Friday, July 12, 2024

Portland Water District seeks calendar photos for 20th anniversary edition

By Kendra Raymond

Nowadays, virtually everyone has a cell phone in hand, and it is incredibly easy to snap photos at a moment’s notice. For those of us who spend time near the water in the summertime, there are typically many photo opportunities that present themselves. But once we have them, many are left wondering what we can do to make the most of our great photographic moments. The Portland Water District offers a unique opportunity for photographers of all skill levels to compete for selection in their yearly calendar, the Sebago Lake to Casco Bay calendar.

A view of the water looking toward The Notch is an example
of a Portland Water District calendar photo submission.
PHOTO BY KENDRA RAYMOND 
Previously named the Images of Sebago calendar, the 2025 edition will mark the 20th year of its publication.

Carina Brown, PWD Water Resources Specialist, says that the calendar originally started as an outreach project to highlight appreciation of the lake.

“Sebago Lake is the source of drinking water (that) Portland Water District provides to over 200,000 people in the Greater Portland area. After water is distributed and used by our customers, we collect, treat, and return clean water into the Presumpscot River or Casco Bay,” said Brown. “In an effort to develop an awareness, understanding, and appreciation for all the vital services we provide and all the waterways that we’re stewards of, we expanded the scope of the calendar to reflect that.”

This is good news for residents and visitors of several other bodies of water. With the addition of a broader scope of potential areas, photo buffs can get creative nabbing that perfect shot.

“Photos selected have typically been landscapes,” Brown said. “They need to include Sebago Lake or one of its tributaries, the Presumpscot River, or Casco Bay in the photograph. Of course, wildlife and people use these waterways too, so we have, from time to time included photos showcasing that as long as it exemplifies stewardship. “

A selection committee consisting of PWD staff will choose scenic calendar photos based on several considerations. This year the photos will be judged by the Watershed Protection staff.

The calendar has increased in popularity over the years, and Brown says that there is a lot of anticipation for its release late each year, usually by mid-December.

“It’s quite popular. I know at both the Sebago Lake Protection Office and the PWD office in Portland, folks often stop in hoping to get a copy leading up to its publication,” Brown said.

Calendars can be obtained at an outdoor receptacle at the Sebago Lake Protection Office (1 White Rock Road in Standish) and in the customer service lobby at the PWD Douglass Street location in Portland (during business hours). The limit is one per family and once they’re gone…they’re gone.

Chad Thompson, Source Protection Coordinator at PWD is also involved in the calendar project. He said that there was a larger number of calendars left this year, and several copies of the 2024 edition are still available if anyone is interested in obtaining one.

Submitting photos for the calendar is easy. Photos must be taken horizontally to fit the calendar format and must be uncropped. Photographers are invited to submit up to five photos. They should be high-resolution (at least 1 MB). Photos should be in their original state, meaning no filters or color enhancements.

Once submitted, you are giving PWD permission to use your photo in future publications such as newsletters or on social media. If your photo is selected, you will receive a complimentary calendar in the mail. The anticipation can be nerve-wracking. Brown says it is a bit of a “surprise reveal” to find out if your photo made it.

“The calendar is an effective outreach tool to inspire appreciation for vital water and wastewater services and a shared responsibility for valuable water resources,” Brown said.

As PWD has frequently reminded us over the years in their annual request for photos, “keep those cameras handy.”

To send photos for consideration, it is best to send one photo at a time. Email entries to: sebagolake@pwd.org. Include your name, email address, age (if under 21), time of year taken, and location of the photo. <

The deadline to submit photos for the 2025 calendar is Aug. 31.

For more information, visit: https://pwd.org/publications/sebago-lake-calendar <

Friday, July 5, 2024

Opportunist or suitor? Francis Radoux an influential figure in Raymond history

By Ernest H. Knight

Most of the original and early settlers of Raymondtown were native-born Americans one or two generations removed from their immigrant forebearers, but Francis Radoux was a foreigner in fact and nature.

