FARMINGTON — We may be at the height of summer vacation, but local eighth and ninth graders are hard at work to make a difference in their community. They are participating in the United Way of the Tri–Valley Area’s Summer Experience, a program offered in two separate one–week sessions that focuses on youth leadership development and service.

“Kids get a full week with Summer Experience,” said Nichole Ernest of UWTVA. “They learn leadership skills, volunteerism, and work out solutions to a community need they identify and implement.”

The program is offered for free on a first come, first serve basis. Some of the students are solicited by a school counselor or case worker who see potential for leadership in them or as a way to overcome shyness.

“It’s always a good mix of personalities,” said Ernest. “And we generally are enrolled to capacity every session.”

Participants form working groups and identify specific needs in an assigned community. They then plan a solution, utilizing local resources, to address the need. The groups present their project to a panel of judges. The panel selects one of the projects and the kids come back together to tackle it to present their solution to the group(s) they’ve been tasked to provide support to.

Summer Experience 2018 Day of Caring: Teens volunteer at Rustic Roots Farm, harvesting for Senior Shares. Submitted photo

During the course of the week the students take part in other activities, including a Day of Caring to focus on volunteering. They spent time Wednesday at LEAP in Farmington, weeding at its Stone Soup community garden plots and clearing recreational trail paths.

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On Thursday the group will head to Franklin Memorial Hospital to learn about Healthy Community Coalition’s Mobile Health Unit, which provides  services for things like blood tests for cholesterol and glucose checks, health condition screenings like osteoporosis, mammogram scheduling, and counseling from nutrition needs to tobacco dependence and treatment. They will also participate in a discussion on ways to help domestic violence survivors, led by Hillary Hooke, Safe Voices’ Franklin County Community Educator.

On Thursday morning, they will tour the University of Maine Farmington. That afternoon they will visit Mt. Blue TV to learn about community access through television and about the technology and equipment it takes to run a station. Students will also practice hosting television programs and interviewing.

Interspersed with daily field trips, the kids will work together throughout the week on their community service project. Once the project is declared, students are given a $1,000 budget and have to figure out what impact they can make with the money and how to pull it all together.

It’s really fun to learn about the community and about all the different things that are there to help people,” said Aydrian Dakin, 2019 Summer Experience session one participant. “Leadership activities were fun because we could use our skills as leaders to work together.”

In the July 22-26 session, participants put together supply kits for the area’s homeless, filling backpacks with a blanket, reusable water bottles, healthy snacks and personal hygiene items. These supply kits are being donated to Western Maine Homeless Outreach and New Beginnings as well as the Farmington Police Department.

Kirsten Swan and Megan Price from UMF in a leadership activity with 2018 Summer Experience volunteers. Submitted photo

Ernest looks forward to seeing what the group of students this week do for their community.

“Sometimes the kids are reticent to take part,” she said. “But they always come away from it with a whole new understanding of what volunteerism means and how to help community neighbors.”


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