Friday, April 27, 2018

Windham High Social Studies class takes active role in civic engagement by Lorraine Glowczak

Students Emma Hodgeman, Brittany Woods and Libby McBride take a moment from their busy schedule to share their thoughts on today's issues. They pose with Ms. Rush (right).
Windham High School Seniors in Ms. Kelly-Anne Rush’s Social Studies class had a surprise visit from the Windham and Raymond delegation on Friday, March 23 as a part of a class assignment. The students had an opportunity to express their concerns surrounding certain issues to the five legislators who represent both Lake Region communities.
“The class assignment was to compose a letter to their representative expressing concerns they had and what they would like to see changed,” explained Rush. “What the students didn’t know was that they were preparing the letter to speak to their representative in person. The delegation had reached out to me and I invited them to visit the class. Only the class didn’t know that.” students were, in fact, surprised by their classroom guests but didn’t hesitate to jump at the opportunity to express their concerns to the attentive legislators: Senator Bill Diamond, Representative Sue Austin, Representative Mark Bryant, Representative Jess Fay and Representative Patrick Corey.

Three students in Mr. Rush’s class took time out of their busy schedules to reflect upon and share their experiences. Of the many concerns expressed, school safety was at the top of their list. 

Student, Brittany Woods, reflected upon the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting that occurred on December 14, 2012 and how it made an impact on her. “I was in middle school when the Sandy Hook shooting occurred,” Woods began. “It was my first real experience regarding something of this magnitude and how it could possibly affect me personally. I remember feeling very eerie about going back to school after that shooting. I wanted to let the legislators know that we need to find ways for these fears to subside.”

Student, Emma Hodgeman, also expressed her thoughts about school safety. There were two major concerns she had. One of those apprehensions included safety at the doorways during morning arrival. “All doors are open, and we come in as a large group at the same time. Although teachers are at the doors and Officer Fournier [School Resource Officer] is at one entrance, it does not prevent someone who is not a student to come in through the doors with us. People can easily walk in with the morning crowd and not be noticed.” Hodgeman said. “I want to find a way for school arrival to be more secure.” 

The Windham and Raymond delegation pose with Ms. Rush
Hodgeman continued with her second concern. “I also think the student building passcode should change every year. I don’t think it has been changed for a long time and this is very concerning to me.”

Student Libby McBride spoke to the delegation about gun control. “I don’t think we should eliminate guns, but I do think we should place harsher limits on guns.” McBride stated.

Solutions to the safety concerns were discussed. The conversation between the students and the delegation included what the students could actively do to prepare for an emergency. One solution considered, was to keep informed on the most recent safety protocols. The students came up with the idea that these up-to-date protocols could be established and identified by the students in the required Health class during their sophomore and senior years. The class would then share those security procedures to be practiced by the school on an intermittent basis.

The experience the students had with their legislators was a positive one. “They had an engaging conversation with us like we were real people,” McBride said. “They were actively writing down our
ideas as we stated them.”

Woods concurred with McBride’s statement adding, “They enjoyed listening to us and actively cared about our opinions. In the present political climate, it feels as if our voices are not taken seriously nor heard, but I felt heard by them.”

In his letter to the editor of The Windham Eagle newspaper, published March 30, Sen. Diamond stated this about his visit to the class. “Listening to these impressive seniors who are about to end their high school careers and move on to the next step in their lives, was an inspiration to say the very least. Their sincerity and true caring for the school system and for their fellow students was striking. 

Above all else we, as legislators, came away from this session with a renewed spirit and confidence in the future of this next generation of leaders. I only wish their parents and grandparents and the community could have witnessed the commitment, dedication and insight demonstrated by these amazing students.”

Rush is also very proud of her students and stated that in the past 10 years, there has been a resurgence in the educational curriculum to include civic action, community involvement and financial literacy. “I’m very proud of how my students are learning quickly and taking an adult approach to civic action.”

McBride proves that mature actions currently take place by these young future contributing members of society. “It's very important to know that it’s one thing to post a complaint on Facebook or to protest against certain issues, but to make active changes one needs to register to vote, contact their legislators and get involved. We [the students] are doing that. We are not just complaining or playing on social media. We are making a positive impact and true change.”

If one believes that class activities such as this have little impact for future action, one could be not be further from the truth. In the 2016 election, Ms. Rush received an email and picture from a former student.

The picture was a voting ballot. The email said, “Hi, Ms. Rush. Here’s proof that I voted.”
Ms. Rush’s response - “And this, my friends, is what makes teaching worthwhile.”