The Richard Manning estate in Raymond was the home of
Francis Radoux and his wife, Manning's widow, Susan
Dingley Manning. Radoux was influential in the
Raymond community and assisted in the design of
a home nearby for Richard Manning's sister,
now known as the Hawthorne House. COURTESY PHOTO 
Francis Radoux came to this country as an unemployed soldier escaping from the debacle of an attempt to restore the French Empire by Napoleon Bonaparte. A lieutenant in the French army defeated by the Duke of Wellington at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, Francis came to the United States in 1816 in search of fame or fortune, or both, and a few years later ended up in Portland. Probably because it was of advantage for a French officer to be charming and in possession of the graces of a gentleman, he was a dancing master there teaching the terpsichorean arts to the aspiring ladies of the provincial new state of Maine.

It was a convenient time and situation of golden opportunities.

Richard Manning from Salem, Massachusetts, a proprietors’ agent for the Beverly Proprietors of Raymondtown and a leading landowner and businessman after the town’s incorporation as Raymond, had built his imposing mansion in the location of what is now South Casco and married Susan Dingley, the daughter of the first setter of Raymondtown who had built the first mill on the nearby outlet of Thomas Pond and his homestead buildings across the road from the Manning site.

When Richard died in 1831, leaving Susan with a considerable estate and to choose the course of her future life, she came in contact with Francis Radoux.

As there was little reason for a French dancing master to go to the wilderness of Raymondtown compared to the many reasons for a well-to-do widow to go to Portland, it is likely she first met him there, evidenced by the existence in a Windham collection of papers a bill from Francis Radoux to Susan Manning for lessons.

They were later married and took up residence on the Manning estate in Raymond where he became engaged in the many activities of the community and owner of property, though not without question and controversy from both the local people and members of the Manning and Dingley families.

Francis was never completely absorbed into family relationships or into the hearts of the community, his French background creating suspicions and the feeling that he was more than a little interested in the Manning estate, and among the people as an opportunist inserted into their midst.

But he did work with and for his neighbors as indicated by bills and records, and perhaps his greatest memorial is the church in the community once known as the Radoux Meeting House. Richard Manning, in his concern for the needs of his friends and neighbors, wished for them to have a place of formal worship and left provisions in his will for this to be accomplished.

Perhaps the desire of the executors of the will to bring this about with minimal effect on the estate led them to the conversion of the nearby dwelling built by Manning for his sister Elizabeth Hathorne and nephew Nathaniel, which was then owned by Susan and Francis, into a meeting house under the supervision of Francis Radoux.

The massive chimneys were removed, the room partitions and floor of the second story, except for a portion left for a balcony, removed and wooden pews installed for its use as a church. Established as a “Union” chapel it was not the responsibility of any body or denomination but available to say who wished to use it, and therefore was not given the attention needed to preserve its physical condition.

For many years it was presided over by itinerant preachers, impromptu religious gatherings, or splinter sects such as the Bullockites, Cochranites or Hopkinsians until eventually in the early 1900s it was quite abandoned and ready for destruction.

Saved from this fate by civic-minded local people, mainly of the summer population, it is now the beautifully restored Hawthorne Community House support by the enthusiastic Hawthorne Community Association, still retaining its open interior arrangement for public gatherings.

Little is known of much of the life and activity of Francis Radoux, and he did not remain in the local area after the death of Susan. In the cemetery behind the Manning homestead is the grave of Richard Manning and beside him the grave of “Susan D. wife of Francus Radoux, died Nov. 22, 1852. Age 50” which includes the D. of her Dingley heritage and the name of her second husband but no connection to Richard Manning except the proximity of his grave.

There are other reminders of Francis Radoux in Raymond though, including deeded buildings in the area and records in a book at the Raymond Town Hall of Francis Radoux and seven children born between 1815 and 1826.

There is no knowledge of the final resting place of Francis Radoux but it is believed that he went to Louisiana to reunite with French compatriots there.

