From left, Elle Foley, Emma Bowden and Sophia Turker pose in Falmouth on Friday. They started Gratitude for Maine, a nonprofit that sells calendars and notecards using their original photography to raise funds for the Susan L. Curtis Foundation, which sends children from lower-income backgrounds to summer camp in Maine. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

FALMOUTH — When summer camp options were limited last summer because of the coronavirus pandemic, middle-schoolers Elle Foley, Sophia Turker and Emma Bowden, all of Falmouth, attended a six-week photography camp hosted by a friend’s parent. There, they learned the basics of photography, meeting a couple of times a week and taking excursions to local sites to practice their skills. 

After the camp ended, however, the girls wanted to continue building on those skills and use their photos to spread appreciation for the state’s natural beauty. 

“At the beginning, we didn’t know what we were going to do with these photos. … We had a long process of deciding what to do,” said Bowden, 13, a student at North Yarmouth Academy. “We decided that we would share the beauty of Maine through these photos with other people.”

The trio eventually settled on selling their photos – in the form of notecards and calendars – to raise funds so that other kids could have the opportunity to have their own summer camp experience. They named their operation Gratitude for Maine and decided to donate the proceeds to the Susan L. Curtis Foundation, a nonprofit that operates Camp Susan Curtis, a tuition-free residential camp for Maine children facing economic hardship. 

A sampling of notecards sold by Gratitude for Maine, a nonprofit started by middle schoolers Elle Foley, Emma Bowden and Sophia Turker that sells calendars and notecards using their original photography to fundraise for the Susan L. Curtis Foundation. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

“We’ve sort of developed our mission statement a lot since the beginning, but right now it is to let all kids in Maine have the opportunity to attend summer camp,” said Foley, 12, a student at Falmouth Middle School.

The girls have had some help from the adults in their life. Foley’s mother, Courtney Rycyna, serves as their mentor and drives them to the post office to ship their products, and Foley’s stepfather, a software engineer, helped them set up a website to conduct sales. A neighbor who is a lawyer helped them apply for nonprofit status.

Mostly, though, they’ve divided the work between themselves. Foley – who describes herself as “not shy” – handles marketing, sales and web design. Bowden, a strong math student, is the group’s accountant, and Turker, who enjoys being creative, designs the products using Snapfish, a photo printing service. They’ve all continued to take photos throughout the past year, stopping whenever inspiration hits.

“Sometimes we go and pick (the spots for photos),” said Bowden. “But a lot of times we just are out exploring Maine and we’re like, ‘Wow, this is a good photo.'”

“The photos have something to do with Maine in them,” said Turker, 12, who also attends Falmouth Middle School with Foley. “So when you see them, (you think) ‘Oh, that’s Maine, it looks so beautiful.’ So we can bring the beauty of Maine into other people’s homes.”

A photo notecard sold by Gratitude for Maine, a nonprofit started by middle schoolers Elle Foley, Emma Bowden and Sophia Turker that sells calendars and notecards using their original photography to fundraise for the Susan L. Curtis Foundation. Photo courtesy of Gratitude for Maine

After starting the organization in September 2020, Gratitude for Maine released its first product – a 2021 calendar – at the end of the year. Initially, funding came entirely from donations from family and friends, but the group has since raised over $5,000, enabling them to cover all their startup costs and donate $500 to the Susan L. Curtis Foundation this past Tuesday. They continue to expand their line of merchandise, recently adding Gratitude for Maine T-shirts, and Turker is hard at work on a set of summer notecards. 

Now that the girls are on summer vacation, they have much more time to devote to Gratitude for Maine, but throughout the past year, they’ve had to balance the work with school and their other extracurricular activities. In April, they received a large influx of orders after being featured on TV, requiring them to work overtime after school and on the weekends to fill the orders.

“It was hard,” Bowden said about that period. “I was busy with sports and school and everything. But I just dedicated a lot of my free time to (Gratitude for Maine) because it’s important to me.”

The team hopes to continue raising money to share the summer camp experience for years to come. Products are available on the group’s website, gratitudeformaine.com.


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