Friday, December 23, 2016

Windham Fire and Rescue's Santa Run helps five families - By Michelle Libby

With trucks covered in Christmas lights, sirens blaring and Santa on board, fire fighters led by Lt. Garvin “Chip” Jones pulled up to five different homes to deliver gifts, food and gift certificates to brighten the holiday for five single parents and their families last Sunday. The five families were chosen by the Windham Food Pantry and the fire department collected around 250 gifts from area businesses to help with the Santa Run. 

The weather cooperated as three trucks, close to 50 people and one Santa delivered presents from one end of Windham to the other.

“It went really well,” said Jones. Each family received a box filled with food, an envelope of gift cards from area businesses to use for themselves or their kids, and gifts already wrapped to go under the tree. 

“The first family was just blown away. They had even made cookies for Santa,” Jones said. Although the parent knew they were getting a visit, they didn’t realize until the trucks arrived how elaborate it would be. “The trucks looked gorgeous. They didn’t think it was going to be this extravagent,” he added. “The kids were in awe of Santa.” 

The second and third families were equally blown away. “They couldn’t believe the amount of stuff coming into their house,” Jones said. 

Getting ready for the Sunday night event took a full month of planning and lots of help from the community.  Saturday night two dozen people wrapped gifts. On Sunday, dozens of people including students who live and work in the fire stations, decorated Haz Mat 2, Engine 5 and the Haz Mat Rehab Bus, which took them many hours. There were around 4,000 lights on Engine 5 and between 5,000 and 6,000 lights on the Haz Mat trucks. 

Gifts were donated by employees at Dominos and waitstaff at Buck’s Naked BBQ. Between 35 and 40 businesses donated as well. Cash donations were turned into gift certificates for local businesses like Renys, Marshalls and restaurants in town. Even Sunday morning, items were trickling in to be delivered that night. 

“It’s a great time,” said Jones, who had been doing something like this since he lived in New Jersey. In Maine he’s been in charge of the Santa Run for six years. “Every year I build on it. We started with two families, then three and four families. This year we did five families,” he said. 

One parent told Jones that she bought her daughter a jacket around Thanksgiving and that was all she was getting for Christmas. He was glad that wasn’t going to happen now. 

“Usually they’re single parents with one or two kids who work one or two jobs and barely are keeping the heat and lights on,” Jones said. “It’s just a big gratification. That’s why I keep on doing it.” 

Jones is thankful for all the support the Santa Run gets from the community, especially the following businesses: Hannaford, Marshalls, Man Cave Hair Lounge, Smitty's Cinema, Reny's, Friendly's, Bucks Naked BBQ, The Nail Spa, Cleaning Genies, Domino's, Applebee's, Pizza Hut, Benny's Barbershop, Windham Jewelers, Auto Zone, Bull Moose, U.S. Cellular, Shaw's, Pet Life, Advanced Auto, DQ, Rustler's Steakhouse, G & K Motors, Hall Implement, Little Caesars, Windham Primary School, Danielle's Sebago Café, Mr. Bagels, McDonald's and Hair Gone Wild. Special thanks to Dena's Lobsterhouse, comedian Crazy Jake and Atienza & Chebuske Dentistry as well as the private donations dropped off by the public, members and families of the Windham Fire/Rescue and Gorham/Windham Professional Fire Fighters Association and Santa Claus.

Ceremonial wreaths presented at the Windham Veterans Center - By Lorraine Glowczak

Ending a long journey that included thirty convoy stops between Calais, Maine and the Arlington National Cemetery in Washington D.C., the volunteer drivers of the Wreaths Across America (WAA) made a quick stop in Windham on Tuesday. After a week of travel, honoring and remembering American heroes and making their way back to Harrington, Maine, members of the truck caravan decided to do a surprise visit and present seven ceremonial wreaths at Field-Allen Legion Post 148 at the Windham Veterans Center. 

But prior to the honorary and ceremonial wreath laying, a crew of eight out of the 15 volunteer drivers stopped to refuel at Chutes Family Restaurant in Windham. After traveling approximately 1,500 miles round trip in one week, the volunteer drivers met one last time for breakfast, recalling with fondness their long, emotional and yet joyous ride together.
“The outpouring of support we received along this trip was incredible,” expressed Jim Johnston, one of the volunteer drivers. “We were greeted at every stop along the way. At one point, over 800 students from a local school lined the streets with encouragement and cheers as we drove down their Main Street. At some locations, we were even given lunch before we headed down the road again.”

Briefly, Wreaths Across America became an official non-profit organization in 2007, after many years of wreath laying that garnered national attention prior to that year. Founded by Morrill Worcester, owner of the Worcester Wreath Company of Harrington, ME, the mission and purpose of WAA is to remember and honor all soldiers as well as to teach “younger generations about the value of their freedoms, and the importance of honoring those who sacrificed for those freedoms.”