This article was written by the late Ernest H. Knight, one of the founders of the Raymond-Casco Historical Society and contained in his book “Historical Gems of Raymond and Casco.” It was submitted by the Raymond-Casco Historical Society and articles about Raymond history from the historical society will appear regularly in The Windham Eagle newspaper. To find out more about the Raymond-Casco Historical Society, call Frank McDermott at 207-310-0340.

Friday, June 28, 2024

Rev. Tim Higgins bids a fond farewell to St. Ann’s Episcopal Church

By Lorraine Glowczak

After 17 years of providing inspirational sermons to the congregation at St. Ann’s Episcopal Church in Windham, Rev. Tim Higgins wishes a heartfelt goodbye to the parish he has loved and supported during his long tenure there. His last day as the Rector of St. Ann’s will be Sunday, June 30 as he has accepted a call for clerical duties at St. George’s Episcopal Church in Sanford to begin Aug. 1.

St. Ann's Episcopal Church in Windham
invites the public to services and a 
celebration on Sunday June 30 to say
farewell to their longtime rector, the
Rev. Tim Higgins.
COURTESY PHOTO  
The move to a new parish isn’t an easy one for Higgins.

“It has been a privilege to serve St. Ann’s since 2007 and I will miss this wonderful church that has been the spiritual home to my family and me for so long,” he said. “Ministry is relational and thus it entails falling in love with the people you serve. This makes my leaving very, very hard for me.”

The long-time St. Ann’s Rector explains that the average tenure for a priest in the Episcopal church is about 10 years.

“My move signifies not only personal growth for me but also opens doors to new growth, opportunities, and possibilities for St. Ann’s,” he said.

Higgins, who began his career as a Catholic priest in 1987 and realigned his faith to Episcopal principles about 10 years later, looks back on his time at St. Ann’s with a combination of joy and melancholy. He reflects upon some of his most significant experiences.

“My work bringing people together of various faiths for ecumenical celebrations and community support has been one of my most rewarding experiences at St. Ann’s," Higgins said.

The church’s Deacon, the Rev. Lisle Blind, referred to Higgins’ community efforts as a spiritually unifying endeavor.

“I’ve witnessed how people feel so comfortable around Father Tim as if he has been a friend for a long time,” Blind said. “He is fun, laughs easily, and tells jokes. There is no pretense about him, and he creates community wherever he goes.”

Rev. Blind says Higgins’ well-known North Windham Post Office sidewalk visits are legendary. These include the annual “Ashes to Go” on Ash Wednesday, “Palms and Prayers” during Holy Week, and “Peace and Prayer” during Advent.

“I enjoy meeting new people, seeing old friends, and getting the opportunity to pray with them during these events,” Higgins said of himself and the St. Ann’s team he works with. “People always expect us to be at the post office for these sacred occasions and some make a special trip to see and talk with us. Some eventually make their way to St. Ann’s because they feel like they found an accepting spiritual home.”

Another well-liked community effort created by Higgins is the Windham Area Clergy Association, a gathering of clergy from various churches. The mission is to support one another, to respond to the community’s needs as an ecumenical team, and to observe liturgical celebrations together.

“These multi-faith experiences have included MLK observations, Thanksgiving worship, a Seder Dinner led by a retired rabbi, and Pentecostal celebrations,” Higgins said. “The most recent of celebrations is the weekly Free Thursday Community Meals.”

But it is with profound melancholy, that Higgins speaks about the young families and their children who have worshipped at St. Ann's over the years as well as the Vacation Bible School that St. Ann’s has offered for the past 10 years.

“I feel incredibly grateful for the 40-plus children that attended our vacation bible school every year,” Higgins said. “It’s the children who keep your heart open. I will miss these joyful young people so much.

In 2022, Higgins's work expanded when he was asked to serve as a Contact Priest for Faith Lutheran Church in Windham after their pastor left for full-time work.

“The bishop’s representative of the Lutheran Synod reached out to ask if I’d be willing to serve as their Emergency Pastor while they were in transition,” he said.

Higgins accepted and within two years became their transitional pastor with eligibility for a call for a one-year period. This included full parish visitation and monthly preaching.

