Friday, May 14, 2021

Local storm chasers defy danger to experience devastating twisters up close

The Fickett brothers took this photograph of
a tornado touching down in 2015 in Stephenville,
Texas. The brothers started storm chasing in 2010
and have returned every year since then to the
Southeastern U.S. as storm spotters for the
National Weather Service. Follow their adventures
on Facebook at F2 Storm Chasing.
SUBMITTED PHOTO 
LAKES REGION TWINS HAVE MADE ANNUAL SPRING TREK TO TORNADO ALLEY FOR MORE THAN A DECADE

By Ed Pierce

It’s been said that there are some things you learn best in calm, and some in the path of devastating storms. If you ask the twin Fickett brothers from the Lakes Region, they prefer the storms.

The 46-year-old Fickett brothers, Jim, a fishing guide on Sebago Lake from Gorham, and Don, who lives in Windham and works for Hood dairy, are storm chasers and have made the drive every spring to Tornado Alley in the Southeastern U.S. for a week’s worth of adventure since 2010. The brothers have recently returned to Maine from their annual trek south which started on April 30 and took them to five states and the spotting of two separate tornados.

They say they became storm chasers because they admire the beauty in severe weather, and tornados are unlike other weather phenomena they’ve experienced in Maine.  

“It all started for us when my twin brother and I were kids and we loved the movie ‘Twister’ when it first came out,” said Jim Fickett. “My brother has a Corvette and wanted to visit the factory in Tennessee. We decided to take a week off and combine it with seeing if we could spot any severe storms and tornados. The first few times we went we learned that Mother Nature has to cooperate and when that didn’t happen, we ended up going to major league baseball games instead.”

To better prepare for being in the middle of severe weather, the brothers took a course online and became registered “storm spotters,” individuals who report supercells and dangerous weather formations to the National Weather Service (NWS) and emergency management programs. They also use an app on their phone called “RadarScope” which displays super resolution radar data and predicted storm tracks.

Scientists say that tornados develop from severe thunderstorms in warm, moist, unstable air along and ahead of approaching cold fronts. Thunderstorms that produce tornados also may generate large hail and damaging winds. Intense spring storm systems often yield vast areas of the midwestern and southeastern U.S. that support tornado development, leading to major outbreaks. Most tornados have forward wind speeds ranging from stationary to about 70 mph and they rotate cyclonically with wind speeds typically ranging from 40 to 110 mph, although some have clocked in at more than 300 mph. 

The destructive force of a tornado does not rely on its size or shape, rather it is based upon intensity, with storms rated on the Fujita Scale of F0 (wind speeds of 73 mph) to a highly destructive F5 (268 to 318 mph).

Safety is paramount during their trips as the brothers say they’ve encountered multiple supercells, dodged hail and swirling bursts of dust and driven through pounding rainstorms during their travels through some of the southeastern U.S.

“We have people we care about and we’re not crazy, our safety is the most important thing first and foremost,” Jim Fickett said. “We’ve learned that most storms travel west to east. Supercells happen on the southwest side of storms, so we try and stay on the safe side of them. We can see them through the app and the wind side and the wind speed. As long as we’re not in the storm’s path on the outside of the storm, we’re OK. Going through severe storms, you become witnesses to weather phenomena and it’s amazing to experience something like that.”

This year’s trip took the twin brothers to Nashville, Tennessee and then on into Louisiana as they chased potential storms. Many of their photos from the trip are posted on their Facebook page F2 storm chasers.

“On Sunday, May 2, we got to Byram, Mississippi, just south of Brandon just before a tornado struck there,” Jim Fickett said. “We saw the funnel clouds. We then followed a line of storms and kept on going toward Arkansas and then on into Texas. South of Dallas, we intercepted a storm and lightning illuminated a tornado in the night sky plain to see.”

The brothers say that since they’ve become storm chasers and storm spotters, they’ve compiled a list of lessons that they’ve learned along the way.

“We’ve learned that Mother Nature is unpredictable,” Jim Fickett said. “We’ve learned to check the sheets in cheap motels for bedbugs, how gasoline is priced differently in different places, and I’ve learned that my brother Don is an amazing driver and that we work well together.”

The Ficketts say that storm chasing for them is more about experiencing the sheer power of nature rather than about the adrenaline rush that they may experience in the approach of a tornado.           

“Being a storm chaser, you have to be in the right place at the right time and even with all the tools we possess and knowing the power of what Mother Nature can do, we’ve learned that nothing on Earth can be done to stop a tornado, you just have to stay out of its way,” Jim Fickett said. “We give our mother a heart attack almost every year.” <

'Over the Edge' rapelling event to support veterans

The 'Over the Edge' event featuring sponsored participants
and teams rappelling down the side of the Key Bank
building in Portland will be conducted June 19 to raise
money for Veterans Count, an organization that assists 
veterans in Maine. COURTESY PHOTO  
By Ed Pierce

Having worn the uniform of the United States of America at one point in their lives or having grown up in a military family, two local men know first-hand the hardship and sacrifices made by veterans to keep our nation safe. As part of Veterans Count Maine, an organization that supports veterans causes statewide, Raymond attorney Todd Crawford and Windham resident Dennis Brown are gearing up for a unique fundraising event that will send participants “Over the Edge” in June.

The “Over the Edge” event is scheduled for June 19 and will see   sponsored participants rappelling down the side of the Key Bank building at Two Canal Plaza in Portland.

Crawford served in the U.S. Navy and the Maine Army National Guard, retiring from the guard as a commissioned officer after 28 years. Both he and Brown sit on the board of directors for Veterans Count and say they believe the “Over the Edge” fundraiser will raise awareness of the struggles some veterans face in Maine and raise money to fund programs that assist veterans.

“As a veteran, this program struck a chord with me and has helped me perpetuate ‘the mission’ of taking care of our troops,” Crawford said. “Veterans Count raises funds that fill the gaps where the VA or other community supports may be unable to support.  Working with Veterans Count is part of my mission to make our home a place worthy of their sacrifice.”

Each participant must raise $1,000 to go “over the edge” with the overall goal of raising about $90,000 by the end of the event.

According to Crawford, the public is encouraged to participate and show support for veterans either by sponsoring rappelers or coming out to cheer on participants at the event.

