AmeriCorps: The Experience of a Lifetime

     The cool winter air left a chill on Kale Knot’s face as he looked out across Fort Gibson Lake. In his hands he held a small mouse, wiggling before its predator, a barred owl named Pretty Girl. In Sequoyah State Park, Oklahoma, staff members and volunteers care for injured animals until they are ready to return to the wild. Knot, and others like him, have played an important role in this process.

Kale Knot, 23, feeds a horse at the animal sanctuary at Sequoyah State Park.

     While Knot spent many of his days in AmeriCorps feeding animals, others built homes, tutored children and helped hurricane survivors. The program offers many unique projects in communities all over the country. Corps members learn new skills, build meaningful relationships and make a difference in the lives of others. With travel and food included, AmeriCorps National Civilian Conservation Corps is available to everyone ages 18 to 24. 

     Each project offers a rewarding opportunity that is sure to leave participants with fond memories. “I loved connecting with nonprofit organizations and making long-term, genuine friendships,” Knot said. 

     These friendships are the result of living and working with teammates from diverse backgrounds. After a long day of hard work, AmeriCorps members return to campsites, cabins and crowded dorms. They cook meals together and spend their free time playing board games or exploring nature. Francesca Sadler, another AmeriCorps member, said, “You’re put on a team and you have to work and live with these people. It’s a unique circumstance and it helped me meet friends I will have for a lifetime.”

     The program also teaches participants more about themselves. “I discovered new interests and passions through experiences I had never even dreamt about before,” Knot said. Following his service year, Knot became more invested in hiking, bird-watching and volunteering. 

Pretty Girl, an injured barred owl, perches on a branch in Sequoyah State Park where she will stay until fully rehabilitated.

     An added benefit for Corps members is the education award. This attracts new members and prepares alums for the next step in life. The $6,000 reward can be used at most colleges, universities and trade schools. 

Above all else, AmeriCorps is a maker of memories and a source of endless stories. “The project in Sequoyah State Park holds a special place in my heart,” Knot said. “I am filled with elation when I think about this experience.” 

     Regardless of the place or the project, AmeriCorps is sure to change the lives of many.

Love in a Pandemic

     When imagining the perfect Valentine’s with your hubby, stuffy masks, social distancing and ordering in usually don’t come to mind. This season of love was the first for most lovebirds to be celebrated in a pandemic. Eating out at a fancy restaurant, going on a romantic scavenger hunt or making a public declaration of love was not in the cards for the season’s hopeful lovebirds. Plans changed and new creative ways to show your love had to be created. Whether you’re in the throes of puppy love or your third year of a committed relationship,  Feb. 14th can be daunting for any couple, especially in a pandemic. 

     First year at UMPI, Rebekah Potrero, and her boyfriend, Marcus Daigle, celebrated this Valentine’s Day in the safety of their own home. Their love story began with a right swipe on Tinder and has been going strong for a little over six months. Rebekah is 19, while Marcus is 18. Rebekah’s opinion on Valentine’s Day is that it should be celebrated more than once a year. While Marcus was somewhat indifferent about the holiday, he still feels it should be celebrated. 

Marcus and Rebekah taking a Valentine’s Day selfie.

     With such a limited choice of COVID-safe dates and social-distanced romantic gestures, it was hard to make the holiday romantically memorable. Rebekah found it, “ Less (memorable) because we couldn’t do anything. Not as memorable as it could have been.” Marcus agreed. 

     The couple enjoyed the holiday by exchanging gifts, watching the Aladdin movies and some Gordan Ramsey shows, all while cuddling. Rebekah made Marcus a homemade gift, while Marcus got her a bouquet of flowers and some Valentine’s chocolates. 

Speaking Up for High School Seniors’ Final Months

     Ever since you step foot in kindergarten, you dream about what your last year of school is going to be like. You dream of something you won’t forget, something memorable. It’s hard to say that this year wasn’t memorable, but it wasn’t in a way you would expect. 

The Trojan represents Mount Desert Island High School’s mascot. The Trojan has a mask on, showing the great efforts that the high school is putting into following the COVID-19 guidelines.

