Maine has the sixth-highest average student debt in the entire country, with the average student incurring over $33,000 for their college experience.

When I was in the Legislature, this was a constant topic amongst younger members on both sides of the aisle. It was a topic that united us, and we were able to work on bipartisan initiatives like an expansion of the Opportunity Maine Tax Credit and increases in the state grant. Getting straddled with so much debt early in life, prevented many people I know from delaying major life milestones like marriage or buying a house. Add in major economic downturns and it’s a recipe for long term effects on many people’s ability to provide for themselves and acquire wealth, let alone the impact it has on our economy and society as a whole.

Education is an important pathway to success. It doesn’t have to be college. It could come in the form of training for the trades, which have fields in very high demand. It could be a professional certificate program to get your foot in the door. There are lots of ways of leveraging education to verify some value-added aspect of a job or career. I’m a big believer in investing in your knowledge and skills throughout your life, aka lifelong learning. Hence why I recently completed a post-baccalaureate degree program through the University of Maine system. You truly never stop learning and the time you take to advance yourself pays dividends in many ways even beyond simply a paycheck.

Back in 2013, I founded a nonprofit organization that provided college scholarships to deserving students making a difference above and beyond what is required of them. Today, I continue this work through the Chenette Scholarship Fund. Over the years we’ve fundraised and received grants for, scholarships totaling over $6,000 in our area. It’s one of the things I’m most proud of doing and I look forward to continuing to provide more scholarships in the years ahead. We have two scholarships based in Saco and Old Orchard Beach.

Olivia Hand of Saco is this year’s Spirit of Service Scholarship recipient. Olivia has been a compassionate leader in the classroom, on the field, and throughout the community. I’ve seen up close her dedication to putting the needs of others first without regard to credit or attention. While a student at Thornton Academy, Olivia volunteered with a local food pantry, assisted with various community events as a member of the National Honor Society, was an Honorary Senate page, and served as the Varsity Volleyball captain. She even earned the Presidential Service Award for Community Service. Olivia will attend Stonehill College this fall.

Garrett Dupee of Old Orchard Beach is our Old Orchard Beach High School recipient of our Future Entrepreneur Scholarship, founded to empower new small business owners. Garrett steps up to the plate to lift up those around him while setting an example for his fellow peers. He is someone with an entrepreneurial eye towards the future and I know he will achieve anything he sets his mind to. While a student at OOB High, Garrett was on a fundraising committee for Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital juvenile diabetes fund, volunteered with Saco Bay Rotary and the Ride for Autism, was a member of the National Technical Honor Society, as well as coached and announced various youth sports. He even earned a full semester of college credits by completing a small business management certificate from York County Community College. Garrett will attend Thomas College this fall to obtain degrees in business administration. He hopes to own a small business in the future.

Another scholarship I helped create as a board member, is the Saco Main Street Scholarship at Thornton Academy. This year, we awarded it to Megan Montoya of Saco. Megan graduated Summa Cum Laude and is headed to the University of Richmond in the fall to pursue Global Studies. She dedicates her free time to the community and volunteers with groups such as the Salvation Army, Honor Flight Maine, the Ironman Races, and with the Pony Club at Carlisle Academy Integrative Therapy & Sports.

Every year I am in awe of the graduates from our local schools. They are the next generation of leaders, but they aren’t waiting around to take action or help others. They are stepping up for their communities now and in the process setting a positive example to their peers on how to be of service. It is my hope that with the scholarships that we provide, I can help play a small role in encouraging youth to reach their greatest potential and follow their passion.

Justin Chenette is the former state senator for the Saco-OOB area. He is currently a scholarship program director, Maine-Canadian Legislative Advisory commissioner, member of the Maine Right to Know Advisory Committee, mayoral appointee on the Saco Long-Range Planning Committee, and a member of the Saco Main Street Board of Directors. Learn more at

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