What does community mean? And what do we want our community to be? I know what I want. I want our individuals and their families, our neighborhoods and towns to thrive. I think that’s not just about individual effort and fortitude. Thriving as a community requires community commitment. It requires acknowledging the ups as well as the downs of living in community and sharing both. It requires will, humility, and kindness.

I’ve been privileged to call Maine home for most of my life. Brunswick has been my chosen home for 22 years. Through jobs lost and won, while my children stretched from elementary school through college, while the economy dipped and soared, and while political winds have shifted, I’ve counted on my community to provide a foundation of support for me and my family.

Feeling part of this community has meant leaning on friends for carpools, home repairs, or a listening ear. It has meant trusting Brunswick teachers to care for each of my children as individuals. Here, I can freely step onto a beautiful college campus, attend a performance, walk the dog. I can safely run through the woods or on the roads because my community keeps those spaces safe and accessible to me. I have ready access to great healthcare. I can get any book I want or need from my beautiful local library. My family has had the opportunity to thrive because of this supportive community.

Community, like family, is about both joy and struggle. In the Midcoast, our joys include dramatic natural beauty, thriving downtowns, championship teams, musical theater, healthy schools, a modern hospital. But like most of the U.S., we have challenges too. Some are hard to acknowledge: homeless kids, growing income inequality, multigenerational poverty.

Policy solutions are slow. Thankfully, communities can and do work to fill the gaps. Here in the Midcoast, we have four safety net agencies, all non-profits, each providing support to our neighbors experiencing one or more of the challenges life throws to all of us. The Midcoast Hunger Prevention Program does excellent work to address food insecurity in our community. The staff and volunteers at Tedford Housing work tirelessly to prevent homelessness and to provide emergency shelter and supportive housing for previously homeless families and individuals. The Gathering Place in downtown Brunswick offers daytime shelter, friendship and hope to the materially poor or homeless. And Oasis Free Clinics delivers high-quality primary care, dental care, and prescription assistance to uninsured, low-income patients. These organizations–relying on a few employees and many devoted volunteers–demonstrate the community commitment we need to thrive here in the Midcoast. They acknowledge that life’s ups and downs can happen to anyone of us. They embody the will, humility, and kindness needed to make Midcoast Maine a true community.

With my Midcoast community, I’ve celebrated weddings, graduations, business launches, garden harvests and holiday feasts. But I’m old enough now, despite my many privileges, to also have been derailed by divorce, job loss, injury, even a house fire. I’m no stranger to caring for loved ones through car accidents, addiction, cancer care, and mental health crises. When I have been at my worst—jobless, exhausted and demoralized, I’ve been lucky to count on my community for support.

When I imagine our community in the future, I imagine that every one of us, every neighbor, gets to feel the warmth and support I have felt here. That even when the layoff happens, or illness strikes, our community will rise up to support its own. If we want to thrive, if we want to celebrate life’s victories together, we must also band together to make the burdens of misfortune easier to bear.

The staff and volunteers at MCHPP, Tedford, The Gathering Place, and Oasis, deserve our recognition and support. Each of these organizations works to care for those of us experiencing the hard knocks life sometimes delivers. They do it with good cheer, with persistence, with scarce resources, and with a commitment to a better future for all of us. I thank them for their will, their humility, and their kindness.

Oasis Free Clinics provides free medical, dental and prescription assistance to low income, uninsured adults living in Freeport, Durham, Harpswell and Brunswick. For more information, call 721-9277 or visit www.OasisFreeClinics.org. Shannon Banks is the president of the Oasis board of directors. Giving Voice is a weekly collaboration among four local non-profit service agencies to share information and stories about their work in the community. 

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