     COVID is preventing high school seniors from having a typical senior year. This is due to the rules and limitations from social distancing, unusual schedules and isolation. Even though schools have spent a lot of time making sure students have a school year, it hasn’t been the same. And some of the seniors feel forgotten. Finn Seyffer, a senior at  Mount Desert Island High School, said how most of the students feel. “At this point, the isolation sucks and we just need a fraction of normality at the end.”  

     The seniors thought that since students can be in a classroom and in the halls with masks on, they could go to a dance, too. So the seniors at MDIHS are working together to plan an event to commemorate their last year. They plan to follow COVID rules for this event. 

Brady or Bogus?

     New Englanders everywhere have lost something . . . our beloved quarterback, Tom Brady. After leaving the New England Patriots, Brady joined the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and won his seventh Super Bowl. Thus, he has collected more Super Bowl rings than any single NFL team. Brady has become one of, if not the, greatest quarterbacks in NFL history. 

     Brady’s near 20-year career with the New England Patriots came to an end in 2019. This left heartbroken Patriots fans to watch the New England dynasty fall to shambles in a single season. Some New Englanders chose to embrace the new change and root for Brady after the move to the Buccaneers. Andrew Hewitt, a 20-year-old local to northern Maine, said he’s more of a Patriots fan than a Brady fan. And if Patriots games and Buccaneers games were played at the same time, he would watch the Patriots play, regardless of the lack of Brady. 

     Having only ever watched the Patriots with Brady as the quarterback, it’s not surprising that Andrew is still a huge Brady fan. He claimed, “I rooted for Brady, not the Bucs.” This shows that Brady’s winning career and past development as a player with the Patriots didn’t go to waste after his leaving. 

     Although divorced, the Patriots and Tom Brady will still be on Andrew’s television. He looks forward to watching both play in the future, without any hard feeling toward Brady or the Patriots. 

     Being younger, Andrew only watched the Patriots with Brady. So, what about someone who watched the Patriots without Brady? Toby Arsenault, a 43-year-old longtime Patriot’s fan, said that he’s watched Brady rise through the ranks. From Brady’s 199th pick in the sixth round 2000 NFL draft, to 20 years later as the king of the NFL, Toby watched it all. He claimed, “When you have a player of that caliber, you just want to watch them succeed no matter the team.” And Toby stayed true to this statement, watching both the Patriots and Brady. Admittedly watching more Patriots games this last season than Buccaneers games, Toby said he’d “Definitely watch more Bucs games after the Super Bowl.”

     Toby hopes Brady continues to succeed with the Buccaneers. He said, “We’re all fortunate to say that we watched Brady play. When we have grandkids and watch football with them, we can say we watched Brady.”

COVID-19: Restrictions or Opportunities?

     For River Tree Arts in Kennebunk, Maine, a pivot to change strategy is creating growth.  When COVID closed its doors in March 2020, the small nonprofit relied on the pivot to adapt and grow. President Paula Gagnon said that agile plans led to innovation, flexibility and perseverance.

     Professional artist and educator Heather Lewis shares the same philosophy. Lewis teaches art classes at River Tree and a local community college. COVID’s impact, she said, “provided absolutely incredible expansion and growth for me. Intellectual expansion.”

     River Tee was already operating on a shoestring pre-COVID. Lockdown forced the center to decrease the hours of its two part-time employees. The organization also reduced non-essential costs and reached out to grant makers. 

     Board, faculty and staff made plans that could pivot to change with agility. COVID was uncertain, so the center planned for a quick pivot if necessary. Gagnon said, “It’s a very good idea. I see us continue to operate in ways we are now 

     To build trust and show appreciation, the Art at Home program developed. With a small grant, local artist Piper Castles designed children’s projects. Parents picked up supplies curbside, and their children attended virtual classes. Gagnon said, “It was engaging and free! They learned. It was perfect.”

     Before its fall re-opening, the organization worked to ensure safety for everyone. They cleaned and sanitized. But social distancing in small rooms was not possible without a decrease in class size. 