“I think the biggest issue that veterans face is reintegration,” Crawford said. “Communities have become decentralized over many years, so the usual social supports are not available to many returning veterans. Add to that the issues of trauma, silent injuries, and the loss of the military culture that make reintegrating home extremely difficult. Veterans Count is the fundraising arm of Easterseals Military and Veterans Services, which include a platoon of ‘Care Coordinators’ who are the real heroes in this story. They continue to search out homeless veterans, save lives by diverting suicide, and provide case management services to those in needs. In addition, funds are available the give veterans and their families a ‘hand up’ during critical times.  These issues have not diminished over the years.  We are still very much fighting to serve our veterans who have served our country.”

Brown is not a veteran himself but grew up the son of a World War II veteran during the Vietnam War and says that veterans are deserving of everyone’s support and especially through fundraising efforts like the “Over the Edge” event.

“This is the biggest fundraising event we have in this calendar year, and I wanted to be a part of it.  Military personnel in harm’s way experience a great deal of stress and uneasiness.  Going over the edge will let me experience for a few minutes what must have been constant for our military personnel and just anticipating what the first few seconds of going over will feel like is encouraging me to raise as much money for the cause as I can. I’m hoping to make sure that Veterans Count, Easterseals Maine’s Military and Veterans Services, has enough funds to address every need that presents itself and no vet or family is left hanging.”

He said that issues that veterans face daily in Maine are complex and challenging.

“There are many issues from PTSD, just adapting to civilian life after a long term in the service, Vietnam vets who were never offered the help we provide to more recent veterans, dealing with the VA,” Brown said. “Most veterans we see who are looking for help have more than just one problem.  Our care coordinators are outstanding in assessing the issues both with the veteran and their families.  We address family issues as much as the veteran themself.”

Maine started providing veterans services while Brown was board chair of Easterseals Maine about seven years ago.  

“One board member came to me with a veteran who needed help while we were just starting to consider adopting Veterans Count.  That veteran has been seriously injured in a training exercise that totally destroyed one of his knees.  He had been receiving disability benefits but was informed that the VA wanted to review his case, and that during the review, his disability payments would be stopped,” Brown said.  “When he asked how long the review would take, he was told that it would take six months to two years. The veteran then asked how he’d pay his rent for his home with his wife and 1-year-old child, the VA rep was trying to be helpful in offering that there’s a really good homeless shelter in Brunswick that he could recommend.  When I heard that, my immediate response was ‘not on my watch.’  We found some funds to provide Walmart gift cards for food and staples.  We also reached out to Easterseals NH who had started the Veterans Count program, learned that they had a care coordinator who lived in Maine that they would provide to help us out.  

“The care coordinator was great, explained to the veteran what he needed to do to prepare for a meeting with the VA.  He got copies of every document that the VA had on his case, and the care coordinator and the veterans met with the VA rep in charge of the investigation,” Brown said. “Within about 15 minutes, all the VA rep’s questions were answered, the disability checks were reinstated, and a letter of apology was sent to the veteran from the VA.  That was our first involvement, and our care coordinators have been working similar miracles ever since.”

Brown’s personal fundraising goal for “Over the Edge” is $1,200 but he expects to top $4,000 by the day of the event.

“First, it’s a great organization working for a great cause,” he said.  How can we not support our veterans?  Second, what a spectacular event.  If you’re a thrill seeker, this event is hard to beat.  Jump on board, raise some money and have the best thrill you can get in downtown Portland.”

To sign up to sponsor a rappeler at “Over the Edge” or to register to be a rappeler, visit https://vetscount.org/maine/ <

Friday, May 7, 2021

‘Slow Down Move Over’ violators put first responders’ lives at risk

Drivers in Windham and throughout Maine are ignoring the
'Slow Down Move Over' law first enacted in 2007. It mandates
that motorists slow down or pull over if they encounter a 
stopped or parked emergency vehicle and violators are 
posing significant risk to first responders.
COURTESY OF  ROAD ASSIST EMERGENCY SERVICES
  
By Ed Pierce

Every day, drivers in Windham and throughout Maine ignore the “Slow Down, Move Over” law posing a significant risk for first responders and other emergency personnel.

Enacted in 2007, the law mandates that drivers slow down and or pull over if they encounter a stopped or parked emergency vehicle. If drivers see flashing lights and fail to respond appropriately, they can be issued a summons and fined $326 for not doing so under the law.   

Under Title 29-A §2054-9 MRSA, drivers passing a parked emergency vehicle with its emergency lights activated must pass in a lane that is not adjacent to the vehicle or, if doing so is unsafe or impossible, must pass at a careful and prudent speed. In this context, “emergency vehicle” includes, but is not limited to, police cruisers, ambulances, fire trucks, tow trucks, wreckers, and highway safety vehicles. 

This law helps to ensure our safety. When working at an emergency scene, we often have to move around our apparatus to get the equipment needed,” said Brent Libby, Windham Fire-Rescue chief. “We also are moving around the scene to treat patients, remove debris, contain spills etc.  which can be spread out larger than it may seem. The move over law ensures that we have a safe space to operate in.”

Libby said many first responders witness drivers who disregard this law and violations happen on a daily basis.

“Whether it is a medical call, a motor vehicle crash, or a grass fire, motorists are often trying to squeeze around our apparatus, which often creates a blind spot for them,” he said. “The law applies to all emergency vehicles on all roads and requires the drivers to use the other lane to get around.” 

According to Libby, unfortunately there just aren’t resources available to enforce the law.

“Often law enforcement is involved in and committed to the incident we are on. In extreme scenarios someone can get the license plate and report it but otherwise we simply have to remain vigilant,” he said. “I will say there are many instances where we will simply close a road down completely for our safety and the safety of those involved knowing that due to traffic volume and inattention, moving traffic through a scene would just be too dangerous.”

Kyle Snyder, Road Assist Emergency Services operations manager, said that every single day, he or one of his technicians are on the side of the road helping a stranded motorist and most motorists do not understand that by slowing down, and moving over, this provides them with the protection to do their jobs safely.

“This law is in place for police, fire, EMS, and yes, even tow providers. At the end of the day, we want to go home to our families, and we cannot do that if we are injured or killed by someone not paying attention and not following the law,” Snyder said.

Snyder said that out of the 131 calls that he completed in April, he counted 60 times that a driver failed to slow down or move over for him.

