This story’s headline & photo caption were updated on Dec. 6 to correct that the Emerge Maine program is not affiliated with Southern Maine Community College. The story also was updated to correct the number of alumnae who won their races and to clarify that the program focuses on Democratic women.

 

SOUTH PORTLAND — A Southern Maine Community College classroom buzzed with the chatter of 21 women Saturday morning.

“I’m the school bus driver,” said one woman, pointing to the appropriate square on a bingo-like handout that another woman was filling in with the names of her 20 peers.

“Who won the food eating contest,” someone else shouted from the middle of the room. “It’s my last square.”

The group of women from across the state participated in the icebreaker activity to kick off the first day of Emerge Maine, a program encouraging Maine women to run for local, county and state offices.

This is the fifth year the nonprofit organization has offered the six-month training program, which is targeted to Democratic women. Twenty-two alumnae of the program currently hold a political office and 19 graduates ran for various positions this year, including eight who won their races.

“Our purpose is to fill the pipeline and get more women elected to public positions,” Executive Director Katie Mae Simpson said.

After the morning’s icebreaker, Simpson reviewed what the women would learn over the next six months. Topics covered in workshops include social networking, selecting an office to run for, shadowing a current legislative member, campaigning and fundraising.

“We try to hit on everything you would encounter as a candidate,” she said.

Saturday’s session focused on communication training, which was led by Courtney Knapp, of Allegory Training Co. in San Francisco. Knapp relayed her own experience of nearly fainting before giving a speech at her friend’s wedding.

“There’s this physical experience, your body’s rebellion that comes with public speaking,” Knapp said.

Throughout the morning she asked the 21 women to participate in different exercises ranging from staring each other in the face to interviewing and later introducing each other in front of the group.

The exercises helped the women practice public speaking, identify strengths and build on Knapp’s tips for channeling the anxiety of public speaking into something positive.

As someone who is familiar to public speaking because of her job at APS Healthcare, Kelly Bickmore of Newburgh said the tips can help her improve a skill she is already good at.

“Sometimes your default is not always the best way,” she said, and building relationships with your audience was something new she learned.

Bickmore, who serves on the local school board, said she wanted to take part in the Emerge Maine program to learn more about campaigning for various positions.

Shannara Gillman of Seal Harbor said she has always had an interest in politics and is using the program as a way to kick start a future in the political arena.

“I don’t have a plan to run for X office,” she said. “This will help me clarify where I’d like to plug in and sort out my priorities.”

The Maine Legislature is made up of about 30 percent women, the 15th best ratio in the country, Simpson said.

Women make up only 17 percent of U.S. Congress.

Emerge Maine is one of nine state programs under the Emerge America umbrella hoping to increase those statistics.

A report issued by Brown University in 2004 questioning why women don’t run for office showed that 16 percent of women were encouraged to run for office by a party official, while 25 percent of men received similar encouragement.

Such statistics underlie Emerge Maine’s work, said Kaylene Waindle, a board member of the organization.

“Our goal is to close each of these gaps by inspiring women to serve, asking women to run, and providing the campaign training to win,” she said.

Staff Writer Emma Bouthillette can be contacted at 791-6325 or at:

[email protected]