Walk into any EdGE afterschool session and you would see the Mission’s Youth Development Coordinator, Suzie James, tinkering with Legos alongside one of her students or engaged in a raucous, laughter-filled card game. During play, she would look on at a group of students involved in discussion to ensure they were getting along, being fair to one another, and perhaps most importantly, having fun. Her patience and nurturing demeanor allowed her students to flourish.
On Saturday, September 3, Suzie passed away in the loving company of her family. Dedicated, loving, consistent, caring, and kind were just a few of the words used to describe Suzie, and she shared those gifts with those around her.
Charlie Harrington, the founding EdGE Director for the Mission, first met Suzie when she was an Ed Tech at a local school. He knew she would be perfect for the Mission’s new program, and when EdGE started in schools the following year, he hired her. When Charlie was looking for someone to be the coordinator for Rose M. Gaffney Elementary School in Machias, which served almost 200 students and oversaw 20 staff, he knew that Suzie was the right fit and she became an integral part of the school. “They loved her. If Suzie was ever absent, they would be asking when she would be back,” Charlie said. “She knew all the students. She was great with the parents. They could count on her, and she knew how to communicate with all of them.” Suzie spent the next 17 years working for the Mission.
Suzie was known for creating engaging programs around what the students attending EdGE wanted to do. When she needed more space to store her equipment, she worked with the principal to turn the back of the stage at the school into a storage space with bins for crafts, equipment, and more.
Wendy Harrington, the Mission’s retired Downeast Services Program Director and current Scholarship Coordinator, observed Suzie’s tireless energy for her work for children. “She was the first one to say yes,” Wendy said. “She knew the families and went way beyond the mere hours she spent with afterschool students to develop relationships. She had a tremendous heart.”
For those who knew her, her commitment to the children and families of Downeast Maine as well as her own family was evident. EdGE Program Director Isaac Marnik observed that Suzie wanted to help the families she worked with, and she took special interest in grandparents raising their grandchildren since she herself took in her own grandkids. “Suzie had such a positive influence on hundreds and hundreds of children and families in Downeast Maine. This legacy will be felt by both current and future generations,” Isaac said. “Her children and grandchildren have also worked for the Mission over that time. Suzie told me in one of our last phone conversations that working for the Mission was one of the biggest impacts she was able to make.”
Suzie joined the Mission in 2005 as a part-time tutor working in the afterschool program and at EdGE summer camps. Two years later, she became a full-time site coordinator and in 2018, she became a senior site coordinator in recognition of her contribution to the EdGE program.
Speaking on Suzie’s accomplishments and her impact, Mission President John Zavodny shares, “Suzie was a tireless advocate for the families she served, and their love for her was palpable. You could not go into a school without kids running up to her to give her a hug. Her enthusiasm for the work that she did was contagious and everyone from the students to coworkers learned so much from her.”
Suzie will be deeply missed by Maine Seacoast Mission and the Downeast community, especially by the many children who grew with her during her 17-year tenure with EdGE. However, her legacy of dedication to the students she worked with will live on through the work of the Mission, EdGE programming, and the many people she touched.