“That is 46 percent of calls that I have personally completed. We have forward and rear facing cameras in our trucks that record our work areas. As the operations manager I am constantly reviewing footage and making sure my drivers are following our safety protocols,” he said. “I have watched quite a few videos that would make any normal person who does not do this job shake their head in disbelief. Now imagine your job is to be on the side of the road every day, and in the back of your mind, you are wondering if it is your last.”

Snyder said he feels 95 percent of drivers violating the law is because of distracted driving.

"Drivers are not keeping their hands on the wheel and eyes on the road. If they are distracted by the phone, or using their touch screen/GPS, it takes 27 seconds for you to refocus on the road after stopping that distracting activity,” he said. “During that 27 seconds, you are already in our work zone. I also think that 5 percent stems from some people not understanding that the law pertains to yellow flashing lights as much as blue and red. However, this law is not new, it was passed in 2007, some 14 years ago and all 50 states have some version of this law.”

About 10:30 p.m. April 24, in dry and clear road conditions, Snyder was assisting the Maine State Police, Rays Towing, and Maine DOT at a crash on I-95 North Bound in Scarborough.

“There were two Maine State Police cars, a DOT truck, and two tow trucks on scene blocking the left and middle lanes. Numerous people were not paying attention and were moving over at the very last minute,” Snyder said. “I had three cones and three flares behind my vehicle, the DOT truck was to my left, and the MSP was in front conducting their investigation. My cones got hit a few times, and numerous tractor trailer trucks went by us at a high rate of speed.”

As police conducted a crash investigation, EMS workers treated injuries, DOT checked barriers for structural damage, and tow companies cleaned up the crash scen. Snyder said the story could have ended very differently for him.

“I was standing on the driver side of my emergency vehicle when a vehicle came right at me, taking out two cones and three 3 flares before finally stopping between my unit and the DOT unit,” he said. “This driver was cited for DUI and arrested. If I would have hesitated for even a second, I would not be here today to tell this story. That is the kind of stuff emergency responders deal with every single day, and so we ask the public to do their part.”

Snyder said he thinks the law needs to be strengthened and enforced better.

“Lives are at risk here when someone does not follow this law. People think that they can get away with it because they are never caught,” he said. “Whenever you are on the road, you have other people’s lives in your hands. In a work zone, we don’t have a cage protecting us, so one mistake can cost a life. We have seen a couple of instances in the last few years. A DOT worker was killed in 2018 while moving traffic cones in a construction zone. Detective Ben Campbell of the Maine State Police was killed honorably in the line of duty from a tire that separated from a truck. Things happen that we can’t predict, but drivers moving over or slowing down is something that we all can do to save a life.”

Chief Libby said many times working in the roadway is as dangerous for firefighters and EMTs as it is working on a fire.

“We do our very best to clean up an incident as quickly as possible to get out of the road. We ask that people are patient, be aware of what’s going on at the scene as there is always a lot of movement,” Libby said. “Look for someone doing traffic control providing you with instructions. I can’t tell you how many people we see driving through a crash scene with their phone out getting pictures and video. It is imperative that people approach and pass by a scene very slowly with a defensive posture ready to stop on a moment’s notice. Put down your devises and slow down.”

Libby said that as a first responder firefighter, one of their most dangerous and frustrating jobs is directing traffic.

“People in this role are our first line of defense for those working on the scene and people just do not pay attention,” he said. “We also challenge people to know more than one way to get where they are going. People often stop to ask directions when we are blocking a road. This further complicates safely moving traffic.” <

Windham student receives DoD’s SMART Scholarship

Sierra Yost of Windham, a first-year doctoral student in
chemical engineering at Penn State, received the U.S.
Department of Defense's Science, Mathematics and Research 
for Transformation (SMART) Scholarship. She is a 2016
graduate of Windham High School and was honored as the
College of Engineering's valedictorian at the University
of Maine at Orono for the graduating class of 2020.
SUBMITTED PHOTO 
By Ed Pierce

It’s been a whirlwind of a year for Sierra Yost of Windham as she’s gone from being honored as the 2020 College of Engineering’s valedictorian at the University of Maine at Orono to completing the first year of a graduate student doctoral program at Penn State University, but there was one more surprise in store for her. Yost found out last month she has been awarded the Department of Defense Science, Mathematics, and Research for Transformation Scholarship.

Recipients of the SMART award receive full tuition for up to five years, summer internships, a stipend and full-time employment with the Department of Defense after graduation. The unique opportunity provides high-achieving students with hands-on experience at one of the nation’s most innovative Army, Navy, Air Force and larger Department of Defense laboratories and working under an experienced mentor, gaining valuable technical skills.

Since its inception, the SMART Scholarship Program has awarded more than 3,000 SMART scholarships and supported more than 2,000 graduates from 409 universities as they launch professional careers working for the Department of Defense.

Yost, 23, will intern at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery each summer until graduation from Penn State and then will be hired for a full-time position there after earning her doctorate.

“I was absolutely shocked when I found out about it,” Yost said. “I first heard about this scholarship opportunity when I was applying to a different grad school.” 

She applied for the SMART Scholarship last fall and said she considers it an honor to be a recipient of this distinction.

I am excited to be a part of the innovation and advancements made in DoD labs both during my internships and full-employment after graduation,” Yost said.

During her internship at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard this summer, Yost will perform materials research with an emphasis on quality assurance. She is working on obtaining a doctorate in chemical engineering focusing on increasing the capabilities of advanced manufacturing using functional polymers.

The Department of Defense is the largest employer of scientists and engineers in the nation with nearly 300,000 STEM professionals. For more than a decade, SMART has trained a highly skilled STEM workforce that competes with the evolving trends of industry to support the next generation of science and technology for our nation.

The SMART Scholarship-for-Service Program is a combined educational and workforce development opportunity for bachelor’s degree, masters’ degree and doctoral students to gain valuable technical skills in critical STEM fields and support the national security mission of the Department of Defense.

Yost is a 2016 graduate of Windham High School where she said that she was inspired to study chemical engineering after taking the AP Chemistry class there taught by former WHS teacher Lisa McClellan.  

In her free time, Yost is an avid runner and volunteers for the youth track program at Penn State.

“I also like doing most everything outdoors,” she said. “I enjoy hiking, skiing, fishing and kayaking.”

She’s excited about returning to Maine this summer and looking forward to her new internship at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard.

