FARMINGTON — What do Mt. Blue students have in common with the homeless and new mothers? The teenagers have spent the last couple of weeks learning about community service and the resources available to help those in need.

“With the University of Maine Farmington and Gear Up Maine, United Way of the Tri–Valley Area invites kids to take part in a week-long session to learn ways to help their community,” said Nichole Ernest, UWTVA’s Summer Experience Coordinator. “The main focus of the week is for them to identify a need within their community and work together to create and execute a solution for it.”

Ideas shared during the July 22-26 session were supply kits for the area’s homeless and care packages for newborn babies and their mothers. Dubbed “Children’s Task Force,” the students considered a project where items like infant diapers, Onesies® and disposable wipes would be packed in a baby blanket and given to new mothers at the hospital.

The former plan, and the one that the teens were tasked to implement, was Bags of Love. Working with a budget of $1,000, the students selected items that would help people without a home survive on their own. Warm blankets, reusable water bottles, healthy snacks and personal hygiene items were stuffed into new backpacks.

These supply kits are being donated to Western Maine Homeless Outreach and New Beginnings as well as the Farmington Police Department, where they will be distributed to those in need of such help.

This week’s Summer Experience participants pitched three proposals. One was to bring music and art programs to youth staying at the Western Maine Homeless Outreach shelter. Another was to start a peer group at Mt. Blue High School to raise awareness about teenage depression and suicide. The third idea was to make personal hygiene kits available at Mt. Blue Middle School so that all students have easy access to personal care if they need it. They presented their ideas on Tuesday to a panel of judges gathered at UWTVA.


“The kids did a great job,” said judge Mary Sinclair of Upward Bound. “They put a lot of thought into all their presentations. These are all important issues.”

The panel determined that personal hygiene kits would be Summer Experience’s community support project for the week, in part because students only have three days to execute their plan.

Ernest is confident the group will pull it off. She noted that last year one young participant took her group’s project, Pack a Snack, back to her own school, raising money and starting a program for kids to have after–school snacks. After that the Lion’s Club in Stratton decided to sponsor a similar program.

“Our mission for Summer Experience kids is that it doesn’t matter how young they are,” said Ernest. “They can make a difference in their community. We just show them how to access available resources to do it.”

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

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