Friday, March 29, 2024

Maine unveils new auto license plate

AUGUSTA – Maine Secretary of State Shenna Bellows and Deputy Secretary of State for the Bureau of Motor Vehicles Cathie Curtis have unveiled the design of the new Pine Tree Plate.

Maine has unveiled the design of its new Pine
Tree automobile license plates to replace the
Chickadee license plates which have been in
use for the past 25 years. COURTESY PHOTO 
“The new Pine Tree Plate is a fresh approach to a classic design rooted in Maine history, but the ultimate purpose of license plates is for vehicle identification to ensure public safety on our roads and highways,” Bellows said. “Damaged or worn-out plates on our roadways increase risks to the general public, and worn-out plates reduce law enforcement’s ability to be effective when handling crimes that could be prevented or solved through the identification of license plates.”

The current standard-issue plate, the Chickadee Plate, has been in circulation for almost 25 years.

“The Chickadee Plate will see over 900,000 replacements between May of 2025, and May 2026, a huge logistical undertaking coordinated by BMV staff, our municipal partners, and Waldale Manufacturing,” Curtis said. “Mainers who want to reserve their current plate numbers, including vanity plates and low-digit plates, should know that right now, they don’t need to act – but we’ll be starting a reservation process later this spring.”

In accordance with LD 1965, “An Act to Authorize the Secretary of State to Provide a New General Issue of License Plates,” which became law last year, there are two new plate designs: One with the Pine Tree and North Star and one plain plate with blue identification number and letter combinations.

Mary Catus, an employee in the Department of the Secretary of State, donated the design of the Pine Tree Plate to the State of Maine for use on the plate.

Waldale Manufacturing, a Nova Scotia company, has been contracted to manufacture the Pine Tree License Plates during this new general plate issuance.

Mainers who wish to replace peeling or otherwise deteriorating plates can, and should, do so, but too often scofflaws find that they can avoid doing so – and avoid paying registration fees or tolls.

The state BMV’s current registrations tracking system doesn’t have a mechanism to see how long a registration plate has been in use. Issuing a new design ensures fairness to law-abiding Maine drivers.

Mainers who have a specialty plate will not be impacted by the change to the Pine Tree Plate. Specialty plates include the Agriculture and Conservation plates, among others.

Chickadee Plates returned to municipal offices and BMV branch offices will be retrieved by BMV staff and recycled. <

Friday, March 22, 2024

Habitat for Humanity looking for applicants in need of homes

By Masha Yurkevich

It takes a lot to keep a roof over your head. For those who need a helping hand, Habitat for Humanity may be able to help.

Volunteers work on a Habitat for Humanity of Greater Portland
home under construction in Cumberland County last summer.
The deadline to apply for new builds in the Standish area
Habitat for Humanity of Greater Portland was founded in 1985 as an affiliate and is committed to building strength, stability, and self-reliance through shelter. In three decades, they have built 83 homes in Cumberland County, provided nearly 100 low-cost critical home repairs, engaged hundreds of business and civic partners, and enlisted the support of thousands of volunteers. Their ReStore provides new and gently used furniture, appliances, and building materials to the public at 50 to 90 percent off retail.

Tara Hill, Executive Director of Habitat for Humanity of Greater Portland, is responsible overall for the organization, managing the teams that construct Habitat homes, provide repairs for low-income homeowners, choose and support the families, operate the ReStore, and raise the funds to support their mission.

“The profits support our programs, and the bonus is that nearly 12 million tons of material has been kept out of the landfill,” says Hill. “We are currently building eight homes in South Portland and 12 homes in Standish, all of which will be completed by mid-2026.”

Recently, Habitat for Humanity purchased 12 lots in an existing subdivision off Nature’s Way in Steep Falls, Standish.

“We are building with modular construction which speeds up the process by having 70 percent of the construction done off-site, but still leaves finished work to be done by our future homeowners and volunteers.”

These homes will have two or three bedrooms, one bathroom and an open-plan kitchen and living room. They will have a full basement and lots of land around them.

“We are currently building in South Portland and Standish and will be for the next 2-plus years,” Hill said. “For the Standish project, we are partnering with folks who earn less than 65 percent of the area median income. This varies depending on household size, but as an example, a family of four can earn up to $77,675. They need to have a credit score of 640 or more, no excessive debt, and be able to make monthly payments on an affordable mortgage that would be capped at 30 percent of their monthly income.”

They also need to be willing to do 275 hours of ‘sweat equity’ building their or their neighbor’s home, working in our ReStore, attending financial education classes or doing community work in the town where they will live.

Finding land is always a challenge, especially in Cumberland County.

“Generally, we like to find a piece of property that will allow us to build at least five homes,” Hill says. “Ideally, the roads and infrastructure systems would be in place since those are very expensive. We also want to build in areas that provide our homeowners access to jobs, schools, and stores. Of course, this is the land that other developers are looking for, and it can be a challenge to compete with their ability to pay more. For this reason, we look for land well in advance of when we want to build. We are currently searching for our next project where we would start construction once Standish and South Portland are completed in mid-2026.”