“I also am very excited to do what I can to help the Department of Defense as a civilian,” Yost said.

According to Yost, her primary goal though is to complete her studies and to start her career.

“My ultimate goal is to work for DoD or in the paper industry,” she said. “I just want to make new things and make a difference.” <   

 

Friday, April 30, 2021

New job fair aims to match talent with careers

IMMEDIATE LAKES REGION EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITIES AVAILABLE  

By Ed Pierce

Walt Disney once said that, “You can dream, create, design and build the most wonderful place in the world, but it requires people to make the dream a reality.” Disney probably never imagined trying to hire workers during a global pandemic, but as the summer approaches and Lakes Region businesses aim to be fully staffed, the job market is wide open for prospective employees seeking work.

Maine’s economy is slowly rebounding after a summer of disappointment one year ago as restricted travel curtailed much of the state’s tourism industry and layoffs and closures struck some businesses in the area, courtesy of the coronavirus pandemic. Now with the number of individuals receiving vaccinations growing every day and new reported COVID-19 cases dropping, optimism among Lakes Region business owners is rising for a better summer season than in 2020.

Dahniha Morris builds a sandwich at the Subway Restaurant 
in Windham on Wednesday morning. The hiring outlook for
the Lakes Region is strong heading into the summer and has 
led to the creation of a new job fair to be held from 2 to 5 p.m. 
May 6 at the Windham Veterans Center. More than 21 area
employers will attend the event looking to hire applicants.
PHOTO BY ED PIERCE 
To that end, the limit for indoor entertainment venues in Maine will increase to 75 percent on May 24 and outdoor entertainment venues will be able to fully reopen that same day. Also on May 24, retail occupancy limits rise to 75 percent. All of this means more potential customers and opportunities for more businesses to hire help locally.

Assisting businesses in their search for new talent and providing a venue for potential employees to interview with Lakes Region employers is the mission of the upcoming Sebago Lakes Region Job Fair in Windham.

The job fair is being staged by the Sebago Lakes Region Chamber of Commerce Chamber in partnership with Bonney Staffing and the Greater Portland Career Center and runs from 2 to 5 p.m. Thursday, May 6 at the Windham Veterans Center, 35 Veterans Memorial Drive, Windham.

"Let's face it, hiring for the summer in the Sebago Lakes Region has never been easy,” said Robin Mullins, Sebago Lakes Region Chamber of Commerce executive director. “The coronavirus, however, has brought a whole new level of frustration and angst to not only our local business owners, but to potential employees as well.”

For job seekers there are significant concerns about their own health and for many managing childcare or remote learning activities for their children, Mullins said.

“For employers there are concerns that the generosity of stimulus checks and unemployment benefits have deterred some from returning to the workforce,” she said. 

According to Mullins, to turn things around in the hiring process before the summer season arrives, a number of creative and innovative solutions need to be explored.

“Employers need to market themselves like they have never done before, and not only to the consumer, but to potential employees,” she said. “A ‘We're Hiring’ sign is not going to be enough. Businesses have worked diligently to make their workplaces safe for both their customers and their employees. Potential employees need to know there are protocols in place to protect them.”

Mullins said that it also is extremely important for employers that provide good training to new staff members.

“Oftentimes, in our rush to hire people, we don't always take the time to ensure employees are adequately trained. I know it takes more time, but in the end, it is worth it,” Mullins said. “An employee who feels competent in their job is more likely to give good customer service, require less supervision, and stay with the organization.”

The latest unemployment figures for Maine posted by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that 4.8 percent of Maine workers were unemployed in March and that’s down from January’s pandemic-record high of 5.2 percent statewide unemployment. It reveals that Maine’s economy is slowly returning and continuing to rebound as more and more people are emerging from pandemic health and social distancing restrictions.    

Across Maine and throughout the Lakes Region, manufacturing; skilled trade, leisure and hospitality; professional services; construction; information, financial and educational-related services all posted increases in jobs in March prompting optimism for the summer as visitors return to the state for vacations, camps and summer excursions.

This has led the chamber and local employers to seek additional ways to meet their workforce needs anticipating additional business over the summer months, leading to the creation of this new job fair.           

“There are lots of positions available,” Mullins said. “When folks initially lost their jobs, many immediately searched for another job, only to discover there wasn't much available. With the lessening of COVID-19 restrictions and the increase in vaccinations, the prospects for jobs have vastly improved.”

Businesses that will be represented at the job fair are a combination of Sebago Lakes Region Chamber of Commerce members and non-members. 

The event is free to participate for job seekers and COVID-19 protocols will be in place. Face masks will be provided, if needed. 

Businesses that will attend looking to hire applicants include Portland Pie Windham; ServPro Portland; Securitas, Inc.; Modern Woodmen Financial Services; Hannaford Supermarket in Standish; Dave’s World; Cintas; Windham Parks and Recreation Department; Kris-Way Truck Leasing; and Bonney Staffing.

Other employers attending the job fair are Poland Spring (Nestle Waters); Sigco; The Driving School; Westin Portland Harboview Hotel; Tyson Foods; Christmas Tree Shops; Bristol Seafood; Krainin Realty; Corning, Inc.; Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office; and Portland Housing Authority.   

Potential employees should not pass an opportunity to meet with local employers in the Sebago Lakes Region searching for the best candidates to fill full-time and part-time seasonal and permanent positions at the job fair, Mullins said.

Be proactive and ask lots of questions,” she said. “There are many great employers in our region. Go find the one that is right for you.” <

Windham student recycles bottles, tabs to help kids with cancer

Cooper Fournelle of Windham, 10, raised $800
through a bottle drive to donate to the Maine
Children's Cancer Program and turned over
40 pounds of aluminum can tabs to the Ronald
McDonald House for them to recycle to help
fund their charity services for sick kids and
their families. COURTESY PHOTO 
By Daniel Gray

 

While others may reuse or recycle them, a Windham student is a great example of how recycling bottles and aluminum can tabs can help others along with helping the environment.

Cooper Fournelle, a 10-year-old student at Manchester School, has a love for hockey and helping others who need assistance. Along with his mother, Jessica Emerson-Fournelle, he’s been participating in bottle drives in Windham to donate toward children diagnosed with cancer.

