Friday, June 2, 2023

Taking checkered flag in first ACT race lands Windham racer in record books

By Ed Pierce

Windham’s Brandon Barker joined some prestigious auto racers when he entered the record book by winning his first race on the American Canadian Tour at Lee USA Speedway in Lee, New Hampshire on May 21. Barker, 26, is only one of three drivers to win in their first ACT start, with the late Dale Earnhardt and DJ Kennington being the only others to accomplish that feat.

Brandon Barker of Windham won his first 
race on the ACT Tour at Lee USA Speedway
in New Hampshire on May 21. He entered
the record books along with the late Dale
Earnhardt and Canadian driver DJ
Kennington as the only drivers to win
an ACT race in their only ACT start.
Barker is currently in the middle of a busy 2023 racing schedule that includes 35 races running from March through November. He’s been racing mostly super late cars but chose to enter the ACT’s New Hampshire Governor’s Cup 150 race driving a late model car at Lee USA Speedway and defeated 24 other drivers to claim the checkered flag there.

He took the wheel of the Sullivan Construction 0NH car to the pole position in the ACT race with current top rookie Andrew Molleur to his outside after both earned prime racing positions in preliminary heats. Barker grabbed the early lead and then regained it late in the race. He traded first place back and forth with driver Jimmy Renfrew until lap 145 when Renfrew spun out. With just five laps remaining, Barker held off a challenge from driver Gabe Brown to earn his first American Canadian Tour victory in just his first and only start on the ACT Tour. In winning, Barker joined an elite list of ACT winners in their only start which includes Earnhardt’s victory at Cayuga Motor Speedway in Ontario in 1983 and longtime NASCAR Pinty’s Canadian Series standout Kennington who won at the Lee USA Speedway in 2004.

“What I love about racing is the competition part of it mostly,” Barker said. “But also having a good group of crew guys going to the races, they make it fun. The challenges I’ve found about racing professionally have got to be the money aspect of it. It’s so dang expensive. I’m extremely grateful I got a good group of sponsors and people backing me.”

His start in racing came when Barker was 5 just turning 6 in 2003 at Beech Ridge Motor Speedway’s go-karting series. His grandfather obtained a couple of go-karts for Barker and his cousin to race there, and it prompted Barker to go on and pursue an auto racing career outside of his day job working for the Maine Turnpike Authority.

“Right now, I’m racing Super Late Models basically every weekend. And late model a few times,” he said. “I race on the Pro All Star series for Sam Snow, the Granite State Pro stock series, and the NASCAR weekly series Pro stocks at Lee USA Speedway for Archie St. Hilare, and a few American Canadian Tour Late Models for Chad Sullivan.”

He’s raced in Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina and his sponsors include DLM Property Care, NLM Custom Homes, Keen Parts, Corvette Parts, Sam Snow Construction, CBS Lobster, R.N. Craft, DiRenzo Rentals, and Maietta Towing.

“What I hope to accomplish in my racing career before I am finished is I have yet to win a Pro All Star series race. I really want to do that, it’s the only series I have raced in where I haven’t won,” Barker said. “If it happens and not at Oxford, then winning the Oxford 250 would be one because that’s my favorite race and one of the biggest races in the country. The most challenging track I’ve raced on has got to be the Thompson Speedway in Thompson, Connecticut. I have no idea why I’m terrible there, it’s a high bank of 5/8 mile with long straightaways. It’s the second fastest track we go to. Speed doesn’t bother me but I’m just not very good there.”

According to Barker, Maine has many great drivers like Mike Rowe, Ben Rowe, and Joey Doiron because of the abundance of great racetracks in the state.

“Beech Ridge is closed now but I think that flat tracks are the toughest tracks to get a handle on and if you do, you go to places with banking,” he said. “It helps your car’s handling usually, so if your good at the flat tracks you can usually go anywhere and be competitive.”

He credits other auto racers from Windham for giving him confidence and offering sound advice about racing when needed.

“Support from others in Windham comes from friends like Brad Babb and Bobby Timmons,” Barker said. “They’re older than me so they were always a step ahead. I looked up to them and would ask their advice. Whether it was good advice or not, it seems to have worked out.”

Barker’s girlfriend, Sara Wear, has a brother and father who also race, so she is used to the competitive aspect of the sport and tries to attend as many of Barker’s races whenever possible.

His next race is scheduled for Saturday, June 3 at Riverside Speedway in Northumberland, New Hampshire for the Granite State pro stock series and then on Sunday, June 4, he’ll compete at Oxford Plains Speedway in Maine in the Pro All Star series.

But if he doesn’t win any further races this year, Barker will remember 2023 for his history making victory in the ACT New Hampshire Governor’s Cup 150.

“First, you never forget your first win, that is the most satisfying feeling, winning your first one,” he said. “But winning your first touring race feels great because it proves you can do it and you belong to be out there.” <

Summerfest celebration draws closer in Windham

By Ed Pierce

Get ready to have fun as the 2023 Windham Summerfest celebration returns on Saturday, June 24 to the grounds of Windham High School.

Sandy Donnelly of Windham, left, who operated the Red
Sands Restaurant in town for many years, has been selected
as the Grand Marshal of the 2023 Windham Summerfest,
while retired Windham Police Captain Bill Andrew, right,
who served the community for more than three decades,
has been selected as the 2023 Modern Woodmen of
America Hometown Hero. SUBMITTED PHOTOS
Windham Summerfest is an annual event that honors and celebrates the rich history and people of the Town of Windham and fosters a sense of community. It’s entirely free and features live music, interesting activities, craft vendors, food booths and much more. Summerfest’s theme for 2023 is “A Little Bit of Everything,” and a quick review of featured attractions and activities reveals that’s an accurate summary of what participants will experience at this year’s celebration.

Deb Matthews is the chair of Windham’s Summerfest Committee and said that she feels Summerfest is so popular in the community because the committee focuses on making it family friendly.

“I want you to come to Summerfest with your grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles, cousins, and kids of all ages,” she said. “I want you to have fun, be engaged by the activities we offer, and leave with a smile on your face. By making all activities free, a family can come together and enjoy themselves without the thought of cost.”

According to Matthews, the hardest part of putting Summerfest together each year for the committee is making sure that they are making it better than the last.

“I do not want to repeat year after year. I feel like adding new activities or demonstrations will keep it fresh for all of us,” she said.

Matthews said a partial list of entertainment and activities for Summerfest in 2023 includes Escape Rooms; a 24-foot Rock Wall for climbing; The Lost & Found Band; a Dance Demonstration by members of the Maine Dance Center; the Radio Revival Band; a Golf Ball Drop; the Stone Broke Band; the Cousin ITT Band; Roaming Magician Phil Smith; a Meet and Greet with the Princesses and Heroes; the annual Summerfest 3v3 basketball tournament; Juggler Jason Tardy; the
Party Palooga balloonists; and Mr. Drew and his Animals Too. The day of fun wraps up with a fireworks extravaganza after dark.

Matthews said she has a hard time selecting her personal favorite booth to visit every year.

“There are so many I look forward to visiting each year. I love the crafter/vendor booths for their creativity and talents,” Matthews said. “I anxiously wait to see what the business booths will do for an activity at their booth to engage me.”

She said the Summerfest food booths are always a surprise.

“I never know what to expect and the food is always delicious,” Matthews said. “The community booths share how they are working to improve our communities and make it fun at the same time. I have made many lifelong friends from the people that participated in previous events and wouldn't change a thing.”

As in years past, the annual Summerfest Parade will kick things off for the day, starting at about Lotts Drive and then running up Route 202 (Gray Road) and ending in the WHS parking lot. Awards will be given for Best Depiction of the 2023 Theme: “A Little Bit of Everything” with award recipients receiving gift cards.

During the Windham Town Council meeting on May 23, Matthews shared with those in attendance the names of this year’s Summerfest Grand Marshal and the Modern Woodmen of America Hometown Hero.

