at 4:00,” said Peterson. “These take place at our indoor facility in Hampton and the fields in Epping. We raised $70,000 in 2014,” he said.

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Peterson added that Seacoast included participants from the Special Olympics in this year’s soccer-a-thon.

“They has such a great time and it was gratifying to have them participating with us.”

Another fundraiser Peterson mentioned was their Annual Gala held at the beautiful and historic Wentworth-by-the-Sea, in New Castle, New Hampshire. This is hosted by Ocean Properties, a business sponsor for Seacoast.

“All the proceeds from this go to our scholarship fund,” said Peterson.

All three Provider Power company’s , support Seacoast United’s Foundation through our Power To Help Initiative.  When enrolling with ENH Power, Electricity Maine or Provider Power Mass  customers select from a list of non-profit partners and we make a contribution to that organization.  

To learn more click on the link from the state you live in:

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Capitalists with Heart, Community

It Takes an Island: How An Island Employee Cooperative Was Born

What do you do when the owners of all the businesses on island want to retire? Form a co-op of course. Deer Isle, a small island with 2,400 residents off the coast of Maine’s Blue Hill Peninsula, could have seen the elimination of jobs and important retain stores. Instead the Island Employee Cooperative was born.

You could lose your job – or you could own the company. Which sounds more appealing?

This choice confronted employees of three companies in Deer Isle, a small island with 2,400 residents off the coast of Maine’s Blue Hill Peninsula. All of the businesses – Burnt Cove Market, The Galley, V&S Variety/ Pharmacy – belonged to Verne and Sandra Seile, who were planning to retire after more than 40 years of small business ownership.

Employees worried that a new buyer might fire staff or cut salaries, or worse that the businesses might close entirely. That would not only eliminate dozens of jobs, it would also devastate the local economy. “These are essential, lifeblood type businesses,” says Rob Brown, director of the Cooperative Development Institute‘s Business Ownership Solutions program. “It’s groceries, prescription medications, gas stations – and for most of these, it’s the only [option] for 45 minutes.”

The solution: have the employees buy the companies. Over the course of about nine months, they created the Island Employee Cooperative, which took ownership of the businesses on June 11.

“It’s really a win-win situation,” says Mr. Brown. “It allowed the Seiles to retire and be compensated for their many decades of entrepreneurship and building these businesses, and it rewarded the employees for stepping up and taking ownership of these businesses.”

Finding financing for the co-op wasn’t easy. “It’s hard to say to a bank, I’d like several million dollars but I don’t have a penny,” said IEC president Alan White at a recent public meeting.

Eventually, the IEC secured several loans, including one from the Cooperative Fund of New England, one held by the Seiles, and another that the Seiles will sell to the National Cooperative Bank next month, says Deanna Oliver, another IEC board member.

Mr. Brown is now working with more Maine businesses that are hoping to transfer from their initial owners to becoming employee owned. “When a group of workers are the owners of the business, that business becomes much more rooted in the social and economic fabric of the community, and that has tremendous benefits for both the workers and the community,” he explained via email.

At a public meeting on October 13, Mr. Brown pointed out that when outside investors buy a business, they often outsource work, lay off employees, or cut salaries to recoup their initial investment. But when workers buy a business, “the logic is turned upside down.”

“The great thing about this is that to cooperatively own a business with your coworkers is much more sustainable for most people than the idea that we’re all going to independently, entrepreneurially start our own businesses,” he said during our conversation. “A lot of people just cannot do that – they don’t have the skill sets or life just doesn’t allow for that. But working cooperatively together, a group of people can sustainably own a business together and run it and be responsible for it.”

Ms. Oliver agrees. “We live in the community, we work here, we want to support it ourselves and we want to support the community also,” she says. “Now being part-owners – and there’s over 40 of us – coming to work doesn’t mean the same thing that it used to mean. There are smiles on faces, and people go the extra mile to help customers out, so it benefits the customers too.”

In practice, when a cooperative of workers owns a business, each worker buys one share in the company and has one vote. All corporate profits are then distributed among the shareholders. For small co-ops, decisions are made collectively by the workers, while in bigger ones, like the IEC, decisions are made by a board of directors elected by the member-owners.

Will this prove sustainable?

“I sure hope so!” laughs Ms. Oliver. “The community depends on us, and we depend on them, so we’re hoping this will continue for a very long time. This is our retirement, our future, our kids’ future.”