The mother-son duo has been collecting bottles for the Maine Children's Cancer Program for two years. In 2019, they had raised $423 recycling bottles and last year that number increased to $635. Not only do they collect bottles, but the Fournelle's also collect can tabs to donate toward the Ronald McDonald House, another organization that aids families and medical treatments.

Jessica Emerson-Fournelle, who has a long history with community service and helping out others in need, said that she was thrilled when her son started following in her footsteps.

"Cooper has such an empathetic heart,” she said. “He stands up for kids being bullied, loves to help with projects around the house and definitely wants to see things change with people that are suffering."

In 2019, she had suggested that they collect bottles and give all the proceeds to charity in order to help other kids that were just like him that were going through tough times. They did and she said that Cooper enjoyed it so much, they have continued doing this.

Others in the community have taken a notice to Cooper's charity and pitched in to help him.

"We have several people that donate bags of cans or bottles to us on a regular basis from the community, along with friends and family,” Jessica Emerson-Fournelle said. “Others have been willing to do a bag or two. Any little bit helps.”


She said that per month, they collect about $60 in donations, but it isn't consistent. The numbers pick up some in the summer months, especially at their campsite in Steep Falls.

"We also have a seasonal campsite at Acres of Wildlife and Cooper has a sign at the end of our driveway. We usually get several bags each weekend," she said.

Where did this community awareness and desire to help others come from? In 2014 Cooper's grandmother, Donna Kullman, passed away from stage 4 breast cancer. Cooper was very close with her and this impacted him growing up. He was only 3 at the time and dealt with the loss in a new way years later.

When he was 7, Cooper asked his mom if they could do a yard sale to sell toys and give the proceeds to children with cancer.

"I felt bad about people dying from cancer." Cooper said, "People should have long and safe lives. Kids haven't lived long enough, and they are scared and it's sad. I want to put an end to that."

Ever since then, Cooper has been determined to help children through any means possible. His goal this year with his bottle drive is to raise $800 to put toward the Maine Children’s Cancer Program.

 

"I want to do this every year for the rest of my life and make more each year," he said.

 

His mother said that while the bottle drive earns money, the tabs off of cans are also important in fundraising.

"We save our tabs in old coffee cans and at the end of the year, we bring them all to the Ronald McDonald House. We are willing to pick them up from anyone," she said.

Emerson-Fournelle said that one year they had saved and turned in 40 pounds worth of can tabs, which the Ronald McDonald House recycles for a small profit that helps fund their charity services.

The Fournelle family uses Clynk's bagging and tagging system to move things along and make it easier for anyone to donate. All they need is the tag that goes towards Cooper's charity account and it's done. Though the Fournelle's still get donations of bottles without the Clynk bags, they all pitch in to count, sort, and remove the tabs off cans.

According to Emerson-Fournelle, they have recently set up a Facebook page for Cooper's charity drives called “Coopers Cans.”  Anyone can check out the page to see the progress they have made, receive updates, or make donations if they so wish. <

Friday, April 23, 2021

Town of Windham dedicates massive solar array

Project expects to produce 684,000 hours of clean energy annually 

By Ed Pierce

Through the generation of electricity from solar panels, the Town of Windham is aiming to slash its monthly electric bill and find a new purpose for an old, capped landfill.

Windham officials and Revision Energy representatives cut the
ribbon dedicating the town's new solar array at the old landfill
site off Enterprise Drive in North Windham on April 15. The
array consists of 1,344 photovoltaic panels expected to
produce 684,000 hours of clean solar energy to power town
offices every year. From left are Tom Bartell, Windham 
Economic Development Corporation executive director; Nick
Sampson of ReVision Energy; Barry Tibbetts, Windham Town
Manager; Kaitlyn Purcell of ReVision Energy; Gretchen
Anderson, Windham Environmental and Sustainability
Coordinator; and Mark Arienti, Windham Town Engineer.
PHOTO BY ED PIERCE   
On April 15, Windham officials joined a team from South Portland-based ReVision Energy in dedicating a new 504-kilowatt solar array at the old town landfill on Enterprise Drive. The array consists of 1,344 photovoltaic panels that are expected to produce 684,000 hours of clean solar energy every year.   

According to Windham’s Sustainability Coordinator Gretchen Anderson, this new solar array is equivalent to removing 105 passenger cars from the road or planting 8,000 tree seedlings.

The Town of Windham was excited to pursue this project to boost energy efficiency and realize significant savings in electricity costs over time,” “By utilizing the closed landfill for the solar array, the project creates the opportunity to give otherwise unusable land a new life by converting it into a site to generate solar energy and revenue,” Anderson said. “Additionally, our residential energy efficiency campaign will help Windham resident’s reduce energy consumption and save money.”

She said that the initiative will power all of the town’s municipal buildings and drastically cut Windham’s overall electric bill and the savings can be applied somewhere else in the town’s budget in years to come and it also helps to reduce the town’s carbon footprint.  

The projected generation of 684,892 hours of clean solar electricity is enough to offset more than 617,000 pounds of CO2 emissions.

“It’s a real honor to have partnered with ReVision Energy on this project,” said Barry Tibbetts, Windham’s town manager. “This is the second project Windham has worked on with them and this one is 18 times larger.”

The first solar project the town worked on with ReVision was for the East Windham Fire Station on Falmouth Road in October 2013. That project generates enough photovoltaic power to offset electricity used at that facility and at the North Windham Fire Station as well.

Nick Sampson of ReVision Energy said that the town was great to work with and their strong commitment to the project is refreshing and a great example of how municipalities can creatively pursue practical solutions in the 21st century.

“It’s been a great experience working with the Town of Windham,” Sampson said. “It’s really exciting to see a town take advantage of a capped landfill and we appreciate this opportunity. Already about 200 kilowatt hours of electricity has been generated here.”

Tibbetts said by using the solar array, the town will receive credits for its electric bill on all buildings and miscellaneous electricity it is billed for, including traffic lights, streetlights and a range of other electric expenses.

“Put simply, this program will reduce our budget and that will result in less taxes,” Tibbetts said.

A solar array is a collection of multiple solar panels that generate electricity as a system. When sunlight hits the solar panels in an array, it produces direct current (DC) electricity. The array is connected to an inverter system and the inverter converts the DC electricity to usable alternating current (AC) electricity.

From an environmental standpoint, the advantages of solar energy systems are that they do not produce air pollutants or carbon dioxide and they also have minimal effects upon nature in general where they are placed.