Matthews said that the Grand Marshal must be a Windham resident and must demonstrate how they bring unity to the community and likewise, the Modern Woodmen choose the Windham Hometown Hero annually based upon similar ideals. Nominations were submitted earlier this year and the response from those nominating individuals to be honored this year was overwhelming, Matthews told town councilors.

This year’s Modern Woodmen Hometown Hero is retired Windham Police Captain Bill Andrew, a lifelong Windham resident, who retired from the Windham Police Department last September after three decades of serving and protecting the residents of the town.

Andrew graduated from Windham High School in 1992 and while attending school he was a member of the Junior Firefighters. After graduation he worked as a dispatcher for the police department for three years before deciding to become a police officer. He was the driving force in starting the canine unit for WPD under Chief Rick Lewsen. Through the years, Andrew also put many dangerous criminals behind bars, helped find lost children and led the charge each year for fundraising for the Maine Special Olympics, helping to organize the Windham portion of the annual Law Enforcement Torch Run for the Special Olympics.

“I want to take a moment to reflect on what it means to not only be nominated as Windham’s Hometown Hero, but to have been chosen. This honor is truly humbling,” Andrew said. “When I embarked on my public safety journey, I wanted to give back to the community that I grew up in. As a Windham High School student, I started my path as a junior firefighter and EMT and I started to realize that giving to the community was rewarding and fulfilling. After high school, I continued to serve the community as a dispatcher and then a police officer. I was fortunate to have the opportunities, the trust and support of the Town of Windham throughout my 33 years serving the community, the businesses, the residents, and the visitors. I saw the town grow throughout that time and watch now from the sidelines as it continues to grow.”

Andrw said that he went through his career never thinking he was a hero, but just someone who was upholding their duty to serve and give back to the community.

“It is an honor to be chosen as the Hometown Hero because it is also honoring those who I have served with over my career. There are many heroes among us. The honor is not just receiving the award and recognition, but to have worked with and alongside the men and women that I had the honor and privilege to work with over those 33 years. I am truly humbled and honored. Thank you.”

Matthews said this year’s Summerfest Grand Marshal is Sandy Donnelly, who recently celebrated her 90th birthday. Along with her husband and three children, she ran a local restaurant in Windham for 22 years and was involved in the restaurant business in town for more than 50 years.

Donnelly is well-known for her oatmeal bread and lemon meringue pie, but even more so locally for her generosity and willingness to help others. She was a Girl Scout Leader, a Boy Scout Leader, was involved in the Windham Athletic Boosters raising money to create the first lighted soccer field in Windham, and active in the Windham Chamber of Commerce. She was honored as the chamber’s “Businessperson of the Year” in 1984.

According to Matthews, Donnelly would always be there to help if an organization needed to raise money, opening her family’s restaurant for a fundraising dinner or to offer to help cook for a fundraiser at one of the schools.

Her friend and former employee, Barb Maurais, said this honor for Donnelly is greatly deserved.

“The family has been a fixture in the Windham community for over 50 years. They employed and supported hundreds of local students at their restaurant,” Maurais said. “She is a giver, from Scout leader, Athletic Boosters, Chamber of Commerce director, to the hostess with the most-est at Rustler's Restaurant, She has always been a doer, an organizer, and Windham's ambassador sharing her kind heart, that twinkle in her eye, and joyous laugh with every new friend that she meets, And her baking, lemon meringue pie, tapioca pudding, that whipped cream, and who could forget the legendary Oatmeal Bread. She exemplifies bringing unity to the community with every interaction.”

When Donnelly’s family shared the news with her that she will be honored as this year’s Summerfest Grand Marshal, Matthews said that Donnelly was speechless, and later as it began to sink in, she started practicing her pageant wave for the parade.

Along with all the other Summerfest activities, one of the most popular events is returning once again this year.

The Sebago Lakes Region Chamber of Commerce Community Golf Ball Drop is back, with golf balls sold by the Sebago Lake Chamber of Commerce for $10 each, and a total of 1,000 golf balls available. The golf balls will be dropped from a Windham Fire Department Ladder Truck during Summerfest at 3 p.m. with the winner receiving 20 percent of the amount collected. If all golf balls are sold, the winner would receive $2,000 cash. Additional prizes will also be awarded. Proceeds from the golf ball drop will benefit the Sebago Lakes Region Chamber of Commerce Charitable Trust for Feed the Need, helping provide for 12 food pantries across the Lakes Region. Winners will be announced at Summerfest at 7 p.m. and golf balls may be purchased in advance by visiting or by calling the chamber at 207-892-8265.

The Windham Summerfest Committee has been working on this year’s celebration since last June and its members include Deb Matthews (chair), Tommy Matthews (entertainment), Barb Maurais (vendors/crafters). Jacob Chouinard (3v3 basketball), and at-large members Tiffany Sinclair, Karen Rumo, Aaron Pieper, and Camille Swander. <

Friday, May 26, 2023

Windham EMT receives prestigious Red Cross honor

By Ed Pierce

Rob Parritt of Windham shares an undeniable bond with Windham Fire Rescue Emergency Medical Technician Dustin Andrews and because of it, Parritt is alive today.

The life of Windham resident Rob Parritt, left, was saved on
Jan. 24 by Windham Fire Rescue EMT Dustin Andrew, who
was off duty at the time. Andrew was presented with a 
Red Cross Certificate of Extraordinary Personal Action
at the Windham Town Council meeting on Tuesday night.
Back on Jan. 24 of this year, Andrews was off duty and traveling home near the Windham and Gorham town line when he observed a vehicle ahead of him driving erratically. Suddenly a bystander appeared in the middle of the road and waved Andrews down, telling him that the erratic driver had accelerated, left the roadway, and crashed into a snowbank.

Parritt says that he was on his way to work that night and remembers very little of that entire day. But what happened to him was he suffered cardiac arrest and passed out, crashing his vehicle.

When Andrews realized what had happened, he radioed for assistance and when approaching the crash scene, he discovered that Parritt was turning different colors inside the vehicle. He realized that Parritt was not breathing and required immediate medical attention. With the help of the bystander, Andrews broke out a window in the vehicle and the two of them pulled Parritt out. Andrews initiated CPR and continued it for about eight to 10 minutes before paramedics arrived at the site to take over and transport Parritt to the hospital.

Because of his training, bravery, ability to perform CPR and quick thinking, Parritt survived the incident and was taken to the hospital, where he spent about a week recovering from the harrowing ordeal. Hospital doctors implanted a defibrillator to monitor his heart rate and put a pacemaker in his chest to stabilize his heartbeat to keep it from beating too slowly and going again into cardiac arrest.

“I got to meet Dustin about two weeks later,” Parritt said. “I know how lucky I am to be here and how thankful I am that Dustin was there that night.”

Parritt is married with three children and eight grandchildren and attended the Windham Town Council meeting on Tuesday night where Andrews was presented with a Red Cross Certificate of Extraordinary Personal Action for his lifesaving efforts by Steve Thomas, Executive Director of the Red Cross of Southern Maine.

Thomas pointed out that a medical emergency can happen at any time and that quick action by a bystander can be the difference sometimes between life and death. He said that performing CPR during the first few minutes of cardiac arrest can double or even triple someone’s likelihood of survival.

In typical situations like this, Thomas said that any one of us could find ourselves as a victim, and any one of us could find ourselves as a bystander.

“Thanks to his training and fortitude, Dustin was able to be the bystander we all hope comes to our aid, and the bystander we should all aspire to be,” Thomas said. “Dustin succeeded in fulfilling the mission of the American Red Cross, to prevent and alleviate human suffering in the face of emergencies. He saved a life, a husband, a father, a grandfather, and his neighbor. May we all possess Dustin’s strength, courage, and lifesaving skills if ever they are needed.”

