Friday, April 30, 2021

New job fair aims to match talent with careers


By Ed Pierce

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Windham student recycles bottles, tabs to help kids with cancer

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

Friday, April 23, 2021

Town of Windham dedicates massive solar array

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

By Ed Pierce

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fifth place, Kaleb Spencer, Webelo

Fourth place, Andrew Hinse, Webelo

Third place, Brad Jorgensen, Wolf

Second place, Matthew Melanson, Arrow of Light

First place, Charlie Anthoine, Bears

Best in Show:

Third place, Ayden Swartzengruber, Wolf

Second place, Levi Kyle, Bear

First place, Landon Bacon, Tiger

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

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

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


Friday, April 16, 2021

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

By Lorraine Glowczak

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RSU 14 adds alternating Fridays to in-person instruction schedule

By Ed Pierce

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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


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

Friday, April 9, 2021

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

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

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

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


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

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


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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RSU 14 explores adding in-person instruction days for students

RSU 14 students, teachers, and staff will find out this week
if students in the district will return to in-person instruction
four or five days per week. Under the current hybrid plan, 
they are only attending in-person two days a week because
of the pandemic. The RSU 14 Board of Directors is expected
to make an announcement about it this week.
By Ed Pierce

Students in RSU 14 could soon be back in the classroom two or three additional days a week if school administrators and school board members approve a plan to return in-person instruction four days a week.

Last August, RSU 14 Schools Superintendent Christopher Howell recommended that the school district adopt a hybrid model for the start of the school year for students in Windham and Raymond. Since last September, RSU 14 students have been grouped alphabetically with last names from A to K having in-person classes in school on Mondays and Wednesdays and those with last names from L to Z attending in-person classes in school on Tuesdays and Thursdays. On days when students are not in school, they have been expected to be following up online with their teachers to the best extent possible.

He said that the foundation of the hybrid proposal was to ensure the safety, equity and accessibility for all Windham and Raymond students.

Along with students, the pandemic has been hard on families, teachers, school staff members and school custodians, who have been putting in long hours because of the associated additional cleaning requirements for schools as a result of COVID-19. School cafeteria workers have also been challenged to provide different scenarios for student lunches, ranging from eating in the classroom to finding larger spaces in the schools for lunchrooms to accommodate social distancing mandates.

Using the hybrid schools plan, Howell said many CDC social distancing mandates were met by reducing the number of students in RSU 14 schools daily.

If the district increases in-person instructional days, Howell said that RSU 14 also is planning to continue to offer students a remote-only learning option if families do not feel comfortable with the proposed in-person plan for the remainder of the school year.

Information posted on the RSU 14 website earlier this week said that parents would need to have children attend school following whatever schedule model is directed by the board.


The information says remote options are possible, however, it is important to understand that any additional remote requests will be set up with online software and not added to the current remote teams. Students currently using remote learning are free to return to classroom instruction, but do not have to make the transition if their families wish to keep using the remote option through the end of the school year.  


“We will work to ensure that all students’ needs are met,” the info reads. “The district will provide transportation for families who are unable to transport.”

A survey was sent out to all students, families, and staff on April 1 to gather information to help the RSU 14 board reach a consensus about how to proceed.


The website information also details that if additional in-person instructional days are approved for RSU 14 schools, building administrators will work with staff to ensure appropriate social distancing guidelines are met and that spaces are conducive to engaged learning. And it further explains that building administrators will work to ensure adequate staff coverage for all classrooms. 


Whether the proposal adopted by the board is for four days of in-person instruction or for five days, the web statement says teachers would have their duty-free lunch and prep time in any of the proposed options.


“We understand that this has been an extraordinarily challenging year for all: staff, students, administrators, and community members. These are difficult decisions. It is important that we maintain a focus on student needs and then respond to challenges that staff are facing as we collaboratively problem solve the myriad of issues that this year has presented,” the statement reads. “Building administrators will work with teachers on a plan to support the transition. Any hourly staff who are asked to work additional hours will be compensated accordingly.”  


It says that the proposed increase to in-person instruction at this time is in response to expressed community needs for children to return to schools for as much in-person instruction as possible while maintaining adherence to social distancing and health/safety guidelines, as well as academic, social, and emotional needs of students.


