By Cory King, Executive Director, Southern Midcoast Maine Chamber
“I believe that children are our future, teach them well, let them lead the way, show them all the beauty they possess inside. Give them a sense of pride, make it easier….” Those may be the opening lyrics to Whitney Houston’s power ballad “The Greatest Love of All,” but the words are nevertheless true.
I start with a joke, because sometimes when you are going to speak on something meaningful, it always helps to start it light. Though all of these awards are special, this is the one I get to select the winner for. The committee offered some great candidates, including this organization that was selected, but when it came down to it, it was my call. I’m not sure if they realize fully, how powerful the work they do is on everyone around them. I think they see the direct effects, but I”m not sure they are award of the ripple effects across the community, which is why I’m honored to recognize Midcoast Community Alliance with the 2020 Director’s Award.
Their story starts with a teenage suicide in June 2016 and the loss of a young community member that Jamie Dorr had watched grow up with her children. Jamie asked some parents who were part of the Friends of the Bath Youth Meetinghouse & Skatepark what could be done. This was not the first youth suicide in the area. In July 2016, Jamie called a meeting with the Bath Y, the Bath Rec Department, Morse High School officials and professionals from NAMI, the National Alliance for Mental Illness, around one question ‘Why does this keep happening?’. The next month, Bath PD and Sagadahoc County Sheriff’s Department came on board to discuss it. The following month, Mid Coast Hospital and United Way were at the table. Eventually, the Friends of the Bath Youth Meetinghouse & Skatepark dissolved and Midcoast Community Alliance replaced it.
Jamie quit her job as a graphic designer and instead focused on this project full-time starting as a volunteer and recently becoming the Executive Director. What they found through the early growth process is that were was a gap when people were looking for specific services. When people couldn’t find the help they needed, they began to spiral. Monthly they began to identify small programs and things that were missing and implemented changes on-site.
Art class? We can do that.
Winter clothes? Sure.
Do you need a snack? Here’s a snack.
Do you want to play a game? What games to you like?
Are you warm enough? Are you hungry? Are you looking for someone to talk to?
Do you need help with your homework?
What do you need? Because the answer is already yes.
Because the answer is already, yes.
They have expanded beyond just being a skatepark, though that is still very popular, and they are a genuine grassroots community center. When they find gaps in the services needed, they add it under their roof so that the the services can all be found in one place. They do summer math classes, and have therapy dogs twice per week, Larry Bartlett volunteers and gives hands-on science lessons. They even have a skater who is an employee and he’s connecting other skaters with Merrymeeting Adult Education to help them get their High School Equivalency Tests or (HiSETs).
None of it though, comes from an adult passing down a program unilaterally – they ask the kids. How do they do that? They have a youth leadership team that is a major part of every decision made. It empowers the youth to be leaders, and every single new program idea needs to be approved by the youth leadership. If they say, “Nope. that won’t work.” then MCA doesn’t pursue it. Because it’s about them. It’s all about them.
The community has responded in a big way to support MCA, too. They have open monthly meetings that anyone can attend. They regularly ask for and receive school supplies, clothing, toiletries and other items for their necessity closet which has outgrown it’s space and is now up front when you walk in. They partner on laser tag programs with the Patten Free Library, swimming at the Bath Y, games at the Bath Rec gymnasium.
And it’s all free to the kids. To help them, to remove their barriers or at least ease that burden. They average 70 kids per day and are open 6 days a week (M-TH 2-8, F 2-9, Sat 11-9). Due to their late hours they have a program called Meal Train and three days a week community members sign up to provide dinner for whoever is there. Right now, they are booked with signups from community cooks through May.
And that’s the point. I could go on and on about their programming, but most important is their impact. Go on their website; hear kids tell the stories of why they like it there. Hear from the volunteers who give their time to help.
We all see terrible things in this world. We all see things we wish we could change. We all want what is best for our children, but even the most well-meaning person may not know where to start. Jamie started a very important conversation, and didn’t wait for some group to deliver the answer. She knows that sometimes we are the ones we’ve been waiting for. It starts by doing one thing well. And then another. People see that, they take notice of the impact and they want to help, too.
When there are no restrictions on how you can help then anything is possible, and Midcoast Community Alliance has been an organization that asks children and young adults what they want and then does all they can to provide it. It’s grassroots. It’s from the bottom up. And it’s an incredible lesson for everyone to hear on how you start to make a difference in the lives of those around you. Let their story inspire you to volunteer, to get engaged in whatever wrong you think needs to be made right.
On the MCA website, under the Our Mission section it says:
To empower the Midcoast community to be healthy, engaged, and resilient by promoting mental health awareness and understanding, advocating for those in need, and by expanding access to support.
Even more powerful for me is their vision statement:
To be a suicide-free community comprised of invested, empathetic, and responsive members of all ages, demographics & backgrounds; a community that educates and brings awareness to mental health to reduce stigma and increase help-seeking; a community that works hand in hand to provide a safety net to those who are hurting, so they can find hope and healing.
For your leadership, for being a shining example of how to collaborate with community partners, and for saying through your actions ‘we can do more’ I’m humbled to ask the ladies and gentlemen in this room to help me welcome to the stage the 2020 Director’s Award recipient Midcoast Community Alliance.