According to Thomas, it was his great privilege to present Andrews with a lifesaving award.

“His courage, bravery and training are something that we all can aspire to,” Thomas said. “You never know when you may also need to save a life. Dustin’s quick thinking, his bravery and his CPR skills are the reason Rob is with us at this ceremony tonight.”

Four months later, Parritt said he is feeling much better now and that he just can’t say enough good things about Andrews and all the Windham Fire and Rescue paramedics and public safety personnel who came to his rescue that night.

“These are simple outstanding young people,” he said. “And in Dustin’s case, I cannot ever thank him enough. “Not everybody would have stopped to help that night. He did.”

Andrews said that he was humbled to receive the award from the Red Cross and that it was presented with many of Parritt’s family in attendance at the council meeting.

“I’m happy he’s here and happy he made it,” Andrews said. “When you get right down to it, lifesaving is the reason why we do this.” <

In the public eye: Wescott to leave legacy of positivity at Windham Middle School

Editor’s note: This is another in an ongoing series of Windham and Raymond town employee profiles.

By Ed Pierce

Somewhere early in his teaching career, Bill Wescott learned that by being positive and helping his students to succeed, he too could succeed. It’s a philosophy that’s worked for Wescott for 46 years in his career, one that draws to a close with his retirement on June 16.

Bill Wescott will retire from teaching at Windham Middle
School after 46 years on June 16. During his long career as
an educator, Wescott has taught between 4,000 and 5,000
students by his estimation. He is the son of the late former
Arlington School Principal Robert Wescott and his wife,
Jean, who was also a teacher. PHOTO BY ED PIERCE  

He began his teaching career as a substitute with a long-term assignment filling in from November 1976 to June 1977 at Field-Allen School and then landed a permanent job at the newly built Windham Middle School when it first opened that fall. Wescott has been there ever since, teaching History and Social Studies to eighth grade students, although this year shifting over to teaching seventh graders Language Arts and History. By his own estimate, he’s now taught between 4,000 and 5,000 students in his classroom and says that he’s had the best job in the world.

As the son of two teachers, Jean and Robert Wescott, he grew up in Windham and graduated from Windham High School in 1972. He returned to town after earning a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Maine at Orono and credits Gary Moore, his first principal at WMS, as seeing something in him and offering him a job that has now lasted nearly five decades. During his long teaching career, Wescott has worked for five principals at WMS, including Moore, who was an English teacher when he attended Windham High and then later served as the Windham Schools Superintendent.

“To me, this is the best job in the world,” Wescott said. “No two days are alike. There’s a lot of energy in this place and the students really haven’t changed a lot. Some of the technology we use to teach them has changed and made it much more kid friendly.”

From 1977 to 1998, Wescott also served as a coach for three different sports, coaching girls’ JV soccer, middle school girls’ basketball and JV softball, with one season spent as the Windham High varsity softball coach. In the classroom, he’s helped students explore the history of America up through the War between the States era, although now he just covers from about the French Indian War in the 1700s up to the Civil War.

What makes him an exceptional classroom teacher is his innate skill of relating to his students.

“I have the ability to connect with the shy and quiet kids and bring them out of their shells,” he said. “Patience is so important for a teacher, especially since so many kids fell behind during COVID.”

Many of his former students have gone on to become teachers themselves, including more than a dozen alone at WMS this year.

According to Wescott, the thing he will miss the most about teaching is interacting with the kids.

“You have to expend a lot of energy to keep up with them,” Wescott said. “And it’s not easy trying to keep them energized. We’re teaching them what they need to know but also what they want to know.”

Of his siblings growing up, Wescott said that he is the only one of three boys and a girl in his family to follow in his parents’ footsteps and become a teacher.

“For some reason they didn’t want to do that,” he said. “In fact, most people don’t want to be a teacher.”

Through the years Wescott has had generations of students, who easily recognize him at the grocery store or while out shopping in Windham.

“One time a mother and a student walked by me, and the mother got this look on her face that she instantly remembered me,” he said. “Later that student told me his mother said she couldn’t believe that I was still teaching. She told him ‘Mr. Wescott was old when I had him.’”

His plans for retirement are to work as a substitute if needed in the fall. His mother is now 90 and he expects he’ll spend some time helping her too.

“I’ll figure it out,” Wescott said. “I always said I’ll know when it’s time to retire and it’s time. I have a cat and I’d like to travel and work on some hobbies.”

His advice for those wanting to follow his career path as an educator is simple.

“Students don’t remember what you taught them but how you made them feel,” Wescott said. “Be positive, make them feel good about what they can do and give them confidence.” <

Friday, May 19, 2023

Windham triathlete to represent U.S. at world finals in Spain

By Ed Pierce

Known as one of the most grueling athletic competitions ever conceived, those who compete in the Ironman Triathlon are tested by a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bicycle ride and a marathon 26.22-mile run completed in that order for a total of 140.6 miles. Many of the top Ironman competitors internationally will gather for the 2023 World Triathlon Olympic finals in Pontevedra, Spain in September and among those elite athletes will be Dr. Denise Allen of Windham.

Dr. Denise Allen of Windham will compete in the 2023
World Triathlon Olympic finals in Pontevedra, Spain in
September as a first-time member of Team USA. She picked
up the sport after being involved in an accident 10 years ago.
Allen qualified as a participant for Team USA at the USAT Nationals in Milwaukee Wisconsin in August 2022 and it will be her first time competing as a member of Team USA.

How she came to be involved in Ironman and Triathlon competitions in the first place is an unusual story though.

“In 2013, I was hit by an SUV in Windham while out on a long training ride. The crash left me with a fractured sacrum, multiple soft tissue injuries and a mild traumatic brain injury,” Allen said. “After weeks in the hospital, months of brain rehab, surgery, and years of physical therapy, I was ready to race competitively again in 2020. The pandemic pushed pause on that plan but provided an opportunity to amplify joy in sport. In 2022, I launched an aggressive race season, resulting in the title of Ironman All World Athlete, qualifying for and racing in the Ironman 70.3 World Championships in St. George, Utah, as well as qualifying for Team USA.”

Born in Portland, Allen grew up on her family’s farm in West Cumberland, learning the core values of working hard, doing what you love and being of service to others at a young age. Her extended family still maintains the original Allen Farm off Swett Road in Windham. U.S. Marine Corp Sgt., Jim Allen, the first Windham resident killed in action during World War II and for whom the Field-Allen School was named, is a distant relative.


She’s lived in Windham for the past 14 years. Previously, Allen graduated from Greely High School in Cumberland in 1989 and attended Columbia University in New York City, where she earned a Doctorate degree in Health Education specializing in health behavior and positive psychology. Allen has spent 25 years active duty as a call company and paid per diem national registry paramedic, and a ProBoard certified firefighter for the Towns of Windham, Naples, Cumberland, Falmouth. She’s wrapping up her 29th year as a National Board-Certified Health and Science Educator for students in grades 7 to 12 with 25 of those years teaching at Greely High School and four years as an American College of Sports Medicine Personal Trainer and Wellcoach.

Originally a marathon runner who competed in multiple Boston Marathons, Allen transitioned to triathlons in 2010 and that’s how she came to be involved in Ironman competitions.

“I compete in all triathlon distances, but prefer long course triathlon,” Allen said. “I have completed three full Ironmans, 15 half-Ironmans, and numerous sprint and Olympic- distance races. I am currently focusing on the 70.3 (half-Ironman) triathlon distance of 1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike, 13.1 run. The 70.3 distance allows for work-life balance, and I can be competitive.”

She said that triathlon training is her keystone habit because it sets in motion a series of other health enhancing behaviors such as nutrition, sleep, and time spent outside.