“As more educators are vaccinated, school districts are examining possible schedule shifts to meet the needs of students and the community,” the web statement reads. “The RSU 14 Board of Directors has been kept abreast of building-level needs and challenges in response to COVID social distancing guidelines throughout the 2020-2021 school year. The RSU 14 Administrative Team would provide necessary updates to the full Board of Directors in response to any of the proposed options. Classroom spacing, furniture needs, social distancing protocols, instructional shifts, social emotional and academic planning, etc. are all being carefully examined and would be presented to the board for their input and consideration, as well. Every decision made by the RSU 14 Board of Directors is made following a thorough review of multiple perspectives. The board appreciates the feedback they’ve received regarding the proposed options to increasing in-person instruction and is reviewing survey data, emails, and other communication/feedback very carefully in order to make a decision.”


The RSU 14 Board of Directors was scheduled to make a final determination about additional in-person instruction days during a meeting on Wednesday evening. 

This article will be updated when information becomes available. < 

Friday, April 2, 2021

Volunteers work to save bird refuge

Seymour's Bird Refuge in Cumberland has struggled
to make ends meet during the pandemic, but recently
has been energized by a GoFundMe initiative created
by a refuge volunteer. The effort has raised money to
help care for and re-home exotic birds through the fall.

By Elizabeth Richards

For more than 20 years, Seymour’s Bird Refuge in Cumberland has both cared for and re-homed birds, but in 2020, the pandemic almost forced the refuge to shut down. 

When the pandemic hit, the on-site bird supplies store that supports the refuge had to shift to curbside service only from March 2020 to July 2020.  Customers began ordering supplies online, diminishing the primary income stream for the refuge, said owner Andrea Tims.

Once they were able to reopen, she said, people were slow to return to the store.

Donna Gerardo, a longtime volunteer for the refuge, was compelled to do something to help.  She organized a GoFundMe page for the rescue, with an initial goal of raising $8000, which would have supported the refuge through the end of March.   

The $8,000 goal was what Tims told Gerardo she needed to pay taxes, order supplies for the store, and other basics just to keep the doors open, Gerardo said.

“I really thought that was pushing it,” she said. But when the fundraising page went live, “money started rolling in,” she said. “We got excited when we met our goal, then we doubled our goal. I want to make it to $20,000 now.”

By March 30, the page had raised $19,400.

“The more donations we receive, the longer the sanctuary can remain open,” Gerardo said.

With the extra funds, Gerardo said, Tims can plan ahead and take care of projects that have been let go, such as a new walkway for wheelchair access.

Tims’ mother started Seymour’s Bird Refuge in 2000.  When she was diagnosed with cancer in 2009, Tims stepped up to both care for her mother and care for the birds.

When her mother passed away in 2011, she took over the rescue “because we had so many, and where do you take them with this many birds?” she said.

Seymour’s is a true labor of love.

“I can’t afford to draw a paycheck and be able to feed the birds,” Tims said.  “Pretty much anything the store does goes right back into the shelter.”

Currently, Tims said, there are about 60 birds in the rescue facility, and she has 10 birds in her home as well.

Seymour’s is the only licensed bird rescue in Maine that adopts birds out. They were the only licensed facility in the state until Siesta Sanctuary in Harmony opened, but Siesta is a retirement home for parrots and does not re-home birds.

There are strict adoption guidelines, Gerardo said, to be sure that those adopting can take care of the bird they request.

Tims said often people come in looking for a parakeet or cockatiel but get distracted by the Macaws they see in the back.

“Tunnel vision sets in, but they don’t have the experience to handle a bird with 500 pounds of bite pressure on its beak,” she said. 

Birds are more difficult than cats or dogs to re-home, she said. 

“They want to be part of the flock, so if you’re on the phone they’re screaming louder. They’re just trying to join the conversation,” she said. “That’s what they would do in nature.”

The rescue is not set up as a non-profit, and Tims prefers not to do fundraising.

“We designed this business to be self-sustaining, so we didn’t have to put our hand out every time you turn around,” she said.

That’s why the impact of the pandemic was so difficult.

 “We are gaining a little bit of ground since the GoFundMe, but we’re not where we were,” Tims said. “The GoFundMe has definitely opened some eyes.”