Sampson said that the solar panels at the old landfill site on Enterprise Drive in North Windham are pitched at a 35- to 40-degree angle to maximize production of solar energy.

“They have been installed using a fixed ground mount system and have a lifespan of 40 years or longer,” he said. “They are built to sustain hurricane-type wind speeds of up to 120 mph and snowfall will not bother their production. The entire cost of this project is about $1.25 million.”

Anderson said that this solar project is part of the town’s long range sustainability planning that includes everything from the purchase of electric vehicles to replacing light bulbs with efficient LED lighting to generating its own electricity through the use of solar panels to engaging residents in tangible work to boost residential energy efficiency.

The site for this new solar array was used as a landfill from the 1960s until it was closed in 1988. With the approval of the U.S. Department of Environmental Protection, the landfill was capped in 1992.

There was no upfront cost for Windham to construct the solar array because of a power purchase agreement with ReVision Energy that was approved by members of the Windham Town Council in October 2019.  That agreement contracts a price for purchasing energy from the system at a rate lower than the Central Maine Power rate for 25 years.

After five years, Windham will have the option to purchase the system if it so chooses. <

Windham’s Cub Scout Troop 805 exhibits hard work, pride at Pinewood Derby

Benjamin Conant watches several racers speed toward the 
finish line at Cub Scout Troop's annual Pinewood Derby races 
on Saturday, April 17 at the Windham Veterans Center. The 
Pinewood Derby races give scouts a sense of accomplishment
in building and crafting tiny race cars. PHOTO BY
MATT PASCARELLA
By Matt Pascarella

The Windham Veterans Center buzzed with excitement the morning of Saturday April 17. The Pinewood Derby track was set up, and many eager Cub Scouts from Troop 805 and their families anxiously waited for the races to begin, with some putting the finishing touches on their cars.

The Pinewood Derby cars start out as just a block of wood and, in the end, can look like just about anything, as long as they stay within the guidelines for competing in the race. These Cub Scouts picked their own individual designs and painted their cars.

Scouts fashioned the tiny cars from blocks of pine and then attached plastic wheels and metal axles in an exercise designed to foster teamwork, ingenuity and sportsmanship. During the derby, the cars were placed on a wooden track and entered in races powered by inertia and gravity.

Win or lose, the scouts can take pride in having done their best and through the competition, they learn craft skills, the rules of fair play, and good sportsmanship, things they will remember for life.

A lot of hard work had gone into preparing for the races, but now, the time had come to see how these cars would perform against the other local Cub Scout dens.

“It builds a sense of accomplishment because they build their cars, they work on them with their parents; it gives them something to show for something that they worked hard on,” said Casey Melanson, den leader for Wolves and Tigers.


The Pinewood Derby teaches scouts valuable lessons, Melanson said, and the Cub Scout motto of ‘do your best’ is evident in the Pinewood Derby because regardless of what place the scouts come in, they can take pride in what they’ve built.

Fifth grader Matthew Melanson, who came in second place overall, said it took a few weeks to get his car how he wanted it. He said he liked that he won second place, it was fun competing in the race and he had a good time.

Along with the top five winners, the troop handed out three ‘best in show’ awards, for the best designed cars.

“Oh, it was awesome!” said second grader Ayden Swartzengruber, who designed a shark racer that won him third in best in show. He said it was fun to compete in the race. It took two and a half days to make his car that had a big fin and shark teeth.

The five fastest racers usually advance to the district race against all the top five winners in the Casco Bay area. Unfortunately, because of COVID-19, that district race is not happening this year.

Results of the 2021 Pinewood Derby at the Windham Veterans Center are as follows:

Fifth place, Kaleb Spencer, Webelo

Fourth place, Andrew Hinse, Webelo

Third place, Brad Jorgensen, Wolf

Second place, Matthew Melanson, Arrow of Light

First place, Charlie Anthoine, Bears

Best in Show:

Third place, Ayden Swartzengruber, Wolf

Second place, Levi Kyle, Bear

First place, Landon Bacon, Tiger

In addition to the Cub Scout races, there was also a sibling race at the event where brothers and sisters raced against each other, without the scouts participating. First grader Clara Davis came in first in that race.

The Windham Den Leaders and Committee Members who helped put on this year's Pinewood Derby were Casey Melanson, Shane Spencer, Sarah DiDonato, Ben Beckwith, Tim Melanson, Carrie Rickett, and Amy Jorgensen. The Webelos den prepared the food for the event. 


Money raised at the 2021 Pinewood Derby will go toward the Windham Cub Scouts Annual Spring Fling event next month. <

 

Friday, April 16, 2021

Young Windham actor and his father selected by George Clooney for roles in ‘The Tender Bar’

By Lorraine Glowczak

Windham actor Lincoln Rulman, 10, has
a speaking role in the film 'The Tender
Bar,' a coming of age drama directed by
George Clooney to be out in a few months.
COURTESY OF STEWART SMITH
PHOTOGRAPHY  
“Both your child and his father are considered for the classroom scenes in ‘The Tender Bar’ movie. This film is directed by George Clooney and he is handpicking each person.”

This is the message Sarah Adams Rulman of Windham received about two months ago from the casting crew regarding her son, Lincoln and her husband, Chris. It was only a few days later when she received the news that the son and father duo were selected by Clooney himself to play a role in the film.

Briefly, “The Tender Bar” is an American coming-of-age drama directed by Clooney and is an adaptation of the 2005 memoir of the same name by J. R. Moehringer. The film, starring Ben Affleck and Christopher Lloyd, will be released in the coming months.

“Lincoln and Chris were super excited to be in a scene with Christopher Lloyd,” Sarah said. “He is a childhood icon for Chris, and he was really excited to sit at the same table as him. There was another kiddo sitting at the table and Christopher Llyod asked him what he knew about time travel, and Chris said, ‘1.21 gigawatts,’ and Christopher pointed to him and said, ‘that’s right.’

“When they arrived on the set Lincoln noticed a man shooting hoops in the gym, and he said to Chris, ‘dad, that’s George Clooney’ and Chris didn’t believe him until he turned around and saw that it was.”