“Training promotes the release of endorphins, dopamine, and serotonin. These neurotransmitters create the biology of joy that enables me to show up as my best self in work and with friends and family,” Allen said. “The most challenging aspect is time management. I often say work gets in the way of my workouts. Time training for a triathlon is the equivalent of a part-time job. Sometimes it's hard to find a balance. On those days I have to give myself the grace to say, ‘training may not be what I want today, but it's ‘good enough.’ I’ve learned to embrace the 80/20 rule when life gets busy and to complete 80 percent of the training goals for the week. The key to getting results is consistency and commitment to the small stuff and these two behaviors are not mutually exclusive. It is generally the attention to this small stuff, such as strength, physical therapy exercises, nutrition, and ice baths that help to keep me consistent in my training.’”

According to Allen, before her bike accident, she would have said that running was her favorite and her top strength of the three disciplines, but post-accident, ironically, biking has become her genuine strength as she is an average swimmer.

“80 percent of my training is completed on a treadmill, in a pool, and on a bike trainer,” she said. “It’s safer inside. Training inside means that I can focus on the workout, the metrics, and nutrition without the worry of getting hit by a distracted or agitated driver.”


Now in training for the 2023 World Triathlon Olympic finals in Spain, Allen starts each day at 3:30 a.m. completing her morning workouts in her basement before work.

“After work there may be a second workout,” she said. “I complete mobility exercises every day with strength and conditioning two to three times a week. Weekends are for long workouts and double or ‘brick’ workouts. I try to get outside on my bike before everyone gets on the roads. Windham roads are very busy, and many do not have bike or pedestrian-designated lanes. Fortunately, my peak training occurs during summer vacation, giving me the flexibility to train with others and in different locations.”

The seed of her passion for an athletic lifestyle was planted in Allen at a young age, growing up on the family farm.

“Farm life gave me a strong sense of why functional health and fitness are so important and an abundant appreciation for nature. I was my absolute happiest running around barefoot in nature. This passion fueled my participation in cross-country running in middle and high school,” she said. “Later, this same passion inspired me to explore studies in natural sciences, health education, health behavior and positive psychology. These studies put into context what I had inherently known since childhood: an active, natural-life style is medicine that heals, facilitates joy, and promotes longevity.”

She says she’s excited to travel to Spain representing the U.S. in the 2023 World Triathlon Olympic finals. The athletes who will represent the U.S. in Spain have to pay their own expenses, and so Allen is now actively raising funds for travel, lodging, bike transport, uniforms, nutrition, insurance, and the Team USA and World Triathlon fees. Anyone wishing to help can contact Allen at drdeniseallen@gmail. com for a link about how to contribute, as a gofundme has been set up. Search Team USA - Triathlete to find the link. People can also follow her journey to Spain on Instagram at drdeniseallen.

But most of all, Allen says she’s grateful to have the opportunity to compete.

The triathlon community is full of high frequency humans that inspire me. It works because we share a similar training and sleep schedule, early to bed, early to rise,” she said. “Racing is an opportunity to meet people from all over the world and make new friends. I have met so many amazing people during my travels. I am inspired by all of them. I also love exploring and racing in the variety of natural landscapes.” <

Windham High pitcher reaches 500-strikeout milestone

By Matt Pascarella

When Windham’s varsity softball team traveled to Thornton Academy in Saco on Wednesday, April 26 it wasn’t just any game. In the top of the third inning, with the first Thornton Academy batter, junior Brooke Gerry reached the rare prep milestone of 500 strikeouts. Windham went on to beat Thornton Academy 10-1 that day.

Windham High junior Brooke Gerry holds
up a sign marking her 500th career strikeout
during a game against Thornton Acadermy
in Saco on Wednesday, April 26.
When Gerry struck out her 500th batter, the game was stopped. The team and Windham varsity coach Darcey Gardiner rushed the field and hugged Gerry. The next day, at home, there was a small ceremony where Gerry was presented with the team ball and a plaque.

“To be honest I never really thought about [reaching 500 strikeouts],” said Gerry. “Not that it’s not a big deal, but you see more players hit 100 hits, not 500 strikeouts. I personally wasn’t expecting it to be as big as it was, but [the closer I got] it seemed more real.”

It felt really good for her when Gerry reached 500 strikeouts. It was like all the hard work she’s put in over the years has paid off; it was great for her to have her team behind her.

Before Gerry steps into the circle each inning, she takes a deep breath and makes the switch from offense to defense. She clears the dirt and goes into her warmup pitches. She always remembers the game of softball is a 7-inning game, played one pitch at a time.

Gardiner said you hear a lot about 1,000-point basketball players or girls getting 100 career hits. Gardiner has never been a part of a pitching staff or had a pitcher throw 500 strikeouts; it’s something very rare. It really shows the work ethic and character that Brooke comes with.

Gerry started playing softball at 4 years old and began pitching at 6. She played for the 10-Under Flame at 8 but didn’t get to pitch much. She then moved to the Southern Maine River Rats travel team where Gerry pitched more, developed her skills and said that’s where her career took off.

“She puts the team first,” said Windham sophomore and catcher Stella Jarvais. “She isn’t selfish when it comes to throwing it for contact and letting the team field, but with her being so good it’s easy for her to strike people out.”

Jarvais said it was awesome and made her feel good to see her team succeed when Gerry reached her 500th strikeout.

“More than anything it shows character,” said Gardiner. “Beyond being an example with what she brings to practice, and, in the games, it also reflects on those younger kids who want to grow up and be just like her,” said Gardiner. “She’s definitely a role model for not only our group at Windham High School but all the youth from [Windham] Middle School going all the way down to T-ball.”

Mental toughness plays a big role in being a pitcher and a catcher; it’s something Gardiner and her coaches talk about a lot. You have to be OK with taking the blame and the spotlight being on you. There is a mental aspect that comes with being a pitcher you can’t always practice in practice. The work that Gerry puts on preparing mentally outside of the game is just as important as the physical stuff.

According to Gerry, she gives herself 30 minutes post-game to reflect on her performance; after that she moves on. She learns every time she’s in the circle, whether the game is good or a struggle. Gerry concentrates on the pitch in front of her and tries to not get too high or low during a game.

Gardiner said she handles that pressure like a pro. Gerry has experienced a lot of innings in the circle with highs and lows. You’d never know it because she rides that even keel, which is what you expect out of a pitcher.

“It’s not every day you see high school athletes who wake up every morning and strive to be better,” said Gardiner. “To better themselves and to better their teammates. When you see a junior reach 500 strikeouts, it really shows her character and her work ethic and what she brings to the people around her.”

Gerry has committed to the University of Rhode Island to play Division 1 softball and major in prelaw with a concentration in family services. <

Friday, May 12, 2023

WHS students undertake mock crime investigation with police

By Jolene Bailey

Windham High School offers a plethora of options for students to overcome struggles they might face outside of high school and into adulthood. For many, this includes attending college fairs and shadowing jobs; finding out their path that will unfold. One activity Windham High School does each year is a mock crime scene. Although the classes involved and scenario changes every year, the exercise focuses on English, math, and science.

Students at Windham High School work with investigators
from the Windham Police Department as part of an exercise
to solve a mock crime scene on schools grounds on May 3.
On Wednesday, May 3, students and members of the Windham law enforcement community interacted during a unique Crime Scene Investigation exercise on the school campus.

“The crime that was alleged was a motor-vehicle involved murder in which two neighbors had a problem with each other and shortly after a verbal dispute, one of the neighbors ran the other one off the road causing that driver to be ejected from the vehicle and subsequently pass away from injuries,” said Jason Burke, a Windham Police Department officer who was involved in the actual crime scene.

During the exercise, every WHS student has a role to play in solving the supposed crime. English students were the “detectives,” while math and science students were the “evidence techs” whose duty was to calculate details and handle the evidence.

“The key aspect of all this work is that both sides of the investigation must work together to solve the crime. Both roles needed each other to understand the complete experience,” said WHS teacher Adrianne Shetenhelm.