A story that ran on News Center Maine has also brought some regulars back in, she said.

Tims said that with the current donations, she can keep Seymour’s open into the fall. 

“Once winter hits again and we’re buying fuel oil again, things are going to start really getting tight if we can’t get the foot traffic back where it was,” she said. 

Anyone wishing to help can search the GoFundMe site for Seymour’s Bird Refuge. Bird owners can help by visiting the store and purchasing supplies.  Tims also offers limited short-term boarding for birds when space allows.

For more information on Seymour’s Bird Refuge, visit <


Town of Raymond's budget process in full swing

Proposal aims to keep taxes low, essential services intact

Members of Raymond's Budget-Finance Committee will meet
with members of the Raymond Board of Selectmen and the
town manager during a meeting to review and examine the
town's preliminary budget proposal on April 6. Raymond Town 
Manager Don Willard has submitted an initial budget of 
$17,299,207 for 2021-2022. PHOTO BY ED PIERCE   
By Ed Pierce

As the Town of Raymond’s budgetary process for Fiscal Year 2021-2022 continues to unfold, the focus remains squarely on holding spending in check while maintaining essential services for town residents.

Starting in March, the Raymond Board of Selectmen began preliminary discussions regarding the budget and will meet again with the Town Manager, Town Finance Director and members of the Raymond Budget-Finance Committee on April 6 to continue to come up with a proposal to offer to voters during the annual town meeting in June. Because of the pandemic, it is uncertain if voters will gather for the town meeting, but if not, like in 2020, voters could be asked to approve the budget by referendum.          

According to Raymond Town Manager Don Willard, certain goals and priorities guided town staff in formulating a budget proposal for the coming year.

“We want to maintain or lower the tax rate and continue the commitment to improve and maintain town roads,” Willard said. “We are aware that the town’s undesignated fund balance can be used within existing policy to keep taxes low and that all budget areas are on the table for discussion and review. Lastly, we are aiming for a core-service driven budget.”

Willard said Raymond’s municipal budgets have remained flat for the past few years and he expects that to be the case once more when a final proposal is agreed upon by the Raymond Select Board.

In a letter in February to the Raymond Board of Selectmen and the Raymond Budget-Finance Committee, Willard said a working draft shows only a 2.46 budget increase for 2021-2022 and that figure did not include contributions from the undesignated surplus fund balance.

“New property valuation growth continues to be strong,” Willard wrote in the letter. “The budget does factor an estimated $7.5 million increase in new taxable property valuation that will reduce the impact of any increased spending.”

Willard said several other factors that are beyond the control of the town when formulating the new town budget are the Cumberland County’s budget and the school’s budget. RSU 14 is expected to submit its 2021-2022 budget proposal later this spring. 

In opening the 2021-2022 budget discussion, the Raymond Board of Selectmen and Town Budget-Finance Committee are reviewing Willard’s initial proposal of $17,299,207.  Last year’s budget for Raymond was $18,148,036.

No major equipment purchases such as fire trucks are planned by the town in the coming year, Willard said.

The initial budget proposal under study includes $76,393 for Tassel Top Park, up from $50,195 from last year. Revenues for Tassel Top Park actually rose by 26 percent in the past year and some of the requested increase in funding could be used to hire a split position with the town’s public works department for a parks maintenance foreman.

The new budget proposal also includes additional funding for town election workers as the minimum wage rises; $3,500 to repair broken and leaning old headstones in the Raymond Village Cemetery, and $3,000 requested by the town clerk’s office to conserve and de-acidify some of the oldest town records written on parchment paper more than 250 years ago.

Selectmen and Budget-Finance Committee members could approve a budget proposal to continue to invest in fiber networking infrastructure to eliminate monthly costs of ISP connections for the Town of Raymond’s network and $7,500 to manage town videography services.

The Raymond Public Works Department is requesting $2,000 for road striping service and $50,000 for road paving while Raymond Fire-Rescue is requesting funding for a staffing study to help resolve manpower issues and attract new qualified firefighters and EMTs to the town.

The proposed budget also includes a contribution for the Lakes Region Explorer public transportation system and funding for regional animal control services along with Casco and Naples.

Town debt service from existing municipal bonds under the initial proposed budget remains unchanged from the 2020-2021 budget at $317,800. <