A variety of community services organizations – from educational initiatives, to emergency food programs, to assistance for victims of sexual assault – received a cash infusion from Town & Country Federal Credit Union of Maine this month.

Twenty-five nonprofits from Cumberland and York counties were nominated for the Better Neighbor Fund in September and solicited Facebook votes throughout October – with a total of 5,520 votes cast. All that was left was to announce the winners. The top three groups with the most votes would receive $5,000 grants, and the next top five would receive $2,000 grants.

“Apart from the financial aspects of the grants, I hope that the ‘buzz’ generated online and through the support of the media, brought renewed attention and awareness to the goals of all the 25 nonprofits that were nominated and the great works that they do for so many,” said David Libby, Town & Country president and CEO.

Nominated organizations had been asked to make a pitch for a new or fledging initiative that could move forward with the assistance of the grant money. Many of these plans for growth or expanded services depended on the voting results.

Waiting for the big announcement, representatives from these groups mingled in suspense at a reception at Town & Country’s Forest Avenue branch.

The first organization awarded a $5,000 grant was Long Barn Education Initiative at Broadturn Farm to continue to builds its farm-to-school partnership with the Scarborough Public Schools, teaching kids where their food comes from.

“We’re so used to going to the grocery store and taking something off the shelf without thought as to how it got there,” said Megan Dunn, co-education director at Long Barn. “There’s a real disconnect in our culture.”

Dunn had been a farmhand at Broadturn, then graduated from the University of Southern Maine with a degree in art education and put these seemingly diverse experiences together.

“There’s an interesting art and agriculture connection,” Dunn said. “A lot of people who work at Broadturn are artists, crafters or educators.”

The Long Barn Education Initiative started with school field trips to the farm and has grown to include a stronger partnership with the Scarborough schools, including school visits, curriculum planning, and partnering with teachers and parents.

Community programs have expanded from an eight-week summer camp on the farm to also include preschool programs, after-school programs, events, and adult classes and workshops in skills such as food preservation.

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southern Maine received a $5,000 grant to help grow the organization’s site-based mentoring outreach program for children ages 7 to 17 in elementary and middle schools. Across Cumberland and York counties, 29 Big Brother Big Sister programs match adults with kids who need that extra attention and one-on-one time.

Frannie Peabody Center, Maine’s largest HIV/AIDS prevention and services organization, received a $5,000 grant to support the organization’s emergency food program that helps buy food for clients living with HIV/AIDs who are in need of assistance. Katie Rutherford, director of development at Frannie Peabody, said that the Portland-based organization serves 380 clients, the majority of whom are living in poverty.

Recipients of the $2,000 grants included Sexual Assault Response Services of Southern Maine, a Portland-based organization that operates a 24-hour crisis and support line and supports victims of sexual assault with follow-up on hospital visits and court visits.

Not all victims of sexual assault can “go home” safely, explained Amy Thomas, representing Sexual Assault Response Services. In a recent example, the attacker lived in the same building as the victim. For these sorts of situations, the Better Neighbor grant will be use to provide food, clothing, and transportation, as needed.

Birth Roots, which provides pre-and postnatal information, resources, and support, received a $2,000 grant for its “Blossoming Newborns” weekend co-educational classes.

Birth Roots co-founder Leah Deragon, with her 9-day-old daughter Greta sleeping on her chest, said the grant will expand Birth Roots programming beyond weekday business hours so that working parents – especially fathers – can participate. “Blossoming Newborns” will help new parents reduce stress, improve social supports and build a foundation of early parenting skills.

Another $2,000 grant goes to Wayside Food Programs, which brought in and redistributed 2 million pounds of food last year, serving 48 food pantries and soup kitchens in Cumberland County. The grant will support the Wayside’s “Under One Roof” project, consolidating all Wayside operations in one location, including a new kitchen and warehouse facility.

“Bringing all our operations under one roof creates efficiency,” said Mary Zwolinski, director of Wayside Food Programs. “When we save more money, we can put more into our programs.”

Junior Achievement of Maine received a $2,000 grant, which representative Michelle Anderson said would help fund financial literacy education programs in the Greater Portland area. Junior Achievement reaches about 9,100 students in grades K-12 throughout Maine.

Casa Maine received a $2,000 grant to help purchase a handicapped accessible van to transport adults and children in the Great Portland area who receive services from CASA.

“We have so many people who are so incredibly committed to building our community and making it strong,” said Bob Leger, chief financial officer of Town & Country Federal Credit Union.

 

Amy Paradysz is a freelance writer who lives in Scarborough. She can be contacted at:

amyedits@aol.com