Kayla’s hopes and gratitude raise funds for medical research by Elizabeth Richards

Kayla (far left) with her parents David and Trista and brothers Bradley (front center) and Tyler photo by Natalie Berry
Over the past four years, Kayla Collins and the runners she has been partnered with have raised slightly over $62,000 in the Miles for Miracles Program for Boston Children’s Hospital (BCH). On Monday, April 16, Kayla and her family travelled once again to the halfway point at the Boston Marathon to cheer on Julie, Kayla’s runner in the 2018 race.
It was a frigid day, with cold driving rain. Julie danced her way down the sidewalk at the cheering section where Kayla and her family waited but was unable to finish the marathon due to hypothermia. Sunday, the Collins family will travel to Boston once again, to cheer on Julie and a dedicated group of charity runners as they run the full course again. What began as a simple Facebook invitation to join her in re-running the course, posted by a runner for BCH who was unable to finish the race, has turned into “Boston 2.0” complete with water stops, medical support at the halfway point, and spectators.

Kayla has been part of the Miles for Miracles Program for four Boston Marathons, two New York City Marathons, and a couple of other running events. Although patients are not required to do fundraising, the Collins family is committed to giving back to the hospital that has done so much to make their tough journey a little smoother.  

Kayla said she participates in Miles for Miracles to help fund research, get the answers they need, and to help other kids.

David added, “It may not personally help Kayla or our family, but it could help others down the line. We do what we can to give back to the hospital, because the doctors and nurses, and all the staff, have helped us so much.”
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This year, Kayla set a fundraising goal of $1500, which she exceeded by almost $500. Julie, who must raise at least $3000 to participate, raised close to $12,000 this year. Last year, Kayla raised just over $2000 as well, making her the top patient partner fundraiser.  This year, however, patient fundraising took off, with the top patient partner raising over $15,000, David said.  According to the BCH website, the overall goal this year was $2,150,000 and they have raised $2,334,370.74 to date, well exceeding that goal.

Boston Children’s Hospital is where Kayla finally got a proper diagnosis for her rare genetic condition. At the age of 2 ½ years, she wasn’t walking or talking, but the diagnosis of severe autism that her parents were first given at another hospital didn’t feel right, despite being confirmed by the head of the department. David said they could see connection in Kayla’s eyes, even though she wasn’t able to communicate with them.  

In seeking a second opinion at BCH, they met Dr. Lisa Prock, who agreed that Kayla did not have autism. Dr. Prock helped the family navigate testing and specialists until they finally had an answer – one so rare, it doesn’t even have a name.
Kayla was the third person ever to be diagnosed with 7q11.23 duplication, and there are still only approximately 300 diagnosed cases of this condition, David said. Once the Collins had an accurate diagnosis, Kayla was able to receive extensive early intervention, which has allowed her to thrive. But there are still many challenges Kayla has faced over the years, including the discovery that she has an enlarged aorta. 

Right now, we’re waiting for science and research to get to the place where the team can give us a new treatment option that they’ve never attempted to do before for a patient with her combination of conditions.  In the meantime, every day is a challenge for her, but you would never know,” said her mother, Trista, in a press release. 

In many ways Kayla is a typical 16-year-old student. Kayla is a sophomore at Windham High School, has her driver’s permit, and played on the JV field hockey team at WHS. Kayla said she also plays tennis, and plans to audition for “The Little Mermaid” at the high school this spring. She also has a big future goal: to attend St. Joseph’s College, major in biology and become a veterinarian. and a half years ago, we never dreamed this was even possible. Without the care she’s received from a very dedicated group of medical professionals at Boston Children’s Hospital, she would not be doing what she is today,” said Trista.

David said, when they are at BCH for appointments, it is as if they are the only family there. This undivided attention is just one of the reasons the Collins family is dedicated to participating in the Miles for Miracles Program.

The family travels to BCH every two or three months for Kayla’s tests and appointments. They often make this required travel into an opportunity for family time, spending an afternoon with Kayla and her two brothers at the Science Museum, Aquarium or other Boston attractions after Kayla’s appointments, David said. 

“We’re incredibly proud of Kayla for her wanting to do something to give back to the hospital that is researching and working to save her life. These are not easy days for Kayla, but as a family, this gives us hope, and a way to do something small for the hospital that is saving us,” said Trista.

Friday, April 20, 2018

The multi-faceted life of a local entrepreneur and philanthropist by Lorraine Glowczak

Misty Coolidge
The first paragraph in a newspaper article most often identifies the who, what, when, where, how and why to introduce the major details of the subject. In this case, the who is Misty Coolidge. 