David Guiseley, Faith Lutheran Church Council President says that Higgins was a stabilizing figure for their congregation.

“Father Tim has been a very personable individual who has been a great communicator with the parishioners,” Guiseley said. “He has been a helpful leader in our time together with St. Ann’s and he will be missed for these reasons, and more.”

As Higgins prepares for his next journey, he offers a sentimental farewell.

“I want to extend my gratitude and thanksgiving to the great Windham community and St. Ann’s congregation for their love and acceptance, faith, and friendship over the years,” he said. “Every life has a season and my season at St. Ann’s and Windham has been the light of my life.”

Rev. Blind captures the sentiment spoken by many in saying Higgins’ shoes will be hard to fill.

All are welcome to celebrate and say goodbye to Higgins at St. Ann’s on Sunday, June 30. The farewell times include an 8 a.m. service, a 9 a.m. coffee celebration, a 10 a.m. service, and an 11 a.m. barbecue. <

Friday, June 21, 2024

Two 2024 WHS graduates earn Mainely Character Scholarships

Sophia Gugliuzza and Chloe Harmon, 2024 Windham High School graduates, have been awarded Mainely Character Scholarship for $5,000.

2024 Windham High School graduates Chloe Harmon, left,
and Sophia Gugliuzza have each been awarded $5,000
Mainely Character Scholarships. The scholarships are
presented annually to Maine high school seniors who
demonstrate exemplary concern for others, responsibility,
integrity and courage. SUBMITTED PHOTOS
Mainely Character Scholarships are presented annually to Maine high school seniors who demonstrate exemplary concern for others, responsibility, integrity, and courage. Gugliuzza and Harmond were selected for this honor from nearly 380 scholarship applicants statewide. Gugliuzza’s scholarship is sponsored by Market Decisions in Portland while Harmon’s scholarship is sponsored by Richard and Anne Cass.

Gugliuzza says that she was inspired to spread inclusivity by her grandmother, a special education teacher. Recognizing the social divide in the separation of classes between students with and without disabilities, Gugliuzza took it upon herself “to bridge the gap.” She founded a Unified Sports Club at Windham High School and has fought tirelessly to expand its activities.

Unified Basketball pairs students with intellectual disabilities (Unified Student Athletes) with student partners (Unified Student Partners) without intellectual disabilities. Students make connections and work together. Coed training opportunities are a quick path to friendship and understanding.

Her commitment to champion equality and inclusion is demonstrated in her many different activities. She has volunteered at Camp Jabberwocky on Cape Cod for the last four summers. Jabberwocky is the oldest sleep away camp in the U.S. for students with disabilities. She showed her compassion when one of her campers had a psychotic episode, stepping in immediately, sitting with him and engaging him in comforting conversations.

As an active member of Windham High Schools Civil Rights club, Gugliuzza designed a mural honoring school shooting victims.

She also led a Spread the Word to End the Word campaign to end use of the R-word at her school. It was strategically scheduled to end on the same day as Unified Basketball Senior Night. Before the game, she helped to set up a station at lunch where students could pledge to never use the R-word.

“The buzz around the event grew and resulted in the largest turnout for any Unified game in our school’s history,” Gugliuzza said.

The atmosphere was electric as students filled the stands, armed with posters they made to support their friends on the team. The joy and camaraderie that filled the gym that day, coupled with the overwhelming support from the entire school community, created an unforgettable experience.

For Gugliuzza, it became for her the number one moment of high school and as she puts it, “a testament to the transformative power of unity, inclusion, and the positive impact we can make together when we stand together.”

In the fall, Sophia will attend the University of Michigan, where she will continue to study social justice issues. She plans to become a civil rights attorney.

Harmon says that she decided to become a law enforcement officer after her beloved stepfather died by suicide in 2015. A lieutenant from the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Department provided empathy and support during her family’s grief and inspired by his kindness, she’s dedicated herself to helping others.

Having completed high school, now in her stepfather’s memory, she’s preparing for a career of helping others.

