Since 1979, Connie Allen has run the Oxford Hills nonprofit Rightstart, which helps local youth through book swaps, tutoring, winter clothing and its two Christmas programs, Christmas for Kids and Christmas for Teens.

Allen, the group’s president, works with dozens of volunteers and a dedicated board of directors each December to ensure that Oxford Hills children get Christmas presents, regardless of whether their parents can afford to buy them.

Name: Connie Allen

Hometown: South Paris

Occupation: President of Rightstart Inc., treasurer of Oxford Hills Music and Performing Arts Association, treasurer of Paris Public Library, United Way board member.

How did you become involved in nonprofit work?

When my children were growing up, I taught Sunday school, was a den mother for Cub Scouts and a Brownie Scout leader. I worked with my late husband, Woody Allen, as a member of Kiwanis, on many different projects, especially Operation Santa Claus. After Woody passed away, I became involved in Rightstart and we began the Christmas for Kids program in 1979 when Kiwanis retired Operation Santa Claus. Christmas for Teens joined our organization a number of years ago and we are now happy to serve eligible children for Christmas from birth to 18.

Rightstart began as a Kiwanis inspired effort early in 1979 during the International Year of the Child. Rightstart Inc. became its own organization later in 1979 with a board of directors and many subcommittees. Kiwanis continues to be a supporter of the programs and projects Rightstart provides.

I worked for many years in social services at Community Concepts and also served for a number of years on the Maine Human Services Council in Augusta.

How have requests for gifts changed since 1979?

The requests have been pretty consistent. Of course, as our culture and new ideas are added to the mix, so do the requests for particular toys, games, etc. This year we have seen a number of requests for items other than toys. Our projects’ main purpose is to provide Christmas. We are unable to fill the many other needs folks have with this program.

Rightstart does have the Coat Room where we provide good clean used coats and sometimes clothing for anyone who comes in. We began with just children’s coats but realized there are many other folks who need a coat. We work in cooperation with Hannaford to collect the coats and Norway Laundry which picks them up, cleans them and gives them to our Coat Room which is supervised by Wendy Williams. We have regular hours on Wednesday from 1 to 3 p.m. and Wendy is available to meet someone if they can’t make those hours. Rightstart’s programs are all volunteer. Everything donated to Rightstart goes to the program.

Have children helped by your programs ever come back to volunteer later?

Yes, we have been helped by children served by our program. We also have been helped by parents who have been served and who are in a better situation in later years and will send us gifts or other contributions telling us how much they appreciated help during a difficult time in their lives. While many folks are proud and will not ask for help for themselves and will struggle to do the best they can, when it comes to Christmas it is so hard to see your children go without. Christmas for Kids and Christmas for Teens shows families who are struggling that their community cares for them.

How many people would you say volunteer for Rightstart over the course of a year?

It is difficult to say because we have efforts and contribution particularly in the Christmas programs that provide resources for the Christmas for Kids and Christmas for Teens. Our board is a hands-on board that works at regular board meetings but also chairs various programs and projects.

Are there any moments you’re proudest of in your work?

There are many moments when I feel so proud to be a member of the Oxford Hills community. Oxford Hills folks are very generous. Every year we begin with the faith that we will be able to fulfill our goal and, sure enough, every year we do! All of our programs are supported by many caring folks in the community.

What would you say to someone in the area interested in doing volunteer work?

I would encourage anyone who has time and energy to give back to the community to select something that is of interest to them. There are so many places where one can volunteer. When you volunteer on something that has meaning or is of interest to you, both sides benefit and I believe everyone wins.

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