Sweetser’s 26th annual Sold On Kids auction brought in $116,000 to support the large, nonprofit mental health agency’s work with children.

“Now, more than ever, we really do need you by our side to fulfill our vision of providing promising futures,” Chief Executive Officer Deb Taylor told the crowd of 400 supporters April 20 at the Marriott at Sable Oaks in South Portland. Taylor reported that Sweetser grew in size by one-third in April, expanding services as part of the statewide crisis services support line, as well as making its first foray into services for intellectual and developmental disabilities.

“Sweetser serves both children and adults, though this event is focused on the children’s services,” said Susan Pierter, director of communications, moments before Sweetser supporters raised their bid numbers to pledge a total of $11,000 for children’s activities and day trips.

“This helps with all the little extras that the kids need,” said Sweetser employee Kathryn Martin.

Sweetser’s programs for children include residential services, crisis services and two special schools – one in Saco and one in Belfast – that served 177 students last year.

“We serve 20,000 people throughout the state of Maine, and there’s never enough money,” said board member Bill Zafirson of Saco. “We get state funding but a lot of what we do is based on donations to support the mission.”

The fundraiser opened with a silent auction with 268 items, mostly donated from local businesses. “I buy trips,” said Elsie J. Parquette, the former director of education for whom Sweetser’s school in Saco is named. “I know the children, so I know what this does for the children.”

“Lots of kids can’t learn in a traditional classroom setting,” said Sue Sturgis of Portland, “and Sweetser provides alternative learning that’s so vital to meeting their potential.”

“Many children who come to Sweetser have been in foster care and in multiple treatment facilities, and they come to us get a fresh start and get back on track,” said Teena Zimmerman, a Sweetser psychologist.

“Mental health is a disease just like any other, and it can be treated,” said board member Melissa Richter of Cumberland. “That’s the message of Sweetser: It’s promising futures and hope.”

“Every staff member I have met is here for the call of their heart,” said Donna Piccininni, an outpatient psychiatric nurse practitioner. “They are rock stars, dedicating their lives to those who otherwise might have no hope.”

Amy Paradysz is a freelance writer and photographer based in Scarborough. She can be reached at:

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