Honoring and remembering was one reason the caravan stopped in Windham. “I wanted to bring this back home with me,” stated Lil Charron, events coordinator with WAA and former Windham resident. “I wanted to recognize the veterans in my hometown.”

Charron and the rest of the volunteers not only got to provide the ceremonial wreath laying in Windham, but were privileged to meet and talk with Walter Braley, a Korean War veteran who joined the group for breakfast. It is Braley’s goal to fundraise and make enough money to provide wreaths in December 2017 for the 881 soldiers who are buried in all the Windham cemeteries. “It means everything to me,” explained Braley, holding back tears. “When I talk about it (wreath laying and honoring soldiers), it makes me cry.”

Once breakfast had concluded, the drivers resumed their mission for one last ceremony of honor for this Christmas season. With quiet respect, the volunteers drove their caravan of WAA trucks from the restaurant to the Windham Veterans Center (WVC) to lay the wreaths, with Braley riding along in the lead vehicle. 

Upon arrival at WVC, the caravan was greeted by over 20 veterans, representing all branches of the military. A wreath was given to a veteran of each branch (Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Army and Merchant Marine.) A wreath was also presented in honor and memory of Prisoners of War/Missing in Action. 

Prior to each wreath being placed on the perspective military service plaque, Mel Greenier, veteran and commander had a few words to say to the volunteers. “I want to thank you all for your Wreaths Across America program in honor of our nation’s American hero veterans resting in Arlington National Cemetery,” Greenier began. “This is such a wonderful idea created by the Worcester Wreath Company of Worcester, Maine many years ago. We sincerely thank you and your company for your many years of commitment, and we vets standing here today, very much appreciate your time and effort to the wonderful program. Thank you again and your Maine-based company makes us all very proud.”

For all those present, it was a very heart-rending ceremony of honoring and remembering. Not only here in Windham, but throughout the US with 1.2 million wreaths made and distributed this year.
But in order for this celebrated experience to occur on an annual basis, it takes the efforts of many individuals and organizations through-out the year. As the WAA website states, “our mission isn’t over once December ends.” Continuous fundraising efforts are in motion at all times. Countless people and organizations work and contribute to the WAA efforts.

Rolling Thunder, based out of Sanford, ME, is one such group. Rolling Thunder is a local and national non-profit organization and veterans, missing in action/prisoners of war advocacy group. They spend the year raising funds for a variety of veteran programs to include Wreaths Across America, placing wreaths at the Southern Maine Veteran Cemetery in Sanford. One fundraising effort, a golf tournament, occurred in July of this year at the Spring Meadows Golf Club in Gray. “We made a total amount of $6,800 from that one fundraiser,” Cindy DeCosta, events coordinator of Rolling Thunder, shared. “All the money was contributed to Wreaths Across America. In fact, our mission is so important to us, we are starting a new Rolling Thunder Chapter in the greater Windham area to help increase funding for Wreaths Across America and other veterans’ programs.”

Individuals can volunteer or donate directly to Wreaths Across America at . A special thanks to a portion of this year’s volunteer drivers for giving a week of their time to honor and remember: Lil Charron, Jim Johnston, Donna Bagwell, Ruth Stonesifer, Nancy Buell, Doug Brown, Dick Stacey and James Pierce.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Dr. Richard Nickerson advances to finalist status for Grammys - By Elizabeth Richards

Dr. Richard Nickerson, director of choral studies at Windham High School, has been named a finalist for the Music Educator Award presented by the Recording Academy and the Grammy Foundation. He is one of ten educators across the country to be named a finalist, from an initial application pool of thousands.

Nickerson was in his classroom with students when the announcement was made Thursday morning on CBS This Morning. “It was just so exciting to see their reaction,” he said. 

Libby McBride, vice president of the Windham Chamber Singers said “It was really exciting when we saw his picture up there. It was incredible. We all gasped and applauded him. We were really excited.”

Nickerson said being named a finalist is “surreal” and he is incredibly humbled by the experience. One of the most powerful results of the announcement, he said, is the number of former students reaching out to him. “When a student goes out of their way to contact you 25 or 30 years later to tell you that you made a difference, it’s just very overwhelming,” he said. Nickerson has been director of choral activities at Windham High School for the past 29 years. He is also the Minister of Music at North Windham Union Church.

Celine Baker, president of the Windham Chamber Singers, said Nickerson is a role model who deserves the honor. She said Nickerson works tirelessly to bring once in a lifetime opportunities, like singing at Carnegie Hall, to his students. “It’s a total honor not only for himself, but for everyone he works with and for the community as a whole. Just to know that someone from our community is being recognized nationwide is just pretty incredible,” she said.