The exercise not only gave students insight into what it is like to solve a crime, but it also taught participants academic skills that they will need in and outside of a classroom environment.

“I was so proud to see my students, even often quiet ones who may not respond to a lesson within the classroom, engage with police officers, members of the community, and ask hard questions and work with peers to solve the crime. Many demonstrated clever problem-solving and leadership skills,” said Shetenhelm.

The planning process for the exercise started all the way back in September with the officers tasked with setting up the mock crime scene working collaboratively with the educators at Windham High. Each year there is a different mock crime at the school, with different lessons and story plots, and different actors participating, and this was the fourth year that the mock crime scene exercise was staged at the school. Expectations are that students will understand how the different pieces of evidence collected come together to show what happened, which tests are reliable, and which ones have a high possibility of error.

“We teachers work with the police to write this original scenario, and we work hard to manufacture the evidence students find on the scene, but we have to trust that our students will connect all the dots,” Shetenhelm said. “It's like designing a play but in addition to setting the stage, writing the script, and creating the props, you then just have to prepare and then trust that the students are not a passive audience but active participants.”

Teachers normally see students in a classroom setting five out of seven days a week and within this given time, teachers and students are able to create relationships and bonds. But outside of a teacher’s point of view, police officers aren’t as interactive with the students’ daily academic life.

"This event is a lot of fun to participate in. Not only do we get to help with the background preparation and planning, but we also are given the opportunity to teach in the classroom. On the day of the event the scenario brings all of the parts and pieces together to give the students an example of how academic knowledge is put to use in the real world,” said Burke.

All around us are skills for us to pick up upon, Burke said, and the mock crime scene investigation presents just such an opportunity. <

Raymond Community Garden cultivates enthusiasm for nature and food pantry donations

By Ed Pierce

If working in a garden teaches tolerance and preparedness, this year’s group of gardening enthusiasts working spaces at the Raymond Community Garden will be some of the most patient and watchful individuals around by the time that fall arrives.

Spaces are still available at the Raymond Community Garden
for anyone who wishes to grow flowers or vegetables for
personal use or to make donations to the Raymond
The Raymond Community Garden is open to anyone interested in gardening and is located across the parking lot from the Raymond Village Library at 3 Meadow Road in Raymond. The garden is open from dawn to dark although most of its gardeners come in the morning or evenings when it is cooler during the summer.

Under the direction of Leigh Walker, participants meet her at the garden and choose a space and spaces are still available for the 2023 growing season.

“In the 12 years the garden has been in existence, we have had as few as eight gardeners and as many as 24 gardeners each year,” Walker said. “I have 10 returning gardeners this year.”

According to Walker, gardening enthusiasts with spaces at the Raymond Community Garden typically grow vegetables and flowers in the garden.

“Some examples are tomatoes, lettuce, kale, eggplant, cabbage, green beans, zucchini, cucumbers, and many more,” she said. “Some who have been gardening with us for years grow perennial plants like asparagus and put in garlic in the fall for harvest the next summer. We have a ton of sunflowers and people often put in marigolds and other insect-repelling flowers.”

Walker said that this year there will be three Master Gardeners working with participants at the Raymond Community Garden.

“We have three Master Gardeners from the Cumberland County Extension who work with us, Linda Pankewicz, Margie Thumm and Richard Adams,” she said. “We have other gardeners who are very knowledgeable and are happy to help when questions come up. We are a very welcoming community if a new gardener wants to learn. We can connect the gardeners with one of the Master Gardeners but often they will see Linda at the garden. We are so thankful for the expertise they all provide for our gardeners. We are so fortunate to have them working with us.”

Funding for the community garden comes from several sources.

“We have two funding sources,” Walkers said. “Our goal is to keep access to the garden as inexpensive as possible so anyone can participate. As a program of the Raymond Village Library, we ask for a $15 donation to the library for one plot sized about 8 x 15. We add another 2 x 15 row to each plot and ask that the gardener grows and maintains food for the food pantry in the second plot. They can grow whatever they want to, but we can make suggestions of things we know the food pantry needs. If someone has a challenge with that donation, they should still come talk to us. We will always try to find a space for someone to garden if they want to and we have space. Most of our gardeners use two plots. Typical donations to the food pantry are tomatoes, green beans, lettuce, corn, cabbage, broccoli, kale, carrots, beets, cucumbers, squash, garlic and onions.”

The other source of funding is from the Cumberland County Extension Seed Grant, Walker said.

“They have been so kind to give us a few hundred dollars in garden needs each year,” she said. “We apply for the grant in the fall and request certain items that we need. They purchase them and provide them to us. It has been hugely helpful to our gardeners. Some items help us extend the season and deter pests, like row covers. Other items help us do the work that needs to be done like garden carts and tools. We are extremely grateful to the Cumberland County Extension for all the supplies as well as the advice and counseling they have given us over the years. I am not sure our garden would still be here without their support at key times.”

Along with those funding sources, Walker said they have plenty of support from others as well.

“The Town of Raymond has been a great partner as has the Plummer Family who has provided space for us and has been another amazing partner,” Walker said. “And, of course, the library is a huge support as well. We would not exist without all these people and organizations.”

Water is abundantly available for gardeners and the community garden uses a water barrel and watering can system.

“There are many water barrels available, and we do ask the gardeners to help keep them full,” Walker said. “One could use a hose to water, but we have found the watering can system and using mulch helps reduce unnecessary water consumption.”

The community garden uses organic practices with products that provide beneficial nutrients to plants and animals that do not harm them or the soil they grow in.

“Examples are using manure and compost to give your plant nutrients and not using chemical fertilizers and pesticides,” Walker said. “At our garden, we make sure that only organic seeds and plants are used. No chemical fertilizers, pesticides or weed killers are used. If anyone has extra manure that they would be willing to bring to us at the garden, we would be thrilled to have it. If they email me, we can set up a time for them to bring it by. We don’t have a truck so getting manure to the garden is always a challenge for us.”

All skill levels in gardening are welcome from experts to basic beginners.

“We love to have new gardeners. We can help in all ways, from choosing what to grow and what they can do to minimize the work that needs to happen in a garden,” Walker said. “I will say, people who want a garden will have much more success if they are willing to be engaged in their garden throughout the summer and fall. Gardening is not a plant it and forget it activity. But we are here to help along the way. With the Master Gardeners and the strong sense of community that we have with our wonderful gardeners, all gardeners have as much support as they would like. All they have to do is ask.”

Many gardeners in Raymond are looking forward to a plant sale starting at 7 a.m. Saturday, June 3 at the Raymond Village Library and Raymond Community Garden. It is a fundraiser for the library which supports the community garden and will feature some beautiful plants this year.

For more details about obtaining a space at the Raymond Community Garden, send an email to Walker at<

Friday, May 5, 2023

Rescue dog melts hearts of foster family while waiting for permanent home

By Ed Pierce

A Windham resident who fosters dogs through a Maine-based rescue group is hoping that a pooch saved from euthanasia in Florida last fall can find a permanent home soon.

Sissy, a 3-year-old bulldog mix, arrived in Windham last
September for what was expected to be a short stay with
foster parents while awaiting adoption. She still is
available and seeking a permanent home through the 
Maine-based Fetching Hope Rescue organization.
Since 2020, Robyn Sullivan has been fostering rescue dogs with Fetching Hope Rescue, which focuses on bringing adoptable dogs up from the south to find loving homes in New England. In three years, Sullivan has fostered 16 different dogs, all of which have been placed in loving homes, until Sissy, a 3-year-old bulldog mix with some pointer traits, arrived last September.

“We can only bring up as many dogs as we have fosters available and most dogs are adopted in the first 30 days,” Sullivan said. “Our usual methods of finding adopters don't seem to be working for this girl.”

According to Sullivan, Sissy, also known as Sassy, is a sweet, gentle girl who is content to hang out while you work or snuggle on the couch watching television. She also enjoys walks, playing and a good rope chew.