According to Harmon, she is driven by this advice given to her by the Lieutenant: “You can’t save them all, but it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try.”

Those who know her say that Chloe has a true passion for community outreach and is a leader in classes, always speaking up if participation is scant, and always ensuring that lonely students get warm attention. She is the student that the teacher wants to leave in charge. She is also a feminist who wants to break barriers because she believes law enforcement needs women.

Harmon will attend Thomas College this fall.

The Mainely Character Scholarship Board of Directors recognized both Harmon and Gugliuzza as students upholding its tenets of character including concern, responsibility, integrity, and courage deserving of scholarships.

Mainely Character has been awarding scholarships to students of character since 2001. This year 12 different scholarships are being awarded to students in Maine entering a higher education institution in the fall. For more details, visit mainelycharacter.org. <

Trek Across Maine cyclists stop overnight at Saint Joseph’s College

By Ed Pierce

Participants in the 40th Trek Across Maine fundraiser enjoyed perfect weather in accomplishing their goal of completing 180 miles by bicycle last weekend peddling through some of the most scenic terrain in the Pine Tree State.

Riders in the Trek Across Maine reach the finish line of the
second segment of the 180-mile event at Saint Joseph's
College in Standish on Saturday, June 15. More than 600
riders departed the following morning to ride to Brunswick
to complete the journey which raises money from pledges
for the American Lung Association in Maine.
PHOTO BY ED PIERCE  
Starting on Friday, June 14 in Brunswick and then riding to Lewiston before spending the night there at Bates College, Trek Across Maine riders arrived Saturday, morning June 15 and into the afternoon in the Lakes Region, staying overnight at Saint Joseph’s College in Standish. On Sunday, June 16, riders completed the event by peddling back to Thomas Point Beach in Brunswick for a total of 180 miles.

The Trek Across Maine event is the primary annual fundraiser for the American Lung Association in Maine and participants once again were able to collect more than $1 million in pledges for riders completing the trek.

George Eastman of Pittston rode in his 25th consecutive Trek Across Maine this year and is the events’ logistics coordinator.

He said the most difficult aspect of the event for him each year is always finding enough time to get the miles in training.

“Riding for a cause is near and dear to my heart,” Eastman said. "When you can't breathe, nothing else matters. It seems that every year I always have friends or family to ride for, or in memory of, and I don't want the ‘in memory of’ list to grow so fast. There will always be someone to ride for until we can get people to understand that breathing clean air is important and inhaling poison by smoking will kill you sooner or later.”

Eastman says what is poignant year after year for him in participating in the Trek Across Maine is that there are too many people that have lung disease be it lung cancer, COPD, asthma, and breathing is something that most healthy people take for granted. By doing this ride and volunteering, he feels that he is making a difference and giving back to those that have a hard time breathing for whatever reason.

According to Eastman, over the years, he and his wife have lost six family members to lung cancer or other types of lung disease, so it is personal to them, but they ride in the event for anyone with lung issues.

Something that he’s learned about the American Lung Association that he did not know before he started doing the Trek Across Maine is what the organization does for lung health.

“They’re fighting for clean air, they have made it so there is no smoking allowed in many public places, they have research teams working on how to treat lung diseases, programs to keep kids from starting to smoke and the list goes on,” Eastman said.

The American Lung Association’s mission to research, educate, and advocate to prevent lung disease and promote lung health and funds raised during the Trek Across Maine each year support laws protecting clean air, and asthma and COPD research, lung education, education, advocacy, and research to help prevent and treat lung-related afflictions.

What stands out the most to him is that he can ride 180 miles on a bicycle and still do at the age of 73 and that he has been able to raise over $1,000 and most times more every year since he’s started riding in the event.

“Over the 25 years I've raised over $30,000 to help people breathe easier,” Eastman said. “My wife has said she thinks I may be the oldest trekker someday...we will see. I do really enjoy it.”

He rode in this year's Trek Across Maine on a Trek 1000C bicycle.

