Friday, February 24, 2023

Special Olympic athletes prepare for spring competition

By Ed Pierce

Windham students are training and getting ready to make a competitive run in the State Special Olympic Games to be held at the University of Maine at Orono in June.

Windham's Special Olympics team competed in the Maine
Special Olympics Summer Games last June at the
University of Maine at Orono and is preparing for
another spring track season. Back, from left, are AJ Mains,
Coach Wyatt LeBlanc, Austin Rice, Coach Amanda Pope,
Coach Anne Blake, Ryleigh Geary, Coach Margaret Dionne,
and Cameron Malone. Front, from left, are Dani Iaconeta, 
and Mary Jean. SUBMITTED PHOTO    
To qualify to compete in Orono, Windham Special Olympians will compete in the Cumberland County Spring Games at Bonny Eagle High School in Standish in May. The Maine Special Olympics organization provides year-round sports training and athletic competition in a variety of Olympic-type sports for children and adults with intellectual disabilities.

Special Olympics is a global organization that serves athletes with intellectual disabilities working with hundreds of thousands of volunteers and coaches each year. Since the establishment of Special Olympics in 1968, the number of people with and without intellectual disabilities who are involved with the organization has been growing, but the unmet need to reach more people with intellectual disabilities is ongoing.

The activities provide the athletes with continuing opportunities to develop physical fitness, demonstrate courage, experience joy, and to participate in a sharing of gifts, skills and friendship.

Last spring, a team from Windham turned in an exceptional performance during the Maine Special Olympics competition in Orono and brought home a gold medal in the 4x100-meter relay race. Windham athletes also competed in the running long jump, the softball throw and several running events during the competition, which drew participating Special Olympics athletes from throughout Maine.

Anne Blake, a physical therapist from RSU 14 coaches Windham’s Special Olympics team, which is made up of student athletes from Windham High School and Windham Middle School.

Blake said because Special Olympics is a national organization, they are very stringent and need to ensure that the athletes have intellectual and other disabilities and meet the qualifying criteria to be able to compete.

Along with Special Olympians from the high school and middle school, Windham also fields a team for students in elementary school but could only take middle school and high school students to the State Special Olympics last year.

Blake said that Windham has fielded Special Olympics teams for the past decade, but because of COVID-19 concerns and restrictions, the Maine Special Olympics competition was canceled in 2020 and 2021.

Besides Special Olympics teams, Windham also fields Unified sports squads at the high school level. Unified sports teams promote social inclusion through shared sports training and competition experiences by including students with and without intellectual disabilities on the same team.

Studies have shown that Unified teams dramatically increase inclusion in the community, using sports to help break down barriers that have historically kept people apart. Teams are made up of people of similar age and ability, which makes practices more fun and games more challenging and exciting for all.

Across the state, more than 5,000 students participate in Special Olympic activities throughout the year at more than 75 different events, culminating at the State Summer Games in Orono.

In Windham’s Special Olympics track-and-field-based training program, participants can develop total fitness to compete in any sport. The program gives student athletes a chance to learn through skill development and competitive settings, and to be involved in large social groups.

Track events range from walks and sprints to relay competitions and wheelchair events. Field events include running and standing long jump contests, shot put, and softball throws.

Blake said that community support for Special Olympics and Unified sports programs is greatly appreciated. The program is always looking for volunteers from throughout the community willing to give up their time to help and cheer on the student athletes and serve as coaches and sports officials. All Special Olympic volunteers must be age 14 or older.

Financial donations are also welcomed and Maine Special Olympics is a 501C(3) nonprofit. Donations to support Special Olympics may be made online at or by mailing a check to Special Olympics Maine, 525 Maine St. Unit D, South Portland, ME 04106.

To become a Special Olympics volunteer in Windham, send an email to Blake at <

Polar Dip participants plunge into Sebago Lake

By Ed Pierce

It takes a special mentality to fully appreciate the benefits of diving into 33-degree water, but more than three dozen individuals tried it out last Saturday when they plunged into chilly Sebago Lake as part of the annual Polar Dip off Raymond Beach.

A team from Hannaford Supermarket in Standish braves the
icy waters of Sebago Lake during the Polar Dip fundraiser
to benefit food pantries across the Lakes Region on Feb. 18
near Raymond Beach. More than $5,000 was raised by
participants at the event. PHOTO BY ED PIERCE   
Sponsored by the Sebago Lakes Region Chamber of Commerce, the popular event is the largest fundraiser staged every year for “Feed the Need,” an initiative that donates to 12 different food pantries in the Lakes Region of Maine.

Some of the participants jumped into the lake while wearing costumes and others participated as part of teams representing clubs, organizations, or businesses. But everyone jumping into Sebago Lake for the Polar Dip agreed upon one thing – how cold the water was.

“It’s really freezing,” said Abigail Cormier, 15, a student at Bonny Eagle High School. “I expected where we jumped in to be deeper, but the water was unbelievably cold.”

Cormier, a sophomore, was part of a team of students called the “Mother Teresa Club” which leaped into Sebago Lake on Saturday after hearing about the event from members of the school’s Key Club.

