This past summer, Mission staff on the Downeast campus could be seen shuffling boxes and stacking furniture in storage pods. “We’re preparing for the big build,” said Downeast Director Jenny Jones. “Food pantry patrons and community members who frequent our campus are ready for the improved and expanded facilities.”
The first phase of a larger set of planned improvements for the Mission Downeast Campus will bring needed capital improvements and new features to the 63-acre property in the heart of Washington County. At the head of campus, a revamped administrative building will feature a welcome center that will act as a place where visitors can check-in and receive directions. This building will also include expanded storage and a new addition to house the Mission’s food pantry as well as workshop space for Food Security programming.
“To date, the builder has prepped the site, laid a slab, and will begin framing the addition to the existing building in the next few weeks,” shares Jenny. The building is expected to be open to the public by summer 2024.
Other planned improvements to the Mission Downeast campus include a pavilion and new ropes course for EdGE, two new play areas, an upgrade to the property’s trail system, a marked pedestrian path along Weald Bethel Lane, and retreat cabins for programming near the Weald Bethel Community Center. These improvements to the campus will allow the Mission to provide expanded services for Downeast residents.
President John Zavodny says, “The vision for a renewed Mission Downeast Campus really began in pre-pandemic community planning sessions. These upgrades will help build community, support families, and foster growth in young people Downeast. We’re excited to have ground broken and be making good progress.”
In 2008, a group of teachers from Islesford, Isle au Haut, Matinicus, and Monhegan gathered for a retreat on the Sunbeam. During this time, they discussed the ways in which teaching in one- and two-room schoolhouses could be challenging and isolating, both for teachers and students. So, they decided to start a group, which would later become the Outer Islands Teaching and Learning Collaborative (TLC), where they could meet regularly to offer each other support and get their students together. Knowing that they needed support for both technology and project coordination, the group approached Island Institute and in 2014, the TLC became part of that organization, with the Mission continuing to offer support.
15 years later, the group now includes teachers from Cliff, Chebeague, and Frenchboro, as well as Cuttyhunk, which has the only one-room island school in Massachusetts. The teachers meet weekly on Zoom during the school year and hold a retreat in the summer. This August, the TLC met for their two-day retreat on the Sunbeam.
On the first day, the teachers visited Frenchboro to explore the island and plan the Inter-Island Event (IIE). IIE is a special few days at the beginning of the school year for students, teachers, and the whole island community. Director of Island Services Douglas Cornman explains that the majority of island schools have less than five students in kindergarten through eighth grade this academic year. Occasions like IIE as well as two field trips held by TLC, “give students the opportunities to play, share space, and have a peer group.”
The second day of the teacher’s retreat provides teachers a time to collaborate and work on providing those peer group activities. Each year, the schools run a virtual book group where students are split into grade-level reading groups and host discussions. Some previous book group selections include Adventure on Dolphin Island,Beyond the Bright Sea, Esperanza Rising, and Mercy Watson. The book group gives students a time to learn alongside students their own age, an opportunity they might not get during their regular day-to-day.
And the IIE gives students a chance to foster these relationships with other students even more. This year’s IIE saw kids, parents, and teachers taking the ferry to Frenchboro for three days of fun and learning. Douglas says this year’s event included whiffle ball games, hikes, arts and crafts, a visit to the Frenchboro Historical Society, as well as a dance party. “IIE is magical. It is truly an island community event,” Douglas explains. “Though The Island Institute and the Mission supports the event, it is planned and executed by the host island community. They do all the work. Adults take time from their daily work and routines to help whether it is making food, offering an activity, or just making time to talk with a child from a different island.” And the kids know that this is a special time too, “It is hard to explain how amazing it is to watch kids who do not get to spend much time together in-person, gather and interact as though they are together all the time,” Douglas adds.
And even though the IIE is over, Douglas and the Mission continue to provide support to the TLC and island students. Douglas hosts movement classes on Zoom every Friday for all outer island students and visits schools whenever he is on an island. Find out more about the work the Mission does on outer islands.
Earlier this month, the Mission and Sharon Daley, retired Director of Island Health, were recognized by the Northeast Telehealth Resource Center (NETRC) for being a pioneer in the telehealth field. In 2001, the Mission became the first organization in Maine to implement this emerging technology to provide care to island residents. Prior to this many residents had to travel long distances and sometimes spend days away from home to receive basic medical care.
While relatively commonplace today telehealth was only just beginning more than 20 years ago. In 2001, only half of Americans had internet at their home and video conferencing was still in its infancy. So, Sharon worked hard to recruit both patients and providers, sharing how this new technology could be beneficial for all involved. And it worked, the Sunbeambegan making telehealth visits to islands, connecting residents to primary care, specialists, and mental health providers. The boat would visit Frenchboro, Isle au Haut, and Matinicus regularly, docking and connecting to the internet. Patients would board the boat and head to the telemedicine office connecting to mainland providers through a secure internet connection. The Mission also set up and staffed telemedicine offices on Islesford and Swan’s Island allowing residents on those islands to also access telemedicine.
And for years, the Mission was one of the few organizations that provided telemedicine and most patients still went to all their appointments in person. That was until at the tail end of 2019 and precipitated by Covid, telemedicine hit the mainstream. To meet this need, clinicians quickly shifted to telecommunications so all patients could readily access a range of services. Those services include the same services Sunbeam has consistently provided such as tele-consultation, tele-monitoring, and tele-pharmacy.
What emerged now in this post-pandemic age is a new wide-sweeping definition of telehealth which applies to clinical and non-clinical services. Telemedicine includes preventative care, health promotion, education of healthcare professionals, data management, and policy changes around insurance and reimbursement that make services more accessible. And telehealth can be done on any platform from phone to computer.