Habitat for Humanity accepts applications for homeownership when they are three to four months out from starting construction. Interested people submit basic information about their household and income. This information is then forwarded to a partner financial institution who does an in-depth financial review to ensure that they can make an affordable mortgage payment.

Members of the Habitat Volunteer Family Selection Committee then meet the qualified applicants in person to talk about the unique requirements of our program and to gain a better understanding of both their need and their readiness for homeownership. The final family is based upon the committee’s recommendation to the Board of Directors.

“We have professional staff who lead the projects, but we often have local businesses who join us for a day of team building as well as volunteers who come out every week and others who come out occasionally,” says Hill. “We do hire subcontractors for certain tasks such as excavation, foundation, electrical, heat and plumbing.”

Applications for the next two homes in Standish open on March 11.

“Interested folks can download an application from our website, pick one up at our office or ReStore at 659 Warren Ave, Portland or call the office to request that one be mailed,” says Hill.” The application and the applicant’s most recent paystubs are due by 5 p.m. on April 4.”

The new partner families will be chosen by early June and the houses will be built off site this summer with finishing taking place on site in the fall.

“At this point, we anticipate that the families would move in during December or January,” says Hill. “Habitat homes are an amazing opportunity for families who thought they couldn’t afford a home. The application process is easy, and we are happy to answer any questions or assist folks who want to become homeowners.” <

Friday, March 15, 2024

WHS student council accepting donations for prom attire

By Lorraine Glowczak

The excitement and anticipation of prom is sweeping through the halls of Windham High School. At the heart of this enthusiasm is the annual Prom Attire Drive created by the WHS Student Council.

The WHS Student Council is conducting its third annual Prom
Attire Drive and asking the community for help. Donations
needed include dresses, suits, dress shirts, ties, dress shoes,
and jewelry. From left are student council members Finn
GaNung, Sawyer Grendell, Kate Lopes, Molly Plati, Riley
Yates, and Kirsten Mains. SUBMITTED PHOTO  
Set to coincide with the upcoming prom night on May 4, this project aims to offer a variety of dresses, suits, dress shirts, ties, dress shoes, and jewelry, for students free of charge, turning the dreams of an evening filled with glamour and glitter for every student into reality.

The success of this initiative hinges on the generosity of the Raymond and Windham communities, who, through their support and donations, make a significant impact in creating lasting memories for the students. Community members can bring donations to the WHS main office at 406 Gray Road in Windham, during school hours from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.

This annual donation event began in 2021 as an effort to return to normal high school activities after the pandemic.

“We wanted to find a way to bring the student body together, returning to some sense of normality,” said Molly Plati, a WHS junior and a Student Council representative who helped to start the initiative when she was a freshman. “However, we quickly realized that purchasing prom attire, such as dresses or suits, can be expensive and stressful for some people. Our goal as a student body was to make this process a fun and inviting experience for all. Our goal was to make every student feel that they could attend their Junior or Senior prom feeling confident and excited.”

Vanessa Michaud, WHS Assistant Principal and Student Council Co-Advisor, said that prom clothing, shoes, and accessories have increased in cost over the years and the donations from the community will help to eliminate possible barriers to student participation.

“The donated prom dresses and suits will provide all students at WHS an equitable opportunity to attend the prom,” she said.

Plati agrees with Michaud, saying that the most essential part of the prom drive is that it allows every student to feel included.

“It eliminates the stress of finding an outfit and makes prom a positive experience,” she said. “We want to enable every student to feel like a superstar on prom night.”

Many students in the past have benefited from the prom drive initiative. While it is true that financial obstacles pose challenges for some students, it's essential to recognize that this isn't always the case and Plati shared one story as an example.

“One of my friends ordered a prom dress, and it came in about two weeks before prom,” Plati said. “She quickly figured out it didn't fit and hated how it looked. She was devastated. She went to about every store in southern Maine and could not find a dress that suited her. She looked to the WHS prom drive and found her perfect dress in a matter of 20 minutes.”

Michaud said students have recognized that this initiative bolsters community spirit and provides a sense of unity among the student population.

“This prom drive culminates into an evening that transcends individual experiences,” Michaud said. “It becomes a collective gathering, where every student can come together, celebrate a fun high school experience, and revel in a special night of dancing and laughter that unites them.”

Plati said the WHS Student Council appreciates any support from the community and hopes to continue this fun tradition of glamour, creating a night of magic accessible for all students in the years to come.

Clean, gently used, or new prom dresses or suits in all sizes are all acceptable donations. Michaud said that all donated items will be checked by the Student Council students to ensure that they meet the quality and style standards determined by the council.

Donations will be accepted through May 3. <

Season nearing for Windham’s Community Garden

By Kaysa Jalbert

Looking to plant vegetables, herbs, or flowers this spring but don’t have the yard space for it? Starting May 1, or as soon as spring decides to arrive, the Windham Community Garden will open for residents to plant what they please and enjoy the peace that accompanies gardening.

Growing spaces at the Windham Community Garden on
Gray Road in Windham will be available for $35 for the 
2024 season. Gardeners from Windham and nearby
communities are welcome to use the spaces tp grow
vegetables and flowers with access to water available.
The Windham Community Garden is located on Route 202, just down from the Public Safety building and next to the skate park. The garden occupies approximately 1 acre of land loaned by the town and three quarters of that land is usable for gardening.

