Lyndsey Smith earned a degree in Adventure Education from Unity College in 2005. She then worked in outdoor education at Camp Susan Curtis, Summit Achievement, Outward Bound and the Bryant Pond 4-H Camp, where she is their NorthStar Coordinator.

Most of Smith’s family lives in Ohio, including her parents, younger brother and 15 first cousins. Smith’s husband Bryon Harris works as a psychology coordinator at Bethel’Crescent Park School. He and Smith run a hostel-like Airbnb from their home on Vernon Street called Heartwood Farmhouse. They are about to have their first child.

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I grew up in Mesopotamia, Ohio. Mom was an inspector at Kraftmade Cabinetry. My dad was a carpenter.

Though both of my grandfathers passed when I was two, my Grandmother Ann lived next door. She was from Newfoundland. She was a jovial Newfie, belly-laugh kind of person who would sing songs and dance up and down the hallways. She had bows and arrows, she gardened. she was in the woods all the time. She was also crafty. She taught me how to sew, knit and cook.

Mesopotamia has the fourth largest Amish settlement in the country. My grandmother and my aunt, who lived with her, were Amish taxi drivers. I remember riding around with my dolls in their 15-person van taking a whole load of Amish ladies to Cleveland so they could clean rich people’s houses.

My other grandmother lived an hour away. She was my mom’s mom. She worked for General Electric as a secretary. When the show Mad Men came out, she said. “That was just like my work life.”

She grew up in Cleveland. Her father was a banker. She was super independent and smart with money. Where my other grandmother was the country bumpkin, she was the city slicker.

I thought I wanted to be an oceanographer when I was little. Then I wanted to be a game warden. I always knew I wanted to work outside of Ohio. My mom did a job to support us but she never did love her work. I wanted to love my work. Maine had always had this draw.

My senior year, I got a brochure an ice climber on it from Unity College. That made me decide to check it out. I visited the college in February of 2001. I remember flying into Bangor and seeing all these bodies of water with ice shacks and a bunch of nothingness around them. I was 17 and totally alone, but I loved the rural feel of the school.

I went to Unity that fall. I loved it how small it was, and I appreciated its liberal nature. Unity is interesting in that fifty percent of the people were studying to be game wardens and the other 50 percent are super liberal hippies. I had grown up with 4-wheelers, country music, and football. I was Homecoming Queen. It was also great to have my eyes opened. That contrast was the beauty of Unity.

The summer after my junior year, I started working for Camp Susan Curtis. I had never gone to camp as a kid. When I first got there, I was super uncomfortable. Everyone wanted to hug and sing songs and be in my space, but I fell in love with its mission of serving economically disadvantaged kids.

I worked at Susan Curtis seasonally after that. I started their Environmental Education Center with another Unity grad. When I wasn’t at Susan Curtis, I worked at Summit Achievement and Outward Bound. I also trained and inspected challenge courses all over Maine and New Hampshire.

In 2006, I saw a notecard on a board at Outward Bound that said “Fully off-the-grid cabin. Roommate wanted.” I did not want a roommate but called anyway. When I did, the owner Marie Hickey said, “I am leaving for Ireland for two years. I need someone to care for the house. Come visit.”

I met up with her the day before she left. She told me to just move in, that I didn’t have to pay rent, that all l had to do was make sure the place didn’t go downhill.

The place is on Cushman Hill in Woodstock. It felt magical. I spent the first whole day cleaning up the place. My partner at the time moved here from Pennsylvania. We lived up there for seven years.

During that time a woman named Jane Gilmore introduced me to Cathy DiCocoa. I was already working at The Phoenix Restaurant, but that’s how I started working at Cafe DiCocoa. I did both jobs for three years. I was able to buy the property in Woodstock.

In 2009, I was approached by Susan Jennings and Ryder Scott about working at the Bryant Pond Conservation School. Susan would come to The Phoenix on burger night to try to convince me. Though I was loyal to Camp Susan Curtis, a year later I became the Conservation School’s Program Coordinator.

One November, I took a big trip out West to visit a cousin and a high school friend. My plan was to spend three weeks traveling from San Francisco to Bellingham, Washington. Bryon, a college friend who worked for the Bureau Of Land Management out there. He offered to pick me up and tour with me.

We hadn’t seen each other for three years. Over those weeks we rekindled our friendship. On Thanksgiving morning, we looked at each other. I said, “I love where I live. If you want to make this work, you have to move to Maine.” In 2011, he did.

I thought we would build our dream house on Cushman Hill. Then, Bryon and I took a trip to New Orleans for a wedding. We stayed at the India House, which was a hostel. It was filthy and flood-damaged, but they played music and cooked food for us. The energy was incredible. We started dreaming of doing something similar.

After we got back, we started looking at places. One day we saw a “For Sale by Owner” sign at the end of a driveway on Vernon Street. I had never noticed the house before because you could not see the front from the road.

I called the number on the sign and got the owner Jack Brooks. He told me where the key was and said, “Just check it out.” That was a good sign.

It was huge and it was right in town. I thought we could never afford it. When my friend Anna Sysko and I walked through the house and I saw the kitchen, I saw a space you could hang out in and drink a beer with someone you didn’t know. I fell in love.

I called Jack and told him Bryon and I were interested and wondered if we could meet. When we did, we told him about our dream.

We bought the house three Junes ago in 2015. Jack liked us is what it came down to.

We spent that summer cleaning and getting the business going. We posted it on a website called “Couchsurfering” and another called “Warmshowers,” two services I had used in other places. We tested the waters.

In November, we opened it as an Airbnb. Our first guests were a family from Dubai. They spent Christmas and New Years here and totaly took over the house. They decorated and had balloons. I worked at ChoSun that night. When I came home late I thought, “This is so perfect.” I wanted this to be used this way.

We rent rooms or individual beds. We share our kitchen and our bathrooms. Everything is shared space. It works great and people love the house. We have had only great experiences.

I am now a mentor for 7th through 12th graders in a program called NorthStar. Students enroll in the 7th grade and I follow them all the way through high school. We do one-on-one coaching, as well as community service and trips. We focus on three pillars: adventure education and leadership, cultural exchange, and community engagement.

Our work is supported by a six-year grant through the Lerner Foundation. Eight places in Maine were selected to get the same grant as part of the Aspirations Incubator Project.

We use a six-year engagement model. The program gets roughly 12 students per year. Though this year I took 14, by end of six years, I will have a total of 70 students.

Anyone who wants to apply can. We try to do even mix of genders. If more than 12 kids apply, we do a blind drawing. I have a waiting list called Friends of NorthStar. I include them in our activities when I can. We have also engaged close to 100 adults in the community to spend time with these kids.

Academics is not the main focus. Exposure and relationships are. Half of my kids had never been to the ocean. The goal is to open kids’ eyes to a wide variety of places and give them another person to be there for them. I haven’t been able to foster that since I was at Camp Susan Curtis.

The kids are awesome – I really love them – and the feedback has been great. It’s working.

Lyndsey Smith takes a break from gardening at her home on Vernon Street.


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