New year, new communities for our Island Fellows

Andy Theriault
Posted 2017-10-16

Not only does September bring cooler nights, subtle changes in the leaves, and the start of a new school year, but it’s also the beginning of a new fellowship year here at the Island Institute. This year, the Institute is placing nine Island Fellows — from St. George to Eastport and Millinocket in Maine — to as far west as Beaver Island in Michigan. Our fellows are starting their year by getting to know their new communities and beginning the process of engaging themselves and others in their work. From potluck dinners to last-minute field trip chaperoning, the beginning of the fellowship means a chance to discover where they’ll be living for the next year and just what they’ve gotten themselves into! 

The Island Fellows program works to connect community project needs with the human resources to get them done. From historical societies and libraries to elder care facilities, schools, and community centers, the fellows work to develop capacity and sustainable programs that benefit people where they work and live.

St. George School is finding new challenges in educating students in the community, and have recognized the need to provide a host of wrap-around social and health services for their students. That’s where fellow Meredith Ballinger comes in. Meredith has a degree in community health from Ohio State University, and will work throughout this next year to assess the needs of the students in the school, as well as connect the school, town, and community organizations in meeting those needs.

Meredith isn’t the only fellow supporting our schools this year. On North Haven, Maria Keeler will use her environmental education background and degrees in biology and psychology from the University of Minnesota Morris to help teachers and community members build sustainability into student-focused wellness initiatives. Initiatives she’ll be working on include: training parent volunteers for the after-school garden club, creating garden curriculum that seamlessly integrates standards, and supporting teachers to better utilize the greenhouse as a classroom.

On Vinalhaven, the community is welcoming Hillary Savage back for her second year. After helping organize and run camps for kids on the island this summer, Hillary will continue this work and help build capacity in after-school programming, adult learning, and parent support programs. She works closely with Partners in Island Education (PIE) to bring successful programming to Maine’s largest island community.

Eastport Arts Center will also have a familiar face returning. After a year on the Big Island in Hawaii, Tarah Waters is returning for a second year in Eastport. Tarah will continue her work  connecting community members to the arts center. She will be bring her international studies experience to the students at Shead High School and work with the town to find ways to bring art into the community.

Dana Mark is also back for her second year on Deer Isle-Stonington, working with two major projects on the bridged island. At the Deer Isle-Stonington Historical Society, she will help digitize and organize the collection, as well as continue to collect and build the oral histories. At the Deer Isle-Stonington Elementary School, Dana works with all the teachers to develop place-based projects and experiences for the middle-level students centered around the school’s nature trail.

The new fellows meet for some group work during orientation on Vinalhaven.

The Deer Isle-Stonington Historical Society isn’t the only historical group getting some help from a fellow this year. Swan’s Island will once again host an Island Institute Fellow, and this time, Stefanie (Stevie) Kowalczyk, a recent graduate of the University of Minnesota with her master’s in Cultural Heritage Management, will support the work of the Swan’s Island Lobster and Marine Museum. Visitors and community members on Swan’s will see the collection at the museum curated and cataloged to forever preserve the important heritage of the island.

As many living in our fifteen unbridged Maine island communities know, supporting the youngest and oldest residents is an essential part of maintaining a sustainable community. Maddy Bruno, who comes to us from Colorado by way of Bates College, will be combining both generations in her work on Islesboro. Maddy will work with the Islesboro Community Center to support intergenerational collaborations between the elder care facility, the preschool, and the community center. She will also support the artist community by helping move the local artist cooperative gift shop onto an online platform.

In addition to all the fellows mentioned above, this year the Island Institute also has two fellows you won’t find on the Maine coast — Stefanie Burchill and Ken Gross. Stefanie is headed to Lake Michigan to be the first fellow for Beaver Island and will be working with the community there to develop an integrated island-wide communication system. We can’t wait to hear about island life in northern Michigan!

As our Millinocket fellow, Ken Gross’s views for his fellowship will include a lot less water and a few more mountains! Based at the Millinocket Memorial Library in Millinocket, Maine, Ken is helping the library develop a volunteer database and coordination center for the Katahdin region.

Overall, the work our Island Fellows do is an essential part of the Island Institute’s mission to sustain Maine’s island and coastal communities. As a new fellowship year begins, we’re looking forward to the stories of community and connection from our fellows. Please check back as we continue to share thier reflections and experiences throughout the next year!

The fellows and Island Institute staff share dinner during this year’s orientation.