     Some instructors were comfortable with teaching in-person classes. Others donated instead. Plans moved forward for a safe reopening. A plexiglass wall now protects the reception area. Velour roping discourages roaming. A new micro-gallery hangs on freshly painted walls.

Remembering Those We Have Lost at the University of Maine at Presque Isle

   The University of Maine at Presque Isle had quite an extraordinary year in 2020, with the COVID-19 pandemic forcing the institution to close its doors and send its students home for the first time since World War II in 1943. Though this made the delivery of learning differ from regular practice, the UMPI community worked through the transition. 

     The fall of 2020 brought with it more than online classes, though, as three of the community’s beloved members died. The following articles are in remembrance of the late John Haley, adjunct professor and Director of University Experience; Patrick Baker, Head Athletic Trainer; and Allen Salo, Associate Professor of Psychology.

Remembering the Late Allen Salo

     Allen Salo began working at the University of Maine at Presque Isle in 1997 as an untenured junior faculty member. But in time, Allen became the senior faculty member in psychology who oversaw the development of the department’s curriculum. This included adding concentrations within the psychology department as well as developing the research-based aspects of the program and a clinical side. Allen felt it was important for students to have both. 

Allen Salo.

     “He was critical for really growing the clinical side of the program,” President Ray Rice, Allen’s longtime friend and colleague, said. “And bringing people like Frank Thompson, who teaches a bunch of the clinical courses. He really developed that as well as developing the research side of psychology and really making it an independent program. Because when he got here, it was a part of behavioral sciences, it wasn’t its own degree. So, he really helped make it its own degree.” 

     Allen and Ray both started at UMPI the same year. “We came with what was the biggest group of faculty they had ever hired at once in years,” Ray said. “And this was 23 years ago. He and I started the exact same summer and had the exact same meetings and all that stuff, along with Michael Knopp. The three of us were the ones who stayed all this time. It was Allen, Mike and me. So, we got to know each other from that point in time because we did a lot of stuff together right off the bat.”

     Ray remembers some of the earliest memories with Allen were at house of President Easton, UMPI’s former president. “He had a dinner, or I think it might have been an after dinner hors d’oeuvres thing for the new faculty members,” he said. “And I remember he (President Easton) was welcoming us to UMPI and we were getting to know each other. He and I both got involved with the union, so we went to a lot of meetings and statewide meetings. That’s how we really got to know each other.” 

     From there, Allen and Ray created a friendship that included some roof shingling on the weekends and dinners at Applebee’s when the colleagues traveled downstate for meetings. Further, senior faculty members invited the two to “choir practice.” Choir practice, as Ray explained, was code for dinner and drinks. The two found the cryptic code for socializing hilarious.

     Outside of the psychology department, Allen was a part of several groups at UMPI. “He was willing to be on committees,” Jean Cashman, UMPI’s Associate Professor of Social Work, said. “And he was active in the faculty union, which is called AFUM. He was part of the faculty assembly leadership at different times in his career, and was on other committees, too. So, he was willing to step up and be part of the work that needed to be done on campus.”

     Among some of the work Allen completed during his time at UMPI, Jean believes that obtaining a specific certification for the psychology program tops them all. “That’s the MHRT, because it’s not required for psychology,” she said. “And trying to get your program approved through the Muskie Institute.” The MHRT, which stands for Mental Health Rehabilitation Technician, is a certification required in the state of Maine (and many other states) for psychology students seeking work. “It’s beneficial for the students, but I mean you can still graduate with a psychology degree and not have the requirements for that,” Jean said. “I think  accomplishing that for our campus, the students, was above and beyond.”

     UMPI will continue to remember and miss Allen’s kindness and friendly smile. “Allen was always kind,” Jean said. “He didn’t have a negative word to say about anybody.” 

     Ray believes his favorite memory of Allen is looking back at his late friend’s wedding photos. “I wasn’t at his wedding because I was out of town,” he said. “But seeing the photos and how happy he was from his wedding: that’s quintessential Allen. And the big smile on his face. He always had one of the best smiles. And the moustache, he always had—he never shaved the moustache. It was pretty hilarious.” 

