Gigi Georges and Jeff Oxman launch the Downeast Exploration Fund

by | Mar 15, 2022 | News, Scholarships

Nationally-acclaimed author Gigi Georges has created the Downeast Exploration Fund to support rural, Downeast youth. In 2021, Ms. Georges published the non-fiction book, Downeast: Five Maine Girls and the Unseen Story of Rural America with publisher Harper Collins. Following the first edition printing, Ms. Georges expressed interest in establishing a scholarship with Maine Seacoast Mission to honor the continued strength and resilience residing in the young populations of the Downeast region of the state. Beginning in spring 2022, the Fund will provide financial support to eligible applicants who wish to explore their own passions and pursue experiences not otherwise available to them.

Any student in grades 6 through 12 within the Mission’s service area, including rising 6th graders and just graduated seniors, may apply. The Downeast Exploration Fund will pay for awardees’ participation in camps, outdoor learning experiences, and lessons in music, art, sports, or equestrian pursuits. Additionally, the scholarship covers registration fees for enrichment activities or programs as well as materials, equipment, or supplies. Accepting applications on a rolling basis, the Fund will award up to $5,000 annually. 

Mission President John Zavodny said, “The Downeast Exploration Fund is a result of Gigi’s generosity of spirit and her continued recognition of the aspirations Downeast youth harbor. We’re excited to hear about and fuel their interests and activities. The Mission’s existing work in this area as well as education make the Fund a perfect fit.”

The Fund was created in honor of the book’s five young women. “They played a central role in developing the fund’s objective and defining its scope: to help expand opportunities beyond the classroom for other Downeast kids.”

Color photo of Lanie Perry on her lobster boat holding a lobster up for the camera.

Lanie Perry, depicted under the pseudonym McKenna Holt in the book, explained, “We recognized that there are so many kids who want to pursue their dreams are set back by financial issues as well as by other issues. Through the Fund, we wanted to see Downeast youth push for their dreams and start out on the right foot. I hope people living Downeast stay determined and don’t give up on who they are or who they want to be. There are always ways around the obstacles you face. You can do what you want to do by being consistent and keep pushing forward.”

Color photo of Kelli Kennedy on a basketball court gripping a ball. She stands at an angle to the camera, her brown hair tied back and wears a jersey uniform.

Kelli Kennedy is portrayed as Audrey Barton in Downeast. When asked about the anticipated impact of the Fund, she said, “I guess it’s no secret that there are children and teens and people Downeast who struggle with financial well-being. I was very fortunate in what I was able to do as a child. My family could support me to play basketball year-round and that set me up for so many things in life including life lessons. My hope is that others can experience the same. This scholarship can help push them toward that. My hope is that everyone can find something to drive them.”

Color photo of Sophia DeSchiffart smiling at the camera. She wears a soft pink short-sleeved blouse and has shoulder-length blonde hair.

Sophia DeSchiffart, depicted as Josie Dekker, grew up attending EdGE summer camps. She also served as an EdGE mentor during her teenage years. She shared, “I hope the Fund allows young people to try new things or pursue something they haven’t had the financial ability to pursue. Expression through art is important, but it can be expensive. Playing on a traveling sports team also has a lot of associated costs. I grew up in a privileged position by visiting extended family in Canada. My 8th grade class went to Boston and it was the first time for many to leave the state. I would like the Fund to expand their attraction to the world. I hope the Fund continues to grow and the public feels compelled to contribute to it.”

The Downeast Exploration Fund is available for anyone to donate to. “The Fund will honor the leadership, creativity, intellectual curiosity, and passion for a range of pursuits exemplified by the five remarkable young women portrayed in the book,” explained Ms. Georges. “What I discovered in Downeast Maine runs counter to the conventional narrative about rural hopelessness and that young people must flee to succeed. Yes, there are significant challenges, but there is also much to celebrate.”

Maine Seacoast Mission accepts applications for the Downeast Exploration Fund on a rolling basis. Interested applicants ages 11-18 in may apply through this website or a school guidance counselor. Eligible students are grades 6-12 including just-graduated seniors and must live in the Mission’s service area of Hancock and Washington Counties as well as the outer islands. Applications will begin the review process on April 1.

To donate to the Fund, donors should click the gold Donate Now button on our Donate page.

To learn more about Ms. Georges and the book Downeast: Five Maine Girls and the Unseen Story of Rural America, or to secure an interview, please visit the author’s website The soft cover edition will release in early June 2022.

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