Eight community organizations, each partnered with a local school district, will each receive a six-year, $600,000 grant as part of a larger effort to spur the post-secondary educational aspirations of rural middle- and high-school students, the Lerner Foundation announced Monday.

“Too many young people in rural Maine are missing out on opportunities to reach their full potential as future citizens and leaders in our state,” said Eliot Cutler, president of the Lerner Foundation and chair of its board of directors.

The partnerships represent 39 towns and cities in Maine, with most having a population of less than 2,000 residents.

The $4.8 million in grants are part of the foundation’s new $7 million “Aspirations Incubator” that will include an institute for developing youth leadership skills.

The program marks a new mission for the Lerner Foundation, which was established in 2009 by the trust of philanthropists Emanuel and Pauline Lerner. The foundation previously made grants to a range of organizations in Maine, but suspended grantmaking in February 2015 to evaluate its focus.

The aspirations program will be the sole focus of the foundation for the next six years, and will largely draw down the foundation’s assets, according to Executive Director Erin Cinelli.

The grants go to:

— Chewonki/RSU1. Chewonki is an environmental education school and camp based in Wiscasset. RSU1 serves Arrowsic, Bath, Phippsburg, Woolwich and surrounding communities.

— Community Bicycle Center/Biddeford School Department. The center serves 400 Biddeford children each year through free bicycle-related activities.

— Kieve-Wavus Education/AOS 93. Kieve-Wavus, in Nobleboro, runs year-round camps for adults and youth. AOS 93 serves the Lincoln County towns of Bremen, Bristol, Damariscotta, Jefferson, Newcastle, Nobleboro, and South Bristol.

— Old Town-Orono YMCA/RSU 34. The Old Town-Orono YMCA will partner with RSU 34, which serves Alton, Bradley and Old Town in Penobscot County.

— Seeds of Independence/Brunswick School Department. Seeds of Independence offers mentoring and programs to teens 11-18.

— The EdGE program of Maine Seacoast Mission/SAD 37. EdGE offers after-school, in-school, and summer programs to students from Gouldsboro to Machias. SAD 37 serves the Washington County communities of Addison, Columbia, Columbia Falls, Harrington, and Milbridge.

— The Game Loft/RSU 3. The Game Loft is an after-school program serving youth ages of 6-18 in Belfast and Thorndike. RSU 3 serves the Waldo County towns of Brooks, Freedom, Jackson, Knox, Liberty, Monroe, Montville, Thorndike, Troy, Unity and Waldo.

— University of Maine 4-H Center at Bryant Pond/SAD 44. The University of Maine 4-H Center at Bryant Pond offers environmental education programs. SAD 44 serves the Oxford County towns of Andover, Bethel, Gilead, Greenwood, Newry, and Woodstock.

Noel K. Gallagher can be reached at 791-6387 or at:

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Twitter: noelinmaine

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