By Kate Irish Collins firstname.lastname@example.org
SACO – Many people would like to become engaged in their community and be good citizens, but finding the right niche for their skills and interests can be difficult.
That’s where the newly formed Saco Bay Center for Civic Engagement hopes to make a difference. Founded by state Rep. Justin Chenette, D-Saco, this nonprofit will focus on providing a range of opportunities for people to make their voices heard and their presence felt.
A kick-off for the center will be held on Saturday, Jan. 18, at 6:30 p.m. The event will be held at the Saco Museum and is open to the public.
The center’s programs include a lecture series, a quality-of-place project, the Bikes for Kids program formerly under the umbrella of Saco Parks and Recreation, entrepreneurial development and an online, social media-type project that will encourage kids to tell the story of their hometowns using digital technology.
Chenette said one reason he formed the new civic engagement center is because it is “important to have an opportunity to creatively come up with solutions to issues within our community that don’t currently fit within (the traditional) nonprofit or governmental (category).”
He added, “This center will act as an umbrella to many service projects that board members and volunteers come up with, as long as it fits within the context of our core mission of engagement and social responsibility.”
Chenette came up with the idea for the center after working on the Bikes for Kids campaign, which raised money to provide bicycles to kids taking part in Saco Parks and Recreation Department programs and to encourage them to explore the Eastern Trail.
In addition, last year he introduced a measure to the Legislature that allows teachers to use community service as a high school graduation standard. The goal of this new law is to empower young people to make a commitment to public service.
And Chenette was also a key force behind the effort to save the Saco Drive-In, which required an expensive digital projector in order to continue to show the latest movie titles each summer.
“Seeing the success of what intense grassroots organizing can do, the team that helped to save the drive-in – Ry Russell, Camille Smalley and myself – decided to continue our community outreach in an organized way,” Chenette said, and the Saco Bay Center for Civic Engagement was born.
Nine people are on the center’s board of directors and they represent a diverse cross-section of backgrounds, including business, nonprofit, public policy, social services, marketing and more.
Chenette is the president of the board. Smalley, who is the collections and research manager at the Saco Museum, is the executive vice president. Bill Macomber, a local social worker, is the treasurer, and Michelle Goulet, owner of Kidz Go Eco Preschool, is the treasurer.
The other board members are Russell, manager of the Saco Drive-In; Luke Nielson, an author and marketer; Catherine Glynn from the Saco Historic Preservation Commission; Melissa Field of Bikes for Kids; and state Sen. Linda Valentino, D-Saco.
Chenette said at first the center for civic engagement would focus on outreach efforts in Saco, Old Orchard Beach and Biddeford.
“But we have hopes of expanding into neighboring (communities) as projects become successful. By focusing on a regional approach, we can zero in on what is needed to mobilize and empower people in their own backyard,” he said.
Each member of the board is overseeing a specific program or project under the center’s umbrella. For instance, Nielson is responsible for the lecture series, called Dirigo Talks.
His hope is to hold the first lecture sometime in February with a goal of having one presentation a month.
“Even in our hyper-connected world, Dirigo Talks will inspire action the old fashioned way – through meaningful face-to-face communication between neighbors,” Nielson said.
Under the Saco Volunteers program, people can sign up to volunteer for specific projects sponsored by the center, help existing organizations or pitch “their own creative ideas,” Chenette said.
Glynn is responsible for the Quality of Place program.
“My particular interest is in preserving and promoting our cultural assets (i.e. buildings, special locations and traditions ) that are part of a quality community,” she said.
She defined such a community as one that “reveres the past, engages in the present and plans for the future.”
Some initial project ideas for the Quality of Place committee, Glynn said, include joining with the Heart of Biddeford to ensure that the twin cities’ Memorial and Veterans Day parades continue and assisting with an adopt-a-park effort in Saco.
In terms of the overall purpose of the center for civic engagement, Smalley may have said it best: “Being a member of a community means working together to better the community (as a whole). For me, the Saco Bay Center for Civic Engagement encourages people to get active in their neighborhood through avenues that interest them. I think there are a lot of people who want to get active but don’t know how, and we’re here to help.”
Postings by our board members with our latest news and updates from their individual projects and insights on a range of service and community topics.