Building a Lifelong Connection to Service and Maine

Maine Service Fellows program will help address unmet needs for rural communities and provide opportunities for next generation of Mainers

Nick Battista
Posted 2021-04-16

At the Island Institute, we have seen firsthand the tremendous impact Island Fellows have when partnered with an island or coastal community. The Island Institute has placed 135 Island Fellows in 27 rural communities over 20 years and has witnessed the remarkable ripple effect from a little bit of extra help and a fresh perspective.

“Our last fellow, Molly Siegel, and a friend raised $24,000 for our lighthouse by swimming around the island a mile or two at a time. It is 18 miles around this island, and it took them a couple of weeks. They had people in skiffs and kayaks follow them in case they needed help. So, I am out in our skiff watching these young women swim in rough, log-filled, red jelly fish waters for my community, their community, and I know I could not do what they did! They give me hope for the future of this island, for this state, not just because they do the work that would not get done otherwise, but the energy they bring.” – Kendra Chubbuck, Isle au Haut

On April 7th Kendra shared this story as part of her testimony at a public hearing in support of LD 1010, a proposal to create the Maine Service Fellows program.

The Maine Service Fellows program is an exciting opportunity to connect the next generation of Mainers who are eager to serve to the places they’re needed most. As a state program, the Maine Service Fellows would be run by Volunteer Maine, and would provide full-time, paid service opportunities to recent college graduates to address local unmet needs in rural areas of our state.

Kendra’s testimony is a perfect example of the impact community members can have on key issues affecting our state and how personal stories are just as important when considering policy decisions. When people from across the state join their voices together, it can provide powerful information for legislators weighing a decision.

During the hearing, Ben Algeo, a former Island Fellow, spoke about his experience supporting the municipally-owned electric utilities that operate on Monhegan and Matinicus Islands in their efforts to reduce and ultimately move away from reliance on diesel generators. His testimony points to the critical role a fellows program can play in helping to meet the State’s climate goals, as laid out in the Maine Climate Council’s plan for climate action, Maine Won’t Wait.

In addition to community members, the hearing featured testimony from Maine legislators who highlighted the many value-added benefits the Maine Service Fellows program would provide for our state—both for our economy and for capacity-constrained communities. The bill’s sponsor, Representative Morgan Rielly from Westbrook, outlined the program in his testimony and shared why he proposed this legislation in this recent op-ed in the Bangor Daily News. The Speaker of the House, Representative Ryan Fecteau, also testified in support of the bill, noting that Maine’s service programs typically generate a three dollar return on every dollar invested—a $350,000 Maine Service Fellows program could bring over $1,000,000 back to the state.

Speaking on behalf of some of Maine’s rural communities, Senator Marianne Moore also talked about the valuable support fellows could provide the small towns she represents in Washington County. She highlighted the variety of issues—from affordable housing to workforce development—where her constituents would benefit from an additional set of hands.

Throughout our state, rural communities face significant capacity challenges to building community and economic resilience. In its testimony, the Island Institute shared that only 11 percent of Maine communities have a town planner on staff, and that 72 percent have no local planner and insufficient or no regional planning support. The Maine Municipal Association noted that municipal officials across the state see the near-term capacity benefits a fellow can provide in rural communities, and that this idea could help build the workforce for various municipal positions.

The Maine Service Fellows program would also provide both human resources to help communities respond to and recover from the pandemic, as well as a pathway for young adults to gain experience to help develop their careers and put down roots in Maine.

For former Island Fellow Alex Brasili, the fellows program provided her host site with additional capacity, benefited the community in multiple ways beyond her official placement, and perhaps most importantly, helped her create a home in Maine:

“I didn’t expect to stay in Maine, let alone Port Clyde. However, I fell in love with the sense of community, the culture, the strong network of support that is present in small rural communities. Over 10 years later, I have made Maine my permanent home, and I attribute this directly to my experience in the Fellows program which allowed me to become fully immersed in a community, develop intergenerational friendships, and pursue meaningful work.”

As the testimony from our Island Fellows, community members, and local legislators shows, the Maine Service Fellows is a proven model that provides for meaningful collaboration essential to the growth and long-term resiliency of our state.

 


Additional testimony and information on LD 1010


Learn more about engaging in policy to benefit your community

For rural, capacity-constrained communities, programs like the Maine Service Fellows and the Island Fellows Program are vital. The ability for organizational and municipal leaders to stand up in front of the legislature and present a compelling story that illustrates how they would benefit from such programs is just as important.

To learn more about participating in the policy process and showing up in support of ideas like the Maine Service Fellows, or to better understand why and how engaging in policy efforts can lead to systemic change, check out our upcoming workshop series— ILEAD Policy—taking place April 27, 29 and May 11, 13.