FARMINGTON — The Farmington Area Ecumenical Ministry on May 14 honored a man they credited with bringing church and community members to the table to address poverty in Franklin County.

Fenwick “Fen” Fowler received the annual Salt and Light Award for being the catalyst for people working on poverty issues. The presentation was made at the ministry’s annual meeting at Old South Congregational Church.

Fowler is executive director of Western Maine Community Action and will retire in June.

The framed award was inscribed: “With grateful thanks for being the catalyst, whose invitation to partner in caring for the poor, launched a decade of collaboration called Poverty Busters. Your commitment to eliminating poverty in Franklin County has motivated us all to ‘be community’ … to care about our neighbors and share our blessings.”

The name of the award is taken from Matthew 5:13-14: “You are the salt of the earth … You are the light of the world …”

In 2004, Fowler and the Rev. Scott Planting invited 12 other church pastors to discuss poverty in the county. They discussed the Poverty Report from the Margaret Chase Smith Center, Fowler said.


He asked the clergy what needs they were aware of from calls made to their churches, the Rev. Susan Crane said. Most were receiving calls for help to fill fuel tanks. 

They continued meeting monthly and the result was the Ecumenical Heating Fund, or Ecu-Heat, which continues to provide fuel. 

Over the years, representatives from other community organizations were invited to what became known as Poverty Busters. Lack of food, energy issues, keeping seniors at home, 82 High St. and homelessness were among the topics discussed and worked on collaboratively with Western Maine Community Action.

They defined the problem to see what solution they could come up with, Crane said.

Along with the heating fund, Farmington Area Ecumenical Ministry worked with Western Maine Community Action to establish a housing assistance fund. The Western Mountain Energy Project was launched in 2008 and worked on heating system conversions such as pellet fuel.

Grants for heating assistance and weatherization programs were received. Three Farmington Area Ecumenical Ministry churches started a warming center, she said. The Community Energy Challenge with Nancy Teel provided and continues to provide indoor storm window panels. After discussing local homelessness for many years, a group was formed in 2010 that led to the Western Maine Homeless Outreach.


“Poverty is uncomfortable,” Fowler told the group. 

It is also more than any one institution or person can do a lot about. Over the years, Western Maine Community Action never did anything alone, he said. We worked with collective partners.

The area is doing better than last year, according to the soon-to-be-released Poverty Report for the area. There still isn’t a lot of good-paying jobs with benefits, he said. 

There has also been a population change, he said. There was a higher percentage of youth when the Poverty Busters started. Now, the number of seniors is gaining.

Western Maine Community Action will celebrate its 50th anniversary in June.

Although Poverty Busters was never an official group, it has technically disbanded. Farmington Area Ecumenical Ministry churches anticipate picking up the discussions, Crane said.

Fowler expressed hope that Western Maine Community Action and the churches would continue working together.

“Fen was always the one to ask, ‘who do we need to bring to the table to work on this?'” Crane said. “He just kept asking people to the table to talk about our county and how to make it better.”

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