“People come to garden for the tranquility of it,” says Marge Govoni, Co-Chair of the Windham Community Garden. “Now, that sounds kind of silly because we are on right on 202 and it does have some traffic, but I can tell you when you're in there and you're gardening you are alone. We have a lot of people who grow stuff there and they share stuff with their neighbors. Getting your hands on the dirt, growing your own food, and then consuming it is a really great feeling.”

Garden beds are on a first-come first-serve basis to any Windham or neighboring community member. They are 10 feet by 20 feet plots and cost $35. The Community Garden supplies gardeners with all of the necessary tools such as wheelbarrows, rakes, and some pesticides with water spigots located around the garden for use.

They also supply organic compost that comes from Benson’s Farm in Gorham and uses lobster shells in its blend. Members of the garden are typically Windham locals or people from neighboring towns who don’t have access to a yard or gardening area.

“It's a lot of times folks who you probably would see visiting a farmers’ market because they prefer to know where their food came from, also it's fresher if you grow it, you know exactly what you put into it so you don't have to worry about pesticides or the process it went through and it's good,” Govoni said. “Oh my gosh, it tastes so good.”

There is one thing that the Windham Community Garden Committee asks members not to plant and that’s potatoes. Govoni said that potatoes bring potato bugs that will eat everything and anything, causing problems for one’s own garden and others.

Nature itself is unpredictable and can raise some challenges for the garden as roaming animals such as deer and groundhogs search for food. To counter these challenges, the garden committee has set up a fence, placed various humane traps and arranged netting around the sheds where groundhogs tend to settle under.

Voles, however, can be a big problem for gardeners. Voles are small, hard-to-catch rodents related to hamsters and can produce up to 50 babies per season.

Govoni says to combat this issue the garden committee uses surround, a very thin covering like a cloth that lets in rain and sunlight. There is a minimal fee for the surround, and it comes in a large roll from which a community gardener can take as much as they need.

“I planted radishes and beets one time,” said Govoni. “And I only planted them once because I discovered that when the voles come along, I wouldn’t care if they ate it all, but they would just take a bite out of everything.”

The Community Garden was created in 2010 by a core group of individuals who thought a community garden was needed and would be well received and it was. The idea grew and in the first official growing season of 2011 they had 39 gardeners sign up and 37 completed the full season.

Originally the garden was on a smaller piece of property, but committee members went to the town before they decided to put a community park in and asked for it to be expanded. Now with more room to grow, they average between 80 to 90 beds with remaining space to add more if necessary.

The Windham Community Garden is always looking for new members who have a passion for gardening to join their committee and help upkeep the garden. Everyone is welcome but Govoni voiced interest in gaining younger members to help take on roles for some years to come.

If you show interest in joining the committee you can visit the contact page on the Windham Community Garden Website at<

Friday, March 1, 2024

WHS students spread happiness through flowers and decorations

By Jolene Bailey

Some students at Windham High School believe that acts of kindness result in happiness and have been expressing their care about others in many colorful ways during this school year.

Windham High School French Club members 
sells roses at the school on Valentine's Day.
From left are Sasha Funk (senior), Madison
Boyton (senior), Sam Kerr (senior), Lauren
Neal (sophomore), and Izabel Butler
(sophomore). SUBMITTED PHOTO 
Since school started last fall, WHS students have decorated so many classroom doors to celebrate the different seasons and holidays and students have decorated each classroom door in their advisory as a fun activity to start off their school day.

During the holiday season in December, when walking down the school’s hallways you could find paper cut out snowflakes hung on doors, doors that were wallpapered, and some with favorite characters dressed for the Christmas season.

This was a way to show positive messages, some students and teachers said. To celebrate Valentines Day, a walk around the school revealed WHS classroom doors adorned in different colors such as red and pink hearts with student names or motivating messages.

Another way to spread positivity and happiness took place in February when members of the WHS French Honors Society began selling roses. This has been a tradition for French students at WHS for more than five years.

“It’s a great fundraiser to spread love and brighten up the day. It's another wonderful way to make connections with classmates and teachers around the school,” said WHS French teacher Katy Dresnok.

She said that selling roses relate to a French class as both are symbolic. Dresnok said roses are the flowers of love and French is a romantic language.

“This has been very successful. It gives the kids in the French Honor Society a way to reach out to all the homeroom classes in the morning and see other students all while raising money for the program,” she said. “Handing out flowers, makes us feel good to see people surprised and feel loved.”

On Valentine's Day, WHS French students volunteered to hand out flowers to students and staff. The roses were priced at $3 each and students were able to send roses to others with a note or with a name attached or anonymously.

“When it's anonymous, the surprise builds suspense and curiosity,” Dresnok said. “When it comes from a friend, it brings joy and appreciation which is contagious.”

Receiving flowers and seeing positive messages all over your daily surroundings can make one feel good about themselves or help others with a rough day, leading to lifting spirits on the WHS campus, she said. <