“As long as one doesn't have too many flat tires it's not too hard. I didn't have any this year,” he said. “I try to do most of my own maintenance, but I do take it to a shop once a year before the Trek and have it inspected which is required by the American Lung Association before I ride, and at that time if there is anything that needs work I have them do it.”

From riding for 25 years every year in the Trek Across Maine, Eastman has also learned something he never knew previously about himself.

“I’ve learned that if you set your goals and your mind to it and work for them one can do anything,” he said. “I never thought I could ride a bicycle 10 miles let alone 180 over three days or raise as much money as I have.” <

Friday, June 14, 2024

Maine Guide paddles way through Lakes Region

By Abby Wilson

It’s no secret that the Lakes Region of Maine is ideal for recreation, especially kayaking, canoeing, and boating. Mainers and visitors are encouraged to utilize the clean waters of lakes and rivers in the summer. But what are the best ways to access these locations, and who can you ask for guidance?

Registered Maine Guide Bill Allen leads a kayak tour in
the Lakes Region. He has been paddling since he was
a child and enjoys being out on the water.
SUBMITTED PHOTO 
Bill Allen, a Registered Maine Guide, has been on the water since he was a kid. He says, “I learned to row a rowboat when I was 7 or 8 years old.”

Then in high school, Allen got a canoe. It was manufactured by a company called “Giselle.” At the time, they were known for making truck caps and canoes.

In those early years, Allen enjoyed paddling the Winthrop Lakes Region. It wasn’t until after high school that he got a kayak.

Today, Allen guides kayak trips in the Sebago Lakes Region for visitors from all over the world. He says there are “30 to 40 launch spots open to the public within a 10- or 15-mile radius of the office.”

Allen has explored much of the region and has a few favorite places. The Tenny River is accessible off of Webbs Mills Road in Raymond and one can launch their kayak onto Crescent Lake.

From there, Allen says it’s a “short paddle so it’s good to incorporate a paddle around Crescent to Tenny River.” In addition to Crescent Lake, Panther Pond is also a great spot to paddle, he says.

In fact, when out-of-towners ask Allen where we would rent a cottage in Maine, he says “Anywhere on Panther Pond or Crescent Lake.”

Dundee Pond is another favorite of his. The launch site is by the North Gorham Dam on Windham Center Road.

There is little to no motorboat traffic there.

“I like the nice peaceful, quiet paddling spots, connecting with nature,” Allen said.

As a guide, Allen enjoys the history tours. In the fall, the tours paddle the Presumpscot River, launching from the Gambo Soccer Fields.

This tour is called the ‘Foliage Tour’ and covers local history. They also visit Babb’s Covered Bridge on Hurricane Road.

Unsurprisingly, there was a hurricane that washed away parts of the covered bridge and there was also a fire in the late 1800s.

Another threat to this historical landmark is its reputation as a swimming spot. Many local kids have climbed to the top of the bridge to jump off into the river, Allen said. A hole was cut into the roof to make the top more accessible.

Allen encourages people to swim there, but not to jump off the bridge. He said that there is a rope swing nearby that provides the same thrill.

On the Presumpscot River tours, Allen says, “There’s always ducks, geese, bald eagles, various birds, and wildlife along the shoreline.” This is because of low motorboat activity.

Three nights a week in the summer, he embarks on the Sunset Tour. This trip goes from Panther Run to Jordan Bay, where visitors are taken to “Hot Tub Island,” a publicly owned island that has a circle of rocks arranged into hot tub size and shape.

The island is an ideal place to watch the sunset and a favorite of Allen.

“Sunsets are like snowflakes, no two are the same,” he said.

Many of the guided tours conclude with a treat – a Maine Needham. Often visitors have never heard or seen a Needham, so Allen tells their story and explains that they are a staple in Maine.

Safety is a priority on any guided trip. As a Registered Maine Guide, Allen has Red Cross First Aid Training. Guides take a dry bag of supplies on each trip and explain to participants the contents of the bag as well as basic safety protocols.

“It’s all about the experience,” Allen said.