“We think she's being overlooked because she's older at age 3, but we see her age as a positive,” Sullivan said. “She's house trained, crate trained and has a decent handle on the basics such as sit, come, bed, wait, leave it. She is a bit shy at first, especially with men, but she does come around if you work with her. We have also been working with her on her reactivity with other dogs and small animals. Some dogs she clicks with right away. She would do best in a quieter home with older children or would be a great companion to someone who works from home or is retired. She's the right fit for someone, she just needs some additional exposure to find them.”

Prior to fostering Sissy, the longest dog that Sullivan had to foster was for about a month. She averages about a two-week stay for fosters which makes Sissy’s plight so unusual.

“When Sissy first arrived, she was nervous and shy. It can take her a bit to warm up to people, but once she's comfortable she's a love bug who isn't afraid to let you know what she wants,” Sullivan said. “We didn't like calling her Sissy because of her nervousness but didn't want to completely change her name so we started calling her Sassy. She sometimes lives up to that nickname. Toward the end of work one day, I was on a call and she was ready to go out and play. I told her she had to wait, and she barked back at me. The other person on the call noted that it sounded like she was sassing me. I told him that her nickname is Sassy and he agreed it fit.”

Sissy’s days are spent lounging in her office taking a nap or chewing on a toy while she works, Sullivan said.

“We get out a couple times a day to play or chase a treat in the yard. Evenings she spends snuggled up on the couch,” she said. “As soon as I get her bedtime cookie, she heads straight to her crate and is quiet all night. Sissy is generally a quiet girl, though she will let you know with a paw when she wants attention or needs something.”

Using the extra time Sissy has spent in foster care, Sullivan has been working with her on building on the commands she's familiar with and working with her on new skills.

“She has a good handle on 'sit' and is making progress with 'come' and 'leave it.' She is food motivated which helps with her training,” she said. “We met with a trainer in March to get some tips on her reactivity training. She isn't a fan of smaller animals such as cats, and small dogs. She gets along best with male dogs her size or larger. In her first foster home, she was close with one of the male dogs and she's had a couple play dates with a German Shepherd and lab/pit mix that went well. She would definitely need to meet any potential siblings.”

Sullivan lost her own dog last year and she currently doesn't have any other pets at home.

“That was how Sissy came to stay with us. Her first foster home was very active and had other dogs and she was having trouble settling,” she said. “She came to stay with us to help her relax and she's really come a long way.”

The best part of being a foster volunteer is couch snuggles and puppy playtime, Sullivan said.

“I've always liked dogs, and this is a great opportunity to get to play and hang out with a bunch of different dogs and work on my training skills without long term commitment or vet bills,” she said. “I've also met a lot of great people, volunteers and adopters.”

The hardest part of being a foster volunteer for Sullivan is the first few days where the dog is decompressing after transport and getting used to the house.

“Transport can be stressful and then they come into a new environment, with new people and sometimes new animals,” Sullivan said. “Everyone in the house, people and animals, have a heightened sense of awareness. Once they settle, it gets easier.”

Sissy was nearly adopted about a month ago, but that fell through, and Sullivan continues to care for her until a new adopter steps forward.

“She has been around people ages 5 and up. Young kid energy can be too much for her, but she is content to hang out somewhere quiet while they visit,” Sullivan said. “We think she would thrive in a home with older children. She’s adapted well to our 13-year-old and many of his friends or adults. Maybe someone who works from home or retirees. She likes to have her people around. I think a lot of people are wary of adopting an older dog, especially if there has been unknown trauma. It's really rewarding to work with a dog to overcome those issues and I know there are people who are willing to do that work. We just need to find the right one for Sissy.”

Potential adopters for Sissy would need submit an application on the website Once received, a representative reaches out to set up reference checks, a virtual home visit and an interview.

“Sissy is a sweet girl and great companion who just wants to be loved,” Sullivan said. “In spite of her issues, she is the easiest foster we've had. She doesn't chew things she's not supposed to, doesn't get into the trash, and will leave you alone if you're snacking on the couch, unless you share, and loves to snuggle.” <

Windham Police Captain Ray Williams retires after decades of service to town

By Ed Pierce

It was tough for Windham Police Department’s Captain Ray Williams to not put on his uniform and report for duty on Tuesday morning, but after more than 37 years of service to the community, Williams officially retired on Monday, May 1.

Captain Ray Williams has officially retired
after spending 37 years as a member of the
Windham Police Department. Hundreds of 
well-wishers and friends turned out to say
thanks and goodbye to Williams during a
special tribute to him on Monday afternoon
at Windham High School. FILE PHOTO     
He grew up in Cumberland and after graduating from Greely High School, Williams attended Southern Maine Community College and earned an Associate of Science degree in law enforcement technology. His first assignment in law enforcement came as a reserve officer for the Windham Police Department and he was hooked. Williams applied for an opening as a full-time police officer in Windham and was hired. His first official day on the job was Sept. 4, 1986.

In March 1987, Williams completed his studies and graduated from the Maine Criminal Justice Academy, and he then went on to successfully complete the Drug Recognition Expert School in 1991. At the time of his retirement, Williams is the last active member of the state’s first DRE School in 1991 that was still serving with his police department.

As the years rolled by, Williams logged more than 20 years of service as a member of WPD’s Patrol Division, including 13 years as a motorcycle officer. In that role, Williams stepped up and helped train hundreds of police officers from across Maine in developing expertise in the detection and processing of alcohol- and drug-impaired drivers.

His diligence at protecting Maine motorists and his keen ability to recognize impaired drivers before they could cause harm to others has not been overlooked. Williams was recognized in 2021 by the Maine Bureau of Highway Safety and the Maine Criminal Justice Academy for his lifetime contribution as a Drug Recognition Expert and his devotion to keeping Maine highways safe.

“Ray has taught in most all the DRE schools since 2003 and has taken on a mentorship role helping new DREs as they learn new skills,” said James A. Lyman, Coordinator of Impaired Driving Programs for the Maine Criminal Justice Academy. “For his years of dedicated service and overall contributions in removing impaired drivers from Maine roadways, in addition to his leadership and support for the Maine Drug Recognition Expert program, he was presented with this DRE Lifetime Achievement Award.”

Williams has continued to serve as a certified instructor for the Academy, traveling to Vassalboro when needed to teach officers and academy cadets. He’s led classes in Standardized Field Sobriety Testing, drug recognition, operation of the Intoxilyzer 5000ES detection system, and active firearms and urban rifle instruction. Since 2006, Williams has also run the Windham Police Department’s firearms program and has served as the department’s weapons armorer since 1993.

In 1998, Williams helped launch the Windham Police Department’s first motorcycle unit using forfeited assets he helped seize during a traffic stop. The money was taken from a drug courier transporting drugs from Connecticut to Maine. Enough money was seized to fund the department’s motorcycle unit, K-9 program and to purchase other equipment not covered in WPD’s budget.

He accepted an interim detective’s assignment to WPD’s Criminal Investigations Division in 2010 and was awarded the position permanently a year later in 2011. Williams worked on criminal investigations for the department until 2014, when he was promoted to Sergeant and reassigned to the Patrol Division once more as one of two of the department’s Evening Shift Commanders.

He was promoted to the position of Patrol Captain in 2020 and was instrumental in assisting the Windham Police Department’s transition in the construction and expansion of the Windham Public Safety Building on Gray Road last summer.

When it was announced that he would officially be retiring on May 1, hundreds of grateful citizens turned out to thank Williams for his service to the town at a special goodbye ceremony at Windham High School.

Windham Police Chief Kevin Schofield said Williams will be sorely missed.