Baker added that Nickerson does a lot that might go unnoticed. “When you think about it, he doesn’t have to do all this stuff. We could be your average high school choir but instead he’s dedicated so much of his energy and his passion and his love of music to help others become what he wants from us,” she said. She believes his dedication inspires many members to continue being involved in music, whether as a career or for personal fulfillment. 

McBride said she works with Nickerson not only with the Chamber Singers, but the school concert choir, on school musicals, and with her church choir. “I’m working with him all the time and he really puts in all of his energy to these groups. He puts in 110 percent so I think that nobody deserves this award more than he does. I think with all the opportunities he’s given us, this is a dream come true,” she said.
Nickerson said now all that is left to do is wait. The winner will be announced during Grammy Week in February. The Music Educator Award “was established to recognize current educators (kindergarten through college, public, and private schools) who have made a significant and lasting contribution to the field of music education and who demonstrate a commitment to the broader cause of maintaining music education in schools.”

Nickerson said he feels lucky to work in a community that values arts education. “This award is not about me, it’s about my students, it is about the community. If the community didn’t support this kind of work, we wouldn’t be talking right now,” he said.

Windham Police help Santa bring Christmas cheer - By Michelle Libby

Six police cruisers pulled up to the doors at Windham Walmart on Tuesday, drawing concerned looks from shoppers. They gathered out front to form their plan and scattered into the store. This wasn’t a typical operation for the police department, officers took time from their schedules to shop for Windham Social Services. With money raised at various fundraisers, they brought $2,000 to buy toys for over 30 children in Windham. 

From learning toys for toddlers to make up for teens, the officers worked with one another to find the best gifts for the children they were shopping for. In past years, the officers were given a dollar amount and they picked out items for a variety of children. This year, administrative assistant Sue Rogers, gave each officer a sheet of paper with an age and suggestions for gifts that child would love to see under their tree. So as the officers were shopping, they had a specific child in mind. 

“The best reason we do this is that we are giving back to the community. We receive a lot of public support in town and it’s nice to give some of that back,” said officer Jason Burke. 

The fundraising for their programs come from solicitation calls in the beginning of the year and a show they put on. This year on February 25, Windham Police Department will introduce the community to Audio Body, a musical performance duo similar to the Blue Man Group. With the money raised, the officers as a whole are able to donate to local charities, sports teams and sponsor officers or someone with a connection to the department as they participate in walks like the Dempsey Challenge and cancer walks. 

“We donate to different veteran groups, team like little league who went to Nationals and special circumstances like cancer diagnosis or a kid who needs a physical to play sports. It’s all done quietly,” said officer Jim Cook. 

While the officers scoured the toy department for Christmas gems, shoppers stopped them and gave them donations to put toward the purchases. They received $270 in donations while shopping. Another woman gave them $100 in gift cards that were already paid for. 

“The best part is when people come up to give you money,” said officer Gene Gallant. 

“One man who had a long negative history with the police, came up to us and gave us cash one year,” said Cook. 

This was the fourth year the police department has shopped for less fortunate children in Windham. They also added some gifts and toiletries for seniors. 

Good will breeds good will. Dunkin Donuts in Walmart offered to give each officer a free coffee for the good work they were doing. Although few took them up on the offer, it was the thought that counted.

Outdoor photo – (L to R) Justin Hudnor, Seth Fornier, Jason Burke, Eric Quatrano, Sue Rogers, Sherma Moody (Manager of Walmart), Matt Cyr, Jason Andrews, Gene Gallant, Jim Cook and Bill Andrew.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Motorcycle club spreads joy, peace, honor and respect - By Lorraine Glowczak

Local motorcycle club, Brothers Crew MC of Maine, was recently recognized by Portland’s Channel 13 for feeding over 900 families in Maine on Thanksgiving Day. Based in Windham with a focus on honoring all fallen brothers, military or otherwise, Brothers Crew MC not only feeds the hungry at Thanksgiving and provides gifts to families in need at Christmas that include substantial donations to Preble Street Resource Center, they also offer help and provide necessities to children with disabilities, homeless families, military families as well as providing assistance to abused women and children. Additionally, the organization delivers backpacks filled with needed school supplies for students to local elementary schools. 

Bayside Learning Community in Portland is one of the local schools that has been and is a recipient of the goodwill provided by the club. “They put so much effort in gift giving,” stated Jen Searway, the school’s director. “When they provided the backpacks filled with school supplies, the bags did not contain generic items. Instead, they took the time to ask what was needed most by individual students and that is what they supplied. Brothers Crew MC truly gives unconditionally and for the right reasons.” Searway also stated that this motorcycle club is a prime example of paying it forward. 