When families tag along, Allen enjoys noticing the dynamic of the family and seeing the kids happy. Even if they weren’t excited before they went out on the water, they always come back smiling.

He knows that the kids will remember this when they grow up.

“Maine is an especially unique place in the world,” Allen said. “I always tell people paddling is good for your soul. It’s easy, peaceful, and relaxing.” <

Friday, June 7, 2024

BTI and Project Graduation team up to create a fun and memorable event for 2024 graduates

By Masha Yurkevich

Graduation is a huge milestone and a great reason to celebrate, as long as you do it the correct and safe way. Once again, Be The Influence (BTI) and Project Graduation are working together to create a fun, memorable, and most importantly safe, event for 2024 graduates.

For this year's Project Graduation event,
students needed to have clear bags so Be
The Influence provided transparent 'swag
bags' for the venues that students are going
to, allowing volunteers and others to be
able to see what students are carrying
and help support the experience for them.
SUBMITTED PHOTO

Not only does this event celebrate launching the students onto their next steps in life, it also helps students understand and support them in knowing that they can have a lot of fun without using substances with their friends.

As the project director for Be The Influence (BTI), Patrice Leary-Forrey has the role of being the community connector for 12 different sectors, including RSU 14, government municipalities of Windham and Raymond, faith-based organizations, and other youth serving organizations as 12 different sectors have come together to support the work that Leary-Forrey does.

BTI is a federal-funded grant through the Drug Free Community (DFC) serving youth in sixth grade to 12th grade with a goal of providing prevention education in the community for youth and supporting the youth to live substance free lives. This involves prevention education in the classroom, offering community support for parents and youth, and low barrier opportunities for families to come together and have positive experiences.

Project Graduation launched in 1980 when seven alcohol and other drug-related teen deaths occurred in Oxford Hills during the beginning of the season. Led by the Drug and Alcohol Team of Oxford Hills (DATOH), schools in the area and local communities provided the Class of 1980 at Oxford Hills High School with information about the risks of drinking, drugging and driving. The seniors were offered an alternative to the ‘traditional’ graduation-night drinking event that drew hundreds of people to the local fairgrounds. They called this chemical-free party “Project Graduation.”

The purpose of Project Graduation is to give the graduates the opportunity to celebrate their success with their classmates, substance-free, and to come home safely to their families.

Project Graduation is a group of volunteers, most often parents, that come together and organize an evening post-graduation for the seniors around substance-free opportunities.

“In the past, this has been trips to Boston or other fun events where students can come together and have a good time without substances,” says Leary-Forrey. “The goal is to provide students with a safe space and place for students to celebrate substance free.”

Project Graduation works year-round to fundraise and support the effort.

“BTI supports Project Graduation through providing ‘swag bags’ in which students can find a congratulations letter, a snack, a drink, a little activity if they’re taking a bus somewhere to help promote unity and give students the opportunity to have one thing all in common for the evening,” says Leary-Forrey. “For the event that the students will be embarking on this year, they needed to have clear bags, so we provided transparent bags for the venues that the students will be going to, allowing the people who are volunteering and supporting the event to be able to see what the kids are carrying in supporting the experience for them.”

This year, there is an astounding number of students who want to participate; higher than the number anticipated and that has been in the past.

“I want to highlight that kids are choosing this opportunity, which is remarkable and speaks volumes to the team that is putting the experience together,” says Leary-Forrey.

While Leary-Forrey cannot reveal what and where the event will be this year, she makes it clear that it will be an event to remember, filled with tons of fun and memories that will last a lifetime.

“The students leave a few hours after graduation and return the next morning,” says Leary-Forrey. “Promoting the event from the side of the community would be very helpful and highlighting the work that these parent volunteers do to make this event happen. It is no small task to organize 150 students to go on a big adventure together.”

Not only is it important to highlight that this is a substance free event that the parent-volunteers organize, but that throughout the entire year, they put in so much hard work to make this one adventure happen for these students completely free of charge.

Leary-Forrey said a huge thank you goes out to parents, volunteers, students, donations, and all other funding sources that help make this happen. <