With the changing face of telehealth, many residents can do their telehealth appointments at home. Though on some islands without reliable internet, islanders will still come to the Sunbeam to have their appointments, and the Mission will continue to serve island residents in a way that continues to meet their needs. Douglas Cornman explains “Simone and I are committed to maintaining the highest standards of healthcare for the residents of Maine’s unbridged outer islands. While we will maintain some aspects of island healthcare, we are excited to explore new ways of offering services to islanders, integrating telehealth where it makes the most sense. I look forward to continuing to help communities to be as healthy as they can be.”
Some of the things that Douglas and Simone are working on is bringing providers and services to islands on the Sunbeam, specifically ones islanders cannot access as easily through telehealth like dentists. Island residents also want to know more about the services available to them and earlier this year the Sunbeam held an in-person community health fair with organizations and providers on Isle au Haut. This fall and winter, Simone and Margaret Snell, Island Services Program Coordinator, have set up a series of virtual talks for residents of all outer islands.
The Mission’s corporate sponsors support the Mission’s work all year. Through their generosity and the generosity of all of our donors, the Mission can help sustain and strengthen families and communities.
We wish to thank each corporate sponsor for believing in the thriving communities Maine Seacoast Mission seeks to assist on Maine’s islands and Downeast coastline. Become a sponsor for our organization and create a customized package to best fit your organization’s goals. To learn more about corporate sponsorship opportunities, please contact Development Operations Associate David Snyder at [email protected] or by calling (207) 801-6010.
According to research from the Center for First-Generation Student Success, just over half of all college students nationally are first-generation students. But these students often face unique challenges and are less likely to complete their degree than their counterparts. For a select group of first-generation students, the Mission’s Davis Maine Scholarship helps take away the biggest barrier to post-secondary education. This year, four students—Brisa from Milbridge, Cadence from Calais, MacKenzie from East Machias, and Riley from Prospect Harbor—will attend one of the Mission’s three partner colleges Clark University, the University of New England (UNE), or Wheaton College, on a full, four-year scholarship.
Students apply for the scholarship in the spring of their junior year and receive their acceptance letters at the end of their junior year. The Scholars and their families begin to receive one-on-one mentoring, support, and guidance, from Davis Maine Scholarship Program Director Ace Barrera.
As high school seniors, this trip gives Scholars a chance to see the college experience for the first time. Each college hosted the students for a day. They toured the campuses, met with admissions counselors, visited classes, engaged with professors, and had many of their questions answered. They also had dinner with the presidents of each college, as well as the Davis Maine Scholars at each school.
Now entering its third year of operation, twelve Scholars attend college with at least two Scholars at each college partner. The high school Scholars heard from their peers who were in their shoes, just a little bit ago. The three colleges each offer a unique experience and the first two groups of Scholars can also offer unique guidance about their college choices and how their transition to college went. Clark, which is home to three Scholars, is located in the large city of Worcester which boasts a population greater than that of Hancock and Washington Counties combined. Across the state from Clark, is Wheaton, where two Scholars attend college. Wheaton has a 400-acre campus, and with around 1,700 students, has the smallest student population of the three partner colleges. And then up the coast is UNE, home to seven Scholars. UNE is unique in that it has three campuses, two in Maine and in one satellite campus in Tangier, Morrocco, where students can study abroad.
Barrera explains that the “fall trip gives students a chance to open their minds to what choices and opportunities are available to them.” He added that each college went out of their way to make the students feel welcome and the Scholars really appreciated the opportunity to visit each school.
Now they have seen each college, each Scholar will sit down with Ace and their families to start to think about their future decisions. This winter each Scholar will apply to college, and in the spring, they will be able to visit their top choice before making their final decision.
In 2015, Ann Cox Halkett joined the Mission as its first dedicated human resources professional. During her time as the Director of Administration, she coached staff members, standardized the Mission’s policies, and oversaw the growth in many of the Mission’s core programs. At the end of September, Ann will retire from the Mission.
“Through transitions, planning, new initiatives, and even a pandemic, Ann emerged as a thought partner I could always count on,” says Mission President John Zavodny. “Through it all, Ann’s commitment to doing the right thing, even when the right thing is also a difficult thing, has been of supreme value for the Mission and those who work here.”
Colleagues say that Ann will be remembered most for her dedication to staff, her sense of humor, and her door always being open for anyone who needed to ask a question or just chat. When Ann was hired, the Mission’s programs had grown enormously, but administrative support had not. Policy and procedures were more of an oral tradition. When John joined the Mission in 2019, Ann remembers he would often ask, “Do we have a policy for that?”
Ann brought together her writing background and passion for clear communication to craft thorough policies. She was known for working diligently on each document or employee position until the wording was just right. Ann also played a critical role in the development of a data collection initiative resulting in evaluating program effectiveness as well as documenting the Mission’s impact. In the past year, she also implemented a new system to automate the Mission’s human resources system.
Ann says what she enjoyed most about her role at the Mission was that it gave her “opportunity to get to know the entire Mission and staff.” And that is no small feat. With staff based in multiple locations—at the administrative offices in Northeast Harbor, the Cherryfield campus, on the Sunbeam, and throughout Washington County schools—the Mission’s service area is vast. And the work of Mission staff is varied and covers everything from healthcare to education. Just in the past few years, Ann has helped hire a new Sunbeam nurse, Downeast Director, and marketing team. She helped create new positions in Mission’s EdGE program to better reflect the work being done around education from elementary school through college.
Ann says, “It has been an honor and a privilege to work for the Mission. I lived in Cherryfield for 20 years while raising my children, and you could not miss the openness, commitment, love, trust, and respect at the Mission. I am glad to have been a part of it and I know it will continue.”