“Thanks to Captain Williams for your dedicated service to this community, our department and to the law enforcement profession,” he said. “Congratulations Ray on a remarkable career.” <

Friday, April 28, 2023

Area students dazzle in World Robotics Championships

By Ed Pierce

Three local students will never forget how they spent their spring break last week as they traveled to Houston, Texas to compete in the FIRST® World Robotics Championships, toured NASA’s Johnson Space Center and spent time with Maine astronaut Jessica Meir. Baxter Academy for Science and Technology’s Isabella Messer of Raymond, Simeon Pillsbury of Windham, and Baxter Engelman of Raymond, are members of The Outliers, a community-based team of students in grades 8 to 12 who qualified for the event in Houston based upon their exceptional skills in programming, building, and robotics.

Three Baxter Academy students were part of The Outliers
team that competed in the FIRST® World Robotics
Championships in Houston, Texas last weekend. From
left are Isabella Messer of Raymond, Simeon Pillsbury of
Windham and Baxter Engelman of Raymond.
The Outliers team itself has about 35 members in all and enjoyed a historically successful year on many levels this past year, including claiming three Autonomous Award titles for their robot, winning numerous local and district events, and captured the Maine State Championship. The team qualified for the FIRST® World Robotics Championships by winning the New England Championships in Springfield, Massachusetts on April 8.

One of the team’s coaches, Jonathan Amory, is a teacher at Waynflete School, and he says that teamwork has played an important role in the success that The Outliers have earned.

“The ability to come together as a team and manage a project from start to finish and work as part of a team for a greater goal is really the most important thing this team of students has learned this year,” Amory said. “I’ve been impressed at how they have come together when it really matters. It’s inevitable that not all students are able to get along, but to get them to all work together and collaborate and manage this project has been most impressive.”

The FIRST® robotics competition was founded by inventor Dean Kamen in 1989 and has evolved into a global movement by combining the excitement of traditional sports with the rigor of STEM learning, engaging millions of people with programs that have a proven impact on learning, interest, and skill-building inside and outside of the classroom. It builds powerful mentorship relationships between young people and STEM professionals, helping kids gain confidence to explore the innovation process while they learn valuable science, engineering, technology, teamwork, and problem-solving skills.

Student participants are tasked with designing and building a functional robot and to discover the value of persistence, innovation, teamwork, and the engineering design process. The goal of the competition is to create individuals who will change the world, both today and tomorrow.

Engleman is a senior and plans to attend the University of Maine at Orono to study engineering in the fall. This was his third year as a member of The Outliers. He said he first joined the team because he wanted opportunities to explore more engineering, and the team offered a way to apply some skills I was learning like Computer Assisted Design and the design process.

“The most challenging part of the season for me is always just before championships. It's the time where there's minimal work to be done on the robot, but we haven't started our off-season projects like improving organization or designing a second more experimental robot,” Engelman said. “My favorite part of robotics is the excitement and genuine interest everyone involved feels about problem solving. The competitions are extremely collaborative, and any team you ask will answer questions about their robot for as long as you ask them.”

Pillsbury is a junior and chose to join The Outliers in 10th grade because he heard they needed programming help, and he knew a little about that topic.

“The most challenging aspect of robotics for me is the waiting around between doing things. Often you just have these voids of inactivity, where you can't do something until another sub-team finishes what they're doing on the robot,” Pillsbury said. “The thing I like most about robotics is the community built in robotics, not only in The Outliers team, but also in the FIRST® community as a whole. At every event, you find people happy to help, and excited to learn about how you designed your robot. It's really awesome.”

As far as the future goes, Pillsbury says he’s aiming for a career as a freelance engineer.

Messer, a freshman, said she’s found the most challenging aspect of robotics competition to be learning about the FIRST® Robotics Program because she had never done anything like this before.

“One of the most significant things I appreciate about our specific team is our coach, Jon Amory. He invests thousands of hours with us each season and it's not just about robots, although he knows how to make a world class one, he mentors us on how to be a team,” Messer said. You won't find him in our pit or on the sidelines, he most often is in the stands. The process he invests in us as we soak up his knowledge in engineering and robotics is inspiring.”

She said the teamwork aspect of the robotics competition is daunting.

“I think it is really cool how the team works to mentor younger students how to learn new skills and be a leader. It is like a never-ending circle, such as there are a lot of seniors on the team, and as they graduate younger students are taking their places,” Messer said. “I really like this because I have learned a lot from the older kids this year and I hope to do the same for future kids. I feel like it is a core tenant of team to pass down your knowledge and make the team better. The proof of this is that we are fortunate to have several mentors who were previously team members of The Outliers. I count it a privilege to be a part of this great group of knowledgeable and challenging friends.”

In the FIRST® World Championships held at the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston, about 600 teams from 29 different countries across the world competed. The Outliers team placed third in its division, good for 27th place overall in the world. Team members also won the Innovation in Control Award for its unique swerve mechanism on their robot.

After the competition ended, The Outliers were treated to a tour of the Johnson Space Center in Houston. While on the tour, they were able to meet and spend an hour with Jessica Meir of Caribou, a NASA Astronaut. Meir shared with the students an inspirational message of following their dreams. She spoke about how diversity, recognition of talent, listening and discerning what mentors offer, and the value of teamwork have mattered to her and should be meaningful to them too. <

Windham town hall offices shifting to four-day work week

By Ed Pierce

Starting June 21, Windham Town Hall employees will be shifting to a four-day work week.

Following a discussion during a Windham Town Council workshop earlier this month, Windham Town Manager Barry Tibbetts consulted department heads and other town hall staff and asked them how to best accommodate residents while creating a competitive work/life balance for employees.

Employees of the Windham Town Clerk's office will adapt 
to a new work schedule soon as Town Hall workers will be
shifting to a new four-day work schedule starting June 21.
Tibbetts said other nearby communities have adopted four-day work week schedules and currently having a number of municipal vacancies, Windham needs to be as competitive as possible to attract and retain workers. During the previous workshop, several councilors expressed concerns about town hall offices being closed on Fridays and those seeking services having to wait until Monday for employees to be available.

“To be competitive, we need to be similar to towns around us yet be accessible for services,” Tibbetts told town council members during a meeting on Tuesday night.

According to Tibbetts, department heads told him that the greatest demand for town hall services is earlier in the day and not in the late afternoon and evening. He said many services available at town hall can also be found easily and accomplished online.

Because the town charter grants him the authority to determine operational hours for employees, Tibbetts said he’s willing to try shifting to a four-day work week for town hall staff on a six-month trial basis.

“After review of the proposed operational times, discussions with staff at multiple levels, comparisons with similar municipalities, I have made the decision to amend the operational open times for the town,” Tibbetts said.

The new hours effective June 21 will be 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Mondays and Wednesdays, 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Tuesdays, and 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Thursdays, and closed on Fridays.

“This date coincides with the time-recording system for payroll. This change does not affect the total hours worked; those remain the same. I asked staff to provide what they thought were the best times for providing services to the public with a four-day work week schedule,” Tibbetts said. “The majority of the staff felt the following time, 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., worked best for the public with an extended day. The town allows for numerous opportunities on-line to re-register vehicles, smaller recreational vehicles, trailers, pets, hunting & fishing licenses, recreational programming, voting registration, request vital records, and taxes.”

He said advances in technology opportunities further enhance the convenience of reaching the town hall and that if a resident cannot make the time frame of hours, a friend or relative can process a re-registration for them or they can use mail.

With the change, public entry to municipal offices on Fridays will not be available, excluding the gym at town hall, which has a separate access point.

In a memo to councilors, Tibbetts pointed out that some senior level and other staff members may work on Fridays to process necessary filings as needed, but public access to municipal offices will be closed.

“Fire, Police and Public Works currently work a variable schedule with no major impacts from this proposed four-day work week,” Tibbetts said. “There may be some union language changes to work through on existing contracts. The library currently has a six-day week and would look to maintain that schedule with modifications to hours open and closing while coordinating staff to have two consecutive days off.