Although a first for his father, this is not the first time Lincoln, 10, a fifth grader attending Manchester School in Windham, was selected to play in well-known films. Lincoln, along with his sisters Gracie and Libby, has acted in the most recent film of “Little Women” starring Emma Stone and Meryl Streep. He has also performed in an Apple TV+ miniseries, “Defending Jacob” starring Chris Evans (Captain America) and Michelle Dockery (Mary Crawley of Downton Abbey). 

“In ‘The Tender Bar,’ Lincoln is in a scene where he asks the teacher for something,” Sarah said. “Hopefully that will be in the film, but you never know what they decide to keep.”

Lincoln shared with his mother his favorite moments and experiences of working on the set of Clooney’s latest film.

“His favorite moment was talking to George Clooney and seeing Christopher Lloyd,” Sarah said. “Lincoln was super excited that George Clooney came over to him in between takes and read something that Lincoln had written about baseball, and he asked him what position he played and if he was a righty or lefty. Oh! And, also the money! His least favorite part was the seven COVID tests that he had to take, although they got paid $100 per test!”

Sarah said that Lincoln is now a pro at taking COVID tests and an expert at “real life” acting.

“Lincoln said re-doing scenes can be really boring because it’s the same thing over and over again. He actually dropped a fork in one scene, and they had to redo it. The movie takes place in the 1970s and 1980s, so he thought the old cars and the old clothes were really cool! He told me has to wear these weird pants with lines in them. I laughed and told him they are called corduroys.”

Now that Lincoln has a few acting experiences under his belt, he provides a few bits of guidance for other youth who may want to get in the field or make a career in the performing arts.

“His advice to young actors is to be really good on set and be professional. Also, don’t get discouraged if you don’t get a role, there is always another one,” he said.

When he is not acting, Lincoln is playing baseball, drawing and gaming. He also has just started modeling in his first photo shoot for LL Bean.

“He had a photo shoot last week for LL Bean and loved modeling,” Sarah said. “It was his first shoot and he loved that he could have fun and be himself. They had him dancing and being silly, something that is very different from being on a movie set.”

Although Lincoln seems to be doing well in the acting and modeling business, he is still a small-town boy who you will find riding his bike down to the lake to fish and swim with friends. He and his family are enjoying life as it comes and hold no expectations for the future.

“We all go with Lincoln on his endeavors and support him,” Sarah said. “You never know when this will all be over, so we are enjoying it and making the most of every opportunity. And those opportunities include everyday life experiences with family and friends.”  <

RSU 14 adds alternating Fridays to in-person instruction schedule

By Ed Pierce

Following a vote by the RSU 14 Board of Directors on
April 7, students will be returning to the classroom for
in-person instruction on alternating Fridays through the
end of the school year. PHOTO BY ED PIERCE 

When RSU 14 students return to the classroom on alternating Fridays following spring break, it will be another step on the path back to some resemblance of normalcy in their school routine disrupted by the pandemic.

Meeting on April 7, the RSU 14 Board of Directors voted to approve alternating Friday schedule starting April 30. Under the plan, students will remain in assigned cohorts and the school calendar will be updated to reflect the change.

Last August the district adopted a hybrid instructional model to ensure the safety, equity and accessibility for all Windham and Raymond students as COVID-19 cases spread throughout Maine. Since then, students have been grouped alphabetically with last names from A to K having in-person classes in school on Mondays and Wednesdays and those with last names from L to Z attending in-person classes in school on Tuesdays and Thursdays. On days when students are not in school, they have been expected to be following up online with their teachers to the best extent possible on Fridays.

In a letter to the community following the meeting, RSU 14 Superintendent of Schools Christopher Howell acknowledged concerns and opinions about how to proceed expressed by parents, staff and students in formulating the decision to add alternating Fridays to the schedule.

“We greatly appreciate the 375 individuals who attended the meeting, the 2,210 staff, parents, and students who submitted feedback, and the 78 individuals who submitted questions and comments following the April 1 meeting when each of the proposals to increase in-person instruction was reviewed and discussed,” Howell wrote. “The decision was not an easy one but was based on what the board felt was best for our students given the complexities of schedules, capacity when working within Maine CDC social distancing guidelines, and the recent surge of COVID-19 cases in our communities.”

He wrote that the high level of participation and interest in the RSU 14 Board of Directors difficult decision serves to highlight the extraordinary investment everyone has in the school community.

“I am grateful for your feedback and support as we navigate this difficult school year and can assure you that I will continue to collaborate with district staff on behalf of every child in Windham and Raymond schools.”

For education statewide, Maine Gov. Janet Mills released an update earlier this month to its color-coded Health Advisory System that classifies counties’ relative risk of COVID-19 transmission to assist schools as they continue with their plans to deliver instruction and support students safely.

Mills said that the Maine Department of Health and Human Services and Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention continue to review evidence that indicates lower transmission of COVID-19 in schools compared to the general population. She pointed out that during March, the rate of new cases for school staff members or students is 30 per 10,000, or about 25 percent lower than a new case rate of 41 per 10,000 for the general population. 

A survey was sent out to all students, families, and staff on April 1 to gather information to help the RSU 14 board reach a consensus about how to proceed. It had been determined that if additional in-person instructional days were approved, building administrators would be directed to work with school staff to ensure appropriate social distancing guidelines continue to be met and that spaces are conducive to engaged learning. It also directs school administrators to ensure adequate staff coverage for all classrooms. 

In adding the alternating Friday schedule through the remainder of the school year and the resulting increase in in-person instructional days, Howell said that RSU 14 will continue to offer students a remote-only learning option if families do not feel comfortable sending their children for in-person lessons on Fridays.  

Students currently using remote learning are free to return to classroom instruction, but do not have to make the transition if their families wish to keep using the remote option through the end of the school year in June.  

Information on the RSU 14 website says that the school district will provide transportation for families who are unable to transport students to school on alternating Fridays.

 

Prior to the April 7 meeting, the RSU 14 Board of Directors reviewed several different options and proposals about adding in-person instructional days to the district schedule. The board said any increase in in-person instruction was in response to expressed community needs for children to return to schools for as much in-person instruction as possible while maintaining adherence to social distancing and health/safety guidelines, as well as the academic, social, and emotional needs of students.

 

“We understand that this has been an extraordinarily challenging year for all staff, students, administrators, and community members. These are difficult decisions. It is important that we maintain a focus on student needs and then respond to challenges that staff are facing as we collaboratively problem solve the myriad of issues that this year has presented,” a board statement read. “As more educators are vaccinated, school districts are examining possible schedule shifts to meet the needs of students and the community.