    Ray went on to say that he was most happy for Allen’s happiness in his marriage. That happiness permeated every aspect of Allen’s life, as he carried that joy with him throughout his remaining time at UMPI.

Remembering the Late Patrick Baker

    Patrick Baker first came to the University of Maine at Presque Isle as a nontraditional student studying health and wellness with the goal of getting a degree in Athletic Training. Barbara Blackstone, dean, College of Professional Programs, remembers what it was like to have Pat in class. “It was fun to have a student who had some knowledge already in the field of fitness and health. Just his natural way of helping people,” she said. “He instantly turned into a mentor to younger students, to his own classmates. He just had a way about him from the very beginning that put people at ease and helped people feel comfortable.” In 2008, Pat graduated from UMPI with a degree in athletic training.

Patrick Baker, pictured with his daughter and Hootie.

     By 2011, Pat had returned to UMPI to fill the position of Assistant Athletic Trainer. He quickly moved up to Head Athletic Trainer when the previous head left. “We instantly moved him up because he was ready to do that position,” Barb said. “He was very skilled at being an athletic trainer and learned the ins and outs of all the administrative roles you have when you’re the head athletic trainer.”

     It was during his time serving in this position that he met his dear friend Dan Kane, UMPI’s Executive Director of Athletics and Recreation as well as men’s basketball coach. Dan was visiting UMPI for an interview in April of 2017. “During my on-campus visit, I met one-on-one with Pat,” Dan said. “With just 15 minutes of talking to him, we hit it off right away. What stuck out to me was his knowledge of athletic training and his passion for helping the student athletes and teams achieve success.”

     It wasn’t long after his start at UMPI that Dan started to see how devoted to his athletes Pat was. “Athletic training is a tough job with long hours. You have to work long weekends and some holidays,” he said. “And depending on the time of year it can be a seven-day-a-week job. Pat was there every time for every practice ready to go. In my 14 years of being involved in college athletics, Pat has been the best athletic trainer I have been around. His ability to connect with student athletes was one of the many things that made him perfect for his profession.” 

     Barb shared similar thoughts. “He was always very concerned about the students’ success,” she said. “And in the athletic training program, often times the most important person in the program is the head athletic trainer, because that’s the mentor of your students. That’s the person that’s going to engage them in the day-to-day duties of an athletic trainer, how to learn things and how to do things. So, he was there as a mentor, but he also taught.”

     Outside of UMPI, Pat was both a friend to many and father to his beloved Zoey. “His little girl was the light of his life,” Barb said. “They had a very special relationship.” It wasn’t unusual to see Zoey bopping around the AT room, which some student athletes called “Pat’s Spa,” while her Dad worked away. 

     “It was so fun to see her come in to visit,” Barb said. Pat would occasionally bring her to sporting events, too, introducing his daughter proudly to everyone he knew or was just meeting. 

     His athletes adored Zoey and could tell how delighted he was to be her father. “He loved her very much and would do anything for her,” Dan said. “He set a great example for our student athletes and others on how to be a great parent.”

     Pat will be remembered by his laidback, humorous and caring nature. He will especially be remembered for his kind heart. “Pat was one of the kindest individuals you will come across,” Dan said. “He was willing to do anything for anyone at the drop of a hat and he was always there to pick you up in your darkest hour, often with a perfectly timed joke or movie quote.” 

     Pat will also be remembered as a legend. “In our last practice together, Pat hit a half-court shot at the end of practice,” Dan said. “It was the first time in four years that Pat had made it and his reaction was priceless, as he lifted his arms and gave a yell in triumph.” 

     Pat’s department at UMPI hopes to have a plaque placed outside of the AT room in remembrance of his vibrant soul. 

 

Remembering the Late John Haley

     John Haley was an Aroostook County native. John received his bachelor’s degree from the Aroostook State Teachers College, which was one of the University of Maine at Presque Isle’s former institutional names prior to joining the University of Maine system.  He went on to earn his master’s degree from the University of Maine at Orono. John came back to family farm and worked in agriculture for decades.  But his true passion was teaching.  

John Haley.