Tibbetts said that the June 21 effective date for the change has been established to provide an eight-week window to let the public know about the new hours for the Windham Town Hall.

“It’ll be a bit of an educational process and it’ll take some time, but we need to move forward with this,” Tibbetts told councilors.

He says a summary report will be provided to the Town Council in six months about the effectiveness of changing the hours for operations and any next steps, along with tracking of transactions for analysis. <

Friday, April 21, 2023

Buddy mentoring program promotes leadership, teamwork among students

By Jolene Bailey

People can thrive off companionship during their lifetime, especially for young minds creating their future. Often people will surround themselves with friends, or people they look up to. Those role models can have an impact on minds and in a social aspect, friends can help each other in creating intelligence. That’s one of the reasons classrooms can often contain activities such as group work and special guest speakers.

Windham Middle School eighth-grade students work with
Windham Primary School second graders during a Buddy
Mentoring session in the cafeteria at Windham Middle 
School earlier this month. The program pairs older students
with younger kids in an effort to develop leadership skills
while providing role models for elementary students.
As an example of this, Windham Primary and Middle School’s Buddy Mentoring Program is a partnership between the eighth-grade students assisting second graders by teaching leadership and role modeling to younger children.

“The buddy program is important to me because I can make a difference in one more person's life,” said Eva Vancelette, an eighth grader.

These meetings between the WMS and WPS students are held once a month and feature science and math experiments, but the program emphasizes creating relationships between the older and younger students in the classrooms.

Demonstrating what this means from a student point of view, eighth-grade participant Parker Sperry said it’s great for some younger students to have someone to look up to.

“The buddy system is great because it gives the younger kids a chance to have an older sibling figure that maybe they don't have at home,” Sperry said.

For the eighth graders, taking on a leadership role teaches them how to be more respectful and responsible with their words and actions toward others. The WMS students learn about morals and values while creating new friendships at the same time. Research has shown that buddy programs are an effective way to help encourage a positive, sibling-like relationship between students. The program strives to instill social and emotional learning and is a way for teachers to accelerate crucial development of associated social and emotional skills while boosting self-esteem, self-determination and self-advocacy among students.

As of this year, four middle school teachers and three second grade teachers have come together to be involved and continue this program, which has been in existence for more than a decade.

“Middle school students have connected with many peers and established a working relationship with someone younger,” said Pam Mallard, eighth grade coordinator. “Community spirit is established in a positive manner. Students will often ask when the next meeting is out of excitement.”

The program’s monthly meeting involves about 160 students, tripling participation from about 50 students when the program started.

Bebe King, the program’s second-grade coordinator, said that the younger students benefit tremendously from this opportunity.

“We have seen learners who are normally reserved and quiet form an instant bond with their buddy,” King said. “We have seen students who are new be paired with an eighth grader who is also new to the district, which has helped them navigate the emotions of being the ‘new kid’ and become positive connections for each other.”

With these kids being a part of the community and the school district’s future, it’s important for them to be able gain a sense of themself and their skills.

“The fact I get to be a part of a younger generation's life makes my day,” eighth-grade participant Kaylee Napolitano said.

King said that the bonds formed between the students has worked wonders for some in positive and beneficial ways.

“We have seen students who struggle to make connections instantly gravitate towards their middle school buddy and make lasting connections,” King said. “Overall, we have seen success in the program’s ability to provide a sense of community within our schools and foster feelings of confidence in our students.” <

East Windham Conservation Project on track for fall opening

By Ed Pierce

In a recent update from the Presumpscot Region Land Trust, officials say that work is progressing to create the East Windham Conservation Project, which when completed will become part of a 2,000-acre conservation corridor and larger than any currently existing state park in Southern Maine.

On track to open this fall, the East Windham
Conservation Project will conserve 750 acres
of forest land and build 10 miles of new 
multi-use trails that connect to 20 miles of
existing trails, making it a destination for
walking, hiking, mountain biking, trail
running, snowshoeing, cross country skiing,
and bird and wildlife watching.
In a newsletter, the land trust reports that the project, a collaborative effort with the town of Windham, will be roughly the size of Bradbury State Park and will become the largest wildlife habitat, clean water, and recreational trail corridor in Greater Portland. The corridor will include the Lowell Preserve, the North Falmouth Community Forest, and the Blackstrap Hill Preserve.

“We are on track to conserve the land this summer and build out miles of trails this year,” wrote Presumpscot Regional Land Trust Executive Director Rachelle Curran Apse in the newsletter. “This fall, we plan to host a Grand Opening. Stay tuned for an official notice that the land is conserved, followed by a date for the Grand Opening.”

In its update, the land trust says that the outdoor experience will feature a 30-mile trail network with 10 miles of new trails for walkers, hikers, bird and wildlife watchers, trail runners, and mountain bikers.

“We are delighted that it will also include a one-mile universal access trail for people of all ages and abilities to visit Little Duck Pond and an outlook with sweeping views of the White Mountains,” Curran Apse said.

The $4 million land protection and outdoor recreation project includes funding from the Land for Maine's Future program along with lead business partner Gorham Savings Bank, and from dozens of additional businesses and foundations, and hundreds of individuals and families.

Once open, the East Windham Conservation Project will conserve 750 acres of forestland and build 10 miles of new multi-use trails that connect to 20 miles of existing trails, making a destination for walking, hiking, mountain biking, trail running, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and bird and wildlife watching. It will protect 38 acres of wetlands, 1,500 feet of Little Duck Pond frontage, and miles of pristine headwater streams that lead to Forest Lake, Highland Lake, and onto the Presumpscot River.

The area will provide programming opportunities for school and afterschool groups and create an accessible one-mile trail for people of all ages to walk, push a stroller, and bike to visit Little Duck Pond and visit a scenic overlook with sweeping views of the White Mountains.

Windham’s Open Space Plan has identified developing and maintaining open space partnerships and relationships as key mechanisms to grow conservation efforts in the town. When the Windham Town Council formally adopted the Open Space Plan in 2021, Windham representatives reached out to the Presumpscot Regional Land Trust to become an open space partner by holding a conservation easement and sharing responsibility for the trail management on the adjacent 308-acre Lowell Preserve.

During a Windham Town Council meeting earlier in 2022, Linda Brooks, Windham Parks and Recreation Director, said that the creation of the East Windham Conservation project will expand the town’s growing tourist economy by creating a new outdoor destination with miles of accessible forested trails and a spectacular 360-degree view from which will be the only observation tower from on top of one of the highest points in the Greater Portland area.

"Four season recreational opportunities will help local business realize benefits from tourists throughout the year,” said Brooks. “Acquisition of this property will protect resources for hiking, fishing, hunting, snowmobiling, skiing, mountain biking, picnicking and other recreational activities. In addition to all the recreational benefits for all ages, there are educational benefits to be considered as well. We do have members from RSU 14 who will serve on the steering committee to help us with educational development. The East Windham Conservation Project offers a unique opportunity for K to 12 educational activities in a large and diverse outdoor classroom setting.”

Last summer, the land trust received nearly 400 gifts for the East Windham Conservation Project, and it is now in the final stages of conserving land for the project before construction of the trailhead and 10 miles of new trails can begin this summer.

The State of Maine also recognized the significance of the East Windham Conservation Project by approving $998,000 Lands for Maine’s Future grant and matched by a bond created by the town. During Windham’s Annual Town Meeting last June, Windham residents voted to allow the town to enter a partnership with Presumpscot Regional Land Trust and authorized a bond to purchase and conserve 661 acres near Little Duck Pond in East Windham for the conservation project.

Future plans envisioned for the site include creation of a year-round trailhead parking area, multi-use trails, access to fishing, hunting and wildlife observation area, a universal access trail connecting from Falmouth Road to Little Duck Pond and Atherton Hill, an observation tower that will provide scenic views to Casco Bay and Mount Washington, and destinations with scenic views of the western mountains and the pond for visitors. <