 

The RSU 14 Board of Directors has been kept abreast of building-level needs and challenges in response to COVID social distancing guidelines throughout the 2020-2021 school year,” the statement read. “Classroom spacing, furniture needs, social distancing protocols, instructional shifts, social emotional and academic planning, etc., are all being carefully examined and would be presented to the board for their input and consideration, as well. Every decision made by the RSU 14 Board of Directors is made following a thorough review of multiple perspectives.” <

Friday, April 9, 2021

Racial tolerance, acceptance objectives of Windham Middle School's Civil Rights Team

Dyan Pallozzi, an eighth-grader at Windham Middle School, 
helps install a 'Welcome' banner in the school's main hallway
while participating in a WMS Civil Rights Team activity.
SUBMITTED PHOTO 
By Ed Pierce

Windham Middle School Civil Rights Team students may be young, but it hasn’t stopped them from being engaged in the social justice movement and working to make their school and their community a more accepting and safer place for everyone.

The Civil Rights Team at WMS can trace its roots back to at least the early 2000s, under faculty advisors Bill Wescott and Eliza Adams and continues today under the guidance of JMG Specialist Fernando Hinojoso. More than 30 students participate in WMS Civil Rights Team activities, both in-person and remotely.

 

Team meetings are 30 minutes long and on Fridays via Zoom. They also meet Monday and Tuesday afternoons and Wednesdays and Thursday mornings in-person at the school.

Hinojoso said he believes that the Civil Rights Team is an essential activity at WMS for a number of reasons, including civic duty and workforce readiness.

 

“CRT students understand that the ongoing injustices in our country demand a civic duty from us: we must respond, however we can, to support those in our world who are victims of injustice by initiating conversations about the underlying issues perpetuating these inequalities,” Hinojoso said. “Employers are looking for applicants who are able to communicate effectively with diverse populations. We are failing our students by not providing opportunities to develop fluency with the various identities with whom the world will expect them to work with.”

 

The WMS Civil Rights Team engages in various activities focused on outreach, such as the creation of a 16-foot “Welcome” banner at thew school and installing a Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. mural with a quote to adorn the school’s main hallway.

 

“We are also in the process of finalizing various projects, including our school-wide observance of National Day of Silence on April 12 and April 13, a student-led protest for raising awareness about the bullying, harassment and erasure of LGBTQ youth in schools,” Hinojoso said.

WMS Principal Drew Patin said that CRT participants are making great strides in creating an atmosphere of acceptance and opening a dialogue about important issues facing students in 2021. 

“For me, it is all about ‘all are welcome here.’ All students should feel as though they belong to the school community and should never feel any differently than that based on our differences,” Patin said. “The Civil Rights Team works to fulfill this goal and promise through awareness, action, and support.”

Sixth-grader Ashlynn Cuthbert said that she wanted to be a part of the Civil Rights Team because she wanted to make a difference in the world that she thought was unfair.

“I want the Civil Rights Team to help students of all ages to acknowledge the problems that still exist today and help to prevent those problems from hurting them or others,” Cuthbert said. “Students are better equipped to make a difference by participating in the Civil Rights Team because the CRT provides resources that students might not find on their own, and it gives a community that can help you to find new and better ways to change the world. It gives students the chance to meet people that believe in the same things that you believe in, and those people can help you and give you even more strength than if you were doing it alone.”

Cuthbert says social justice should be on the minds of students at WMS because they are the next generation, and if we change doesn’t happen now, the years and years of tradition and unequal social justice will continue.

Maddy Beckwith, an eighth-grader, said that WMS students who join the Civil Rights Team get a better glance of the issues happening in school.

“I think social justice issues should be on the mind of students at WMS because if students aren't aware of them, then for example they could accidentally make a racist comment that affects one of their fellow classmates,” she said.

Seventh-graders Eva Schroeder and Cynthia Flaherty say they joined the Civil Rights Team to support equality for everyone.

Schroeder said she wants to stand up for people that can't do so for themselves.

“I think it's stupid to judge people based on the color of their skin. I think people are just looking for drama or someone to make fun of sometimes, and it's not right,” she said.

Flaherty said she’s optimistic the WMS Civil Rights Team can open some eyes and change minds.

“I would like to see them change the minds of the people that believe others are lower than them, and because I believe that everyone should be in a safe place that they know they won’t get bullied for,” she said. ”If things are still flawed now, then they will become worse over time; so if they fix it now it could better things.”

Sixth-graders Preston Smith and Ali Albair say they have each encountered racism in the community and that they hope groups such as the Civil Rights Team can educate everyone about the harm that racist acts and slurs cause to others.

“I joined to help every kid be proud of who they are,” Smith said. “My dad and I have both experienced racism first-hand and it’s really sad and mean and also enraging.”

Albair said that he wanted to participate in CRT activities to make people of different skin colors, gender preferences, gender identity, body size, disability and religion feel comfortable at Windham Middle School.

“As for social justice, everyone should have the same privileges, not based on their race, their gender preferences, or anything in between. If one person has the right do to something like take a train or go shopping other people should too,” Albair said. “I think that people should never use slurs, especially if its offending to people.” 

Hunter Gibson, an eighth-grader, said he has wanted to be a part of the Civil Right Team for as long as he can remember.

“I see them expanding greatly and then getting everyone to see each other as equals,” Gibson said. “It's a shame we are going in the right direction but not fast enough.”

Sixth-grader Moriah Layton said she joined the Civil Rights Team to help ensure that everyone feels safe in school.

“Kids can make a difference in the world,” she said. “They know what’s going on and can come up with ways to fix it.”

Hinojoso said he believes that the greatest obstacle facing America right now in the area of race and social justice is language.

“The American people do not have a shared narrative about our past and present, not to mention the language with which to discuss it,” he said. “When we lack the words in common with which to have the conversations we utterly need to have, we inevitably see division in our communities.”

He said he’s spoken to many who believe that racism ended with Martin Luther King Jr.’s voting rights marches, or others who dismiss the harassment of LGBTQ students in schools and that is why student groups such as the WMS Civil Rights Team are vital to the community.

“We believe that we can create a significant impact by simply educating our community about these issues and reinforcing the fact that they exist,” Hinojoso said. <