To address the other five topics requires a novel length composition in Coolidge’s circumstance and cannot be captured in one sentence or identified in a 500-word article. However, much like Coolidge, we are always up for a challenge and will do our best to capture this entrepreneur and philanthropist’s unique energy, style and contribution to her community.

Many recently married couples know Coolidge through her farm and barn wedding venue, Coolidge Family Farm located in New Gloucester, co-owned with her husband Peter. Her mother, step-father, aunt and cousin also help in this family owned business.

Coolidge is all hands on when it comes to helping the newlyweds have their dream wedding. “Despite my dream of having a barn wedding of my own, we discovered that our budget was not going to allow for it, so one of the reasons for starting this adventure was to provide a beautiful venue at an affordable price and provide as much as I could to my couples to ease the stress of planning and making a budget work,” explained Coolidge.
In her bartending role

Others may know or have worked with Coolidge through her bartending enterprise, Maine Mixologist, LLC. Besides offering this service at the Farm, you can find Coolidge and/or her 15 qualified bartenders at other venues in multiple locations from Kennebunkport to Stockton Springs and beyond. To keep the family vibe, her sister and cousin are two of her bartenders.

If operating two businesses wasn’t enough to keep this mother of three small children (under three) busy, she somehow finds time to follow her love of history and historical preservation.
Coolidge recently purchased and is in the process of renovating the Old Baptist Church, 16 Shaker Road in Gray. This church was once the home of an antique shop that included an apartment over the shop and church owner, Victor Downs. 

“I have always loved the quaint beauty of that church,” Coolidge said. “I knew one day I would purchase that building to preserve its historical beauty and make it an alternative location for my wedding customers in case of inclement weather. I also want to make the chapel available for other local venues, for networking events, family gatherings, bridal showers and dinner parties to name just a few possibilities.”

After the passing of Downs, Coolidge reached out to his family after they put their father’s home and antique shop on the market. “They were very happy about my interest in preserving the church,” Coolidge stated. “They said that their father would have been very pleased with my desire to keep the building intact instead of demolishing it to make room for a parking lot, which was its destiny.” The church renovation will be completed early this summer and an open house will take place.
When Coolidge is not running two businesses, raising a family, making bride’s dreams come true and restoring history, she does as much as she can to give back.  Her passion for service began at Husson College where her sorority’s dedication to community service fueled her passion to help others. One way she hopes to open some doors and really make a huge difference was in her decision to run for Mrs. Maine and help fight hunger. Two years ago, she competed for Mrs. Maine America where she placed 3rd out of 18 wonderful women. Then she took a year off to add a third child to their family, but she is back at it competing for a more community service-based organization, Mrs. Maine International. Currently holding the title of Mrs. New Gloucester, she’ll be competing with 5 other amazing women this Sunday, April 22nd at the Crooker Theater in Brunswick.

The pageant and the organization highlight married women, their accomplishments and commitment to family and marriage, while promoting their individual passions. The contestants’ passions are funneled into fundraising efforts to help meet the needs of others or non-profit organizations.

“My platform is fighting hunger,” Coolidge explained about her role as Mrs. New Gloucester. “I have raised funds and continue to raise funds for area food pantries including the New Gloucester Food Pantry. On May 6, I will host the second annual Running of the Brides 5K at Coolidge Family Farm. Most people, both men and women, will run in wedding dresses.” The money raised from this event will go toward Good Shephard Food Bank.  

In addition to family and friends, couples who are booked at the Farm for 2018 and 2019 are invited to raise money toward the cause as well. The couple who raises the most will get $500 off their venue or other services. 

This impressive list of accomplishments does not end here. Coolidge will also be running as a democrat for House District 65 (New Gloucester and parts of Poland.) Being a relative of Calvin Coolidge, lover of history and politics, and a passion for doing what’s right and good are in her blood. “I believe in small country values and I am against big business in politics. It is my goal to participate in civil discussion with both parties and to get matters resolved for my neighbors. It’s all about serving them.”

One would assume that a woman this successful, passionate, giving and who is a relative of a former U.S. President would have been born with a silver spoon. This is not the case. Coolidge explains: “My mother raised three children as a single mother. Despite her hard work, she still needed to utilize State services and utilized the ‘free lunch’ program at school.  I guess that's where my passion for helping the local food pantries comes from. Not that we went hungry, but the statistics on those that do (1 in 5 school children) makes me want to help all those other single moms or families who do not have enough to eat at home”. 

It seems Coolidge found the skills to follow her dreams and passions. But instead of focusing solely on her own needs, she has stopped, reflected and reached back to grab the hands of others so that they, too, can live to their fullest possibility.