They are names you wouldn’t know if your reading of the news was limited to the latest bombshell.

But if you owned a struggling small business in Wells, or you were an asylum seeker in Portland or a senior Down East confounded by the internet, these names might ring a bell.

Emily and Sean Roche, who raised $40,000 to stimulate their hometown economy; Nancy Markowitz, who mentors immigrant families, and Susan Corbett, who heads an agency that teaches computer literacy, were three of the “Mainers to be Thankful For” profiled in the Portland Press Herald on Nov. 25, the latest installment in a holiday tradition that pays attention to the normally unsung volunteers and activists who make our communities stronger. You can read their stories on our website: www.pressherald.com

Although it’s an annual feature, this year’s installment seems even more inspiring. The 2020 holidays will be remembered for the things what we will have to learn to do without. Many families gave up traditional gatherings, canceled travel plans or let a phone call take the place of a welcome guest.

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, thousands of Mainers are out of work, hundreds of small businesses are on the rocks and 190 families have lost a loved one forever.

When adding up these losses, it’s encouraging to think of the people who are restoring our communities, contributing to their neighbors at the same time that so much is being taken away.

In addition to the names mentioned above, we heard the stories of:

• Bruce Bottiglierie, who operates the Winslow Community Cupboard, a food pantry.

• Margaret Brownlee and Pedro Vazquez, who started Maine’s first municipal human rights commission in South Portland.

•  Brian Diamond-Falk, who rebuilds donated bicycles at his home in Portland to provide transportation for people in need.

• Deb Kiker, who keeps health care workers healthy as the occupational health director at Lewiston-based Central Maine Healthcare.

• Cindy Gowell of Sabattus, who keeps knitting hats and scarves for people who are cold, even though she’s been diagnosed with lung cancer.

• Nicole Antonette Mokeme, who founded Rise and Shine Youth Retreat, a farm and retreat center in Bowdoin that introduces wellness and self-care for teens of color.

• Wayne Newell, a member of the Passamaquoddy Tribe who has devoted his life to preserving his native language and passing it on to future generations.

These contributions mean so much at this time because of the nature of COVID-19. We are all being asked to avoid gatherings, keeping our distance from each other and stay out of crowds. Events that used to bring people together, like high school graduations, sporting competitions or local theater productions, have been canceled. Worship services, weddings and funerals have had to be scaled back for safety.

The virus attacks the fabric of our communities, leaving many of us feeling isolated and forgotten.

These “Mainers to be Thankful For” are extraordinary, but this list is not exhaustive. Every community in our state has unsung heroes who offer help wherever it’s needed without waiting to be asked. There are both stalwarts and newcomers who see what needs to be done and do it.

These people are always around us, but when so much has been taken away, their contributions become even more visible.

Public health experts say that the end of the pandemic is in sight, and by this time next year many elements of our lives will be back to normal. That’s good news, but no matter how the world looks in 2021, it will be a long time before we forget the wild ride of 2020.

When we remember the months of uncertainty and the feelings of disbelief as a virus changed the way we went about our lives, we can also remember the people in every community who stepped up to help when they were needed.

Every time we look back, we can be thankful once again.


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