Meredith Yasek, of New York, and David Whiston, of Portland, rappel down Portland’s One City Center in 2014 during a fundraising event for Rippleffect. On Saturday, rappellers will tackle 1 Canal Plaza to raise money for Veterans Count Maine. File photo / The Forecaster

Casco resident Todd Crawford will do something this weekend he never got a chance to do during his long military career: scale down the side of a building.

“Even though I was in the Army, I never had the opportunity to rappel,” said Crawford, who retired from the military after 28 years in the Navy and Army National Guard, including a tour in Iraq from 2003-2005.

Starting at 9 a.m. Saturday, he and dozens of other people will rappel from a 10-story office building at 1 Canal Plaza in Portland in partnership with Over the Edge to raise money for Veterans Count Maine, an Easterseals Maine program that helps veterans and their families transition from military to civilian life.

When the opportunity arose to partner with the special events company Over the Edge to raise money for Veterans Count, the organization jumped at the chance.

“It seemed so right in line with what we do,” said Crawford, a member of the Veterans Count board and the organizer of the Over the Edge event. “Figuratively speaking, veterans and the families are surmounting huge obstacles and we are here to help. What better symbol than us rappelling down a building in Portland to say we recognize their challenges and are here to meet them?”

As of June 14, participants were 26% of the way to the fundraising goal of $100,000.

“This is our first major fundraiser on this side of COVID-19,” said Joe Emmons, chief development officer for Easterseals New Hampshire, Maine and Vermont. “We intended to host this event last year when the pandemic shut us down. Our sponsors have taken a huge hit, and fundraising has been an uphill climb.”

The Don McLean Foundation, which financially assists college students, homeless shelters and food banks in Maine, is helping with the fundraising effort and has agreed to donate up to $10,000.

Crawford said the fundraiser comes at an important time for the organization.

“It’s our first big fundraiser in a year-plus,” he said.

Since forming more than a decade ago, Veterans Count Maine, the philanthropic arm of Easterseals Maine’s military and veterans programming, has served close to 2,500 service members/veterans and their families. It has distributed $296,600 in emergency financial aid, helped 167 at-risk families and 877 homeless families find permanent housing, helped secure mental health treatment for more than 250 individuals and helped close to 400 people find jobs.

“It’s a broad spectrum of financial help and services that we provide to veterans and families of servicemen and veterans,” Crawford said.

Veterans Count, he said, can fill “the gap” for veterans looking for assistance when it is not available anywhere else or they don’t know where to turn.

“We like to say it is a hands-up, not a handout,” he said.

Easterseals’ Veterans Count is not the first local organization to raise money through Over the Edge. Rippleffect held six Over the Edge rappelling fundraisers at One City Center and 1 Canal Plaza in Portland between 2014 and 2019, raising about $500,000 for the organization for scholarships and school programming.

“The Rappel for Rippleffect was a fun, creative way to engage with members of our community,” said Executive Director Adam Shepherd. “It did an incredible amount of good for the organization.”

Shepherd, who participated in all six years of Rappel for Rippleffect, said each time was a thrilling experience.

“I am an adventurer, climber and mountaineer, but no matter how many times I am hanging on a rope, it was always a thrill to rappel down the side of a building,” he said.

Since 2008, Over the Edge has helped to raise more than $100 million for organizations all across the world.

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