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. <