     John was a mentor and adjunct instructor at UMPI for 15 years. He taught English and first year seminar/university experience classes, where he influenced and inspired others. “He was the kind of professor who helped us outside of the classroom. He could tell if his students were having a bad day, and he would be the first to try and make everyone else feel better,” UMPI senior Marissa Valdivia Reagle said. “As my English professor, he helped us relate our schoolwork to our personal lives. He always made an effort to talk to us about our lives and how we were doing.” 

     Dr. Lowman, aka Dr. J, was one of John’s colleagues. “He had this great effect on many people,” she said. “Many people shared stories about how if you were talking to John in the hall, you knew that you’d have this very interrupted conversation because students would come along, and John would have to stop and give them a hug.”

     Throughout his time at UMPI, he made a lasting impression by his kindness. Whether it was a quick Hello passing by in the hallway or checking in with his colleagues and students, John was a kind man. “Personally, John was always kind to me,” Dr. J said. “He was always helpful.”    

     Dr. J shared a story of a time John stopped by her office in Spring of 2020 searching for a tissue. “He was teaching in Folsom/Pullen and he stopped at my door and wanted to know if I had any tissues,” she said. “I said that I was down to literally my last tissue. I had one left in this box and I said, ‘Oh, I’m so sorry! I’ve only got one. I can split it with you’…. But I was happy to share.” Instead of taking her last tissue, John politely declined. Later that day, he returned with a surprise. “He had one of those like, your grandfather’s box of tissues,” she said. “Like, this great big box of 300 tissues and then all these little portable packs so that I could take them in with me to class. I don’t remember how many of these that he got, but he got many of these and this giant box of tissues.”

     John, known to his students as Professor Haley, was the type of professor first year students felt lucky to have. Students’ first composition class can feel quite daunting, but John made students feel at ease with his stories and jokes. In class, he would encourage students to voice their opinions, fears and/or anything they felt they wanted to share. Nothing was ever wrong, though. He genuinely just wanted to know what his students had to say. “If I had to describe him in one word, it would be caring,” UMPI senior Roni Shaw said. “He was the type of professor to always keep class light and fun. Everyone was just happy with him around. He was a great man.” Dr. J added, “He didn’t go out and conquer the world. But he was so kind. He really cared about people.”

     

The Need Is Greater Than Ever

     The temperature is dropping in Maine, and many people are wondering how they are going to heat their homes this winter. The United Way of Androscoggin and Oxford Counties is on a mission to support the local community and increase the organized capacity of people who care for one another. Supporting 2-1-1, Maine’s free, confidential resource for information on assistance programs is one of the many ways The United Way has had an impact this year. With COVID-19, people who have never had to ask for help before, are asking now. The United Way of Androscoggin county supports people in 12 towns, and last year about 1 in 3 people received support. Many people do not realize just how big that impact is. From assisting with childcare and education, to Meals on Wheels and Touch-A-Truck, nearly everyone has a friend or family member receiving help. That number is on the rise this year, with kids out of school, grocery budgets are increasing while unemployment is at an all-time high. The campaign season is usually kicked off by the Day of Caring, which could not be done this year due to COVID restrictions. Julie Mailhot-Herrick worked as a Loaned Executive this year for the United Way of Androscoggin County, she says “I am grateful for the opportunity to work for the United Way through L.L. Bean this year. It’s been more challenging this year than in the past, we haven’t been able to get into businesses face to face to connect with potential donors.” Every year, The United Way receives two Loaned Executives, one from L.L. Bean and one from TD Bank to assist with fundraising for the local area. While they remain employees of L.L. Bean and TD Bank, they can step away from their usual responsibilities and work in the community. Joleen Bedard, Executive Director of the Androscoggin chapter spent some time reflecting on this year verses years past, “This year has been hard, and it’s had a negative effect on fundraising efforts. On the flip side, those that have been able to continue working and received the $1200.00 stimulus package have been thoughtful and generous, many have increased their gift this year.”

United Way Loaned Executives move the thermometer to 40%.

     To date, the United Way is at 40% of their $1.4 million goal. Please remember that the need is great, and the cost is low.