Obviously, one should not be fooled by this group of leather wearing, tattooed, bike riding brotherhood of rugged and hardworking men. Underneath what might seem a rough and intimidating exterior beats huge hearts of tenderness that spread love, kindness, respect, honor and peace in one small part of the world that has rippling and everlasting effects. 

Steven Huntington of Windham, president and founder of Brothers Crew MC, never set out to create a motorcycle club. It definitely was not his intention to create an organization with the mission to relieve a little suffering for others. It all began because he, himself, was suffering from the depths of grief after losing someone he deeply loved. Huntington’s brother, Charles “Chucky” Huntington, died at the age of 42 on November 12, 2012. “He was everything to me,” Huntington explained as he told his brother’s story and the “accidental” creation of Brothers Crew MC. 

Chucky was a survivor despite all odds. Fifteen years ago in an unfortunate circumstance, Chucky was shot in between the eyes and the bullet’s shrapnel scattered throughout the brain. He was immediately taken to Maine Medical Center where the family was told the odds of survival were slim. The surgeon explained he would do his best to remove as much of the shrapnel as possible but if Chucky did survive the surgery, he would never walk or talk again and most likely remain in a vegetative state. 

After surgery, Chucky was placed on life support for four weeks, at which time, the ventilator was disconnected. Miraculously, not only did Chucky survive but he lived a full and productive life. However, as he grew older, the shrapnel that could not be removed from his brain during surgery began to shift. As it did, Chucky slowly reverted back to the young mind of an eighteen-year-old. Chucky loved motorcycles and it was his dream to be a part of a brotherhood. However, due to his disabilities, driving a motorcycle and thus being a part of a motorcycle club would never be a dream realized. Unfortunately, Chucky’s life came to an abrupt end when he choked and aspirated while eating.

“I cried every day for months after his death,” Huntington said, recalling the moment his grief hit an all-time low. However, it was within that deep grief of death that Brothers Crew MC was unknowingly given birth. “One day I decided to honor my brother and his wish to become a part of a brotherhood by simply drawing a sketch of a patch that I would put on the back of my leather jacket. That’s all I wanted to do was to honor my brother and his dream. I spent a lot of time working on that sketch trying to get it just right, eventually working with a tattoo artist to assist me in perfecting it.”

Within a month, Huntington had his patch and it was time for him to ride. Huntington asked two of his friends to join him and the three rode together on a warm spring day in 2013. “Then, the word got around,” Huntington expressed with amazement, “Before I knew it, other friends wanted to join in memory of my brother. Quickly, two friends became four, four friends became eight and eight became twelve. It just kept growing without any effort from me.” Within six months after that original ride, there were approximately 20 men who wanted to be a part of this unofficial motorcycle club. 

“As it continued to grow, we decided to become an official club with the intention to honor all brothers who have passed and, in doing so, relieve a little suffering in the world,” Huntington explained. That fall, approximately six months later and about a year after his brother’s death, Brothers Crew MC was born and became an official organization.

Membership requires a series of steps to include 1. Contacting the President, 2. Invitation to “hang out” with the group 3. Becoming a prospect 4. Full acceptance that includes the patch. All members must pass a background check as well as a drug free test and be non-violent members of society.
Members come from all walks of life and join for various reasons. “I have known Steve all my life and I had been following him and his new motorcycle club on Facebook,” Joe Mulkern of Westbrook explained. “I saw all the good they were doing and thought to myself, ‘What a feeling that must be to help others. I want to be a part of that,’” Mulkern continued. “If I would have known how this group would have grown and become what they are today, I would have joined in the beginning.”

Others join for the structure. “I was looking for a traditional and regimented motorcycle group, where you earn your role as a member,” Matt LaBranche stated. LaBranche’s need for structure most likely came from being a veteran in the armed services, serving in Iraq in 2003-2004. “I know the US entering into the Iraq War was controversial, but I believe we were there doing God’s work, eliminating a dictator who was killing women and children.” 

LaBranche’s preference for structure is what led him to Brothers Crew MC. His reflective nature also indicates that he still gets to do “God’s work.”

Brothers Crew MC is gearing up for the holiday season. For those who wish to spread some joy and relieve a little suffering in a sometimes challenging world, contact Huntington at to make a donation. Not only will one honor those who live in our memory but those who still live. For Huntington, he does his work “in memory of my Brother 42 and our Brother Alex Paradis Chubs 22*.”

*This article is dedicated with honor to the recent passing of a Brothers Crew MC member, 22- year -old Alex Paradis. His loyalty and enthusiasm toward the goodwill of the club was outstanding and his passion and commitment for life will be missed.