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New Beginnings Brings “THE HOMESTRETCH” To Lewiston

New Beginnings, a Lewiston Maine based agency dedicated to improving the lives of homeless youth and families in crisis, sponsored a local showing of the film "HOMESTRETCH". A 60-minute documentary by filmmakers Anne De Mare and Kirsten Kelly, HOMESTRETCH chronicles three homeless teens and elements of their lives over a period of five years.

On any given night, there are 2,000 to 3,000 homeless teens on the streets of Chicago. This number is multiplied across similar urban landscapes in America. The National Coalition for Homeless Youth estimates that there are more than 1.6 million teens in various stages of homelessness in the U.S.

The Homestretch, a 60-minute documentary by filmmakers Anne De Mare and Kirsten Kelly, chronicles three homeless teens and elements of their lives over a period of five years. We watch as they struggle to remain in school, graduate, and find a job and a way forward into the future.

The film is screening across the country in November, as part of National Homeless Youth Awareness Month. It was shown in Lewiston, Maine at the Bates College Olin Arts Center on November 13. This local screening was facilitated by New Beginnings and the Harward Center for Community Partnerships, with funding provided by Electricity Maine.

Around 70 people were in attendance, which also included a 10-minute Q & A on youth homelessness, conducted by New Beginnings’ staff members.

What made the film particularly powerful was the unprecedented access granted to the filmmakers—both to their subjects and in their interactions with the Chicago Public Schools, the Night Ministry’s Crib emergency youth shelter, and Teen Living Programs’ Belfort House.

There are times while watching the film that you could easily forget that the featured subjects—homeless youths Kasey, Roque (pronounced, “Rocky”), and Anthony, along with Maria Rivera, a public school teacher who takes Roque into her home—are actually being captured on camera. Like all great documentary filmmaking, you are pulled into the lives of each subject, and are granted an intimate and up close look at the seemingly insurmountable challenges facing homeless teens.

All three of the teens faced uncertainty and loneliness. Viewers get a sense of the dangers inherent in being on the streets during a Chicago winter, without shelter from the elements. Lacking some of the vital services like these, delivered by caring people, who go way beyond mere lip service or offering simply “a sandwich and some soup,” it’s unlikely that any of the teens would have had much hope for their future.

The Crib provides emergency shelter to homeless youth in Chicago.
The Crib provides emergency shelter to homeless youth in Chicago.

DeMare and Kelly deftly delve into the issues about teen homelessness and build compelling stories about their subjects. It’s obvious that the filmmakers care about them. Taken together, these stories also dispel the prevailing myths and misperceptions about teen homelessness.

Kasey, born on Chicago’s south side, bounced around for much of her early teen years, ending up in and out of shelters, but ultimately, back on the streets. She self-identifies as a lesbian, and notes that this is primary reason why her family kicked her out of their home. In fact, an estimated 40 percent of homeless youth served by various agencies identify as LGBTQ.

Roque, a young undocumented teen, is taken in by his teacher, Maria, to live with her family. Articulate, and a fan of Shakespeare, Roque struggles with the anger he feels from seeing his father deported by INS, back to Mexico. His mother remarries and he feels betrayed. These emotions cause him to lose a vital connection to family and contribute to him eventually being homeless and on the street. Roque’s story highlights America’s ongoing immigration issue and the significant number of immigrant youth who end up homeless after being separated from their families.

His love for theater helps him persevere and finish high school. So does Maria, a dedicated and compassionate educator—who herself was once homeless—challenges Roque to think about college and taking him around to visit area schools his junior year of high school. He is eventually accepted by Northeast Illinois University, where he enrolls in their theater program.

Anthony grew up in foster care. He ended up homeless when he left a foster home where he was being abused. According to the National Coalition for the Homeless, nearly half of all runaway and homeless youth in the U.S. have experienced physical abuse, and 38 percent have been abused emotionally.

In order to stay afloat financially, Anthony works multiple jobs while preparing to take his GED exam. He passes and is accepted into the Year UP Chicago program. The film ends with him being offered an internship in telecommunications.

Transitional housing, emergency shelters (which Kasey, Anthony, and Roque all took advantage of at one point), and educational programs are essential in helping youth gain access to housing and jobs. So are caring adults and mentors, like Maria, as well as the staff at various organizations supporting youth transition out of homeless situations.

Adequate funding for these supports is also a key element. Housing, transitional support and jobs can make a difference and allow success stories like those of Kasey, Anthony, and Roque to be the norm, rather than the exception.

For more information on this compelling documentary, visit the Kartemquin Films website.

New Beginnings is an Electricity Maine Power To Help Partner.  Electricity Maine provides the tools and support each group needs to help them maximize their fundraising potential.

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