Chamber organizers had put out the word earlier this month seeking student teams to participate and the group of jumpers on Saturday included two different teams from Windham High School.

Staging the Polar Dip off Raymond Beach turned out to be a significant undertaking.

A hole was cut in the lake ice about 200 yards off Raymond Beach on the Wednesday prior to the fundraiser and Polar Dip officials expected shelf ice to expand as temperatures dropped to about 18 degrees the night before the event was scheduled to take place. The shelf ice at that location was between 3 and 4 inches when the hole was originally cut, but several days of warmer weather rising to almost 52 degrees later in the week prevented further ice formation and resulted in the loss of about an inch of ice before the fundraiser.

To assure everyone’s safety, the heating trailers for participants were kept on shore and only the teams jumping were led out on the ice and then brought back to the shoreline.

“Saturday was certainly eventful. Usually, we can all go out to the hole and watch the jumpers and the heated trailers are right there to change in,” said Robin Mullins, executive director of the Sebago Lakes Region Chamber of Commerce. “Not this year. I had to walk each team out individually to keep the weight on the ice low.”

Mullins said the Polar Dip typically has one or two Cumberland County Sherriff’s deputies from the dive team suited up in case of an emergency, but this year there were two from deputies and two from the Raymond Fire Department.

“The ice did break up a bit, but it managed to stay together enough to get all 10 teams, or 35 jumpers, into the water,” Mullins said. “The good thing was the water was only about 3 feet deep, so if anyone went in unexpectedly it wasn't too deep.”

Mullins says that preliminary figures from the event show that it raised $5,000 for Fed the Need.

“The word that comes to mind for me this year is community. The Sebago Lake Polar Dip raises money for the Sebago Lake Region Charitable Trust or what we call Feed the Need,” she said. “The trust donates money annually to the 12 food pantries in Casco, Gray, Naples, New Gloucester, Raymond, Sebago, Standish and Windham.”

According to Mullins, this is the third year that the chamber has conducted the Polar Dip and up until this year, it’s usually the same organizations participating.

“This year the Mental Health Advocacy Club from Windham High School challenged other clubs at WHS as well as the other high schools in our region, Gray New Gloucester, Lake Region, and Bonny Eagle,” she said. “The WHS Student Council and the Bonny Eagle Key Club both stepped up to meet that challenge. It was so good to see the friendly competition from our young residents for such a great cause. Food insecurity is real and it is an issue even in our region.”

This year’s Polar Dip included teams from Hannaford Supermarket in Standish, the Optimist Club in Gray-New Gloucester, Bangor Savings Bank in Windham, a family from Gray, Team Poulin, Busy Bee Laundry in Windham, Terry Stackhouse from WMTW, and the highest fundraising team from Alchemy Chiropractic office in Falmouth.

“How appropriate that our Signature Sponsor this year was Maine Community Bank. We’re so grateful for their continued support of the chamber,” Mullins said. “A huge thank you to George Bartlett and David Mair from Busy Bee Laundry and Nathan White and his team from the Town of Raymond for all the help with set-up and take down of the event. Lastly, the crews from Cumberland and Raymond Fire and Rescue were amazing. It is all thanks to them that all of the jumpers were able to take the plunge safely.” <

Friday, February 17, 2023

Polar Dip participants prepare for leap into Sebago Lake


By Ed Pierce

Determined ice fishing enthusiasts will have to alter their plans some, but the Cumberland County Ice Fishing Derby remains on after officials canceled the Sebago Lake portion of the event because of unsafe ice conditions earlier this week.

Jason Abildgaard of Raymond Public Works uses a chain saw
to cut through the ice on Sebago Lake in preparation for
Saturday's Polar Dip event sponsored by the Sebago Lakes
Region Chamber of Commerce to raise money for area
food pantries. PHOTO BY ED PIERCE
With a Grand Prize of $5,000 available, the annual event, sponsored by the Sebago Lake Rotary Club, has grown through the years to become one of the most popular fishing derbies in Maine each winter. Milder temperatures this year have left Sebago Lake ice thinner than usual with the currently ice depth stands between just 4 and 6 inches.

With thousands expected to be out fishing on Sebago Lake this weekend, derby officials could not ensure participant safety and recommended fishermen and families find other nearby lakes with thicker ice as part of the Cumberland County Ice Fishing Derby.

One big event that will still take place on Sebago Lake on Saturday is the Polar Dip, sponsored by the Sebago Lakes Region Chamber of Commerce as a fundraiser for food pantries throughout the Lakes Region.

The Polar Dip currently has about 16 teams of jumpers confirmed for Saturday and about 35 people total lined up so far to dive into Sebago Lake. The jumpers will be diving into an 8- by 30-foot hole cut into the ice about 300 feet off Raymond Beach starting at noon Saturday.

George Bartlett, who heads up the staging for the Polar Dip every February, said that the lack of ice has moved the event closer to the shoreline this time.

“The temperature on Friday night is expected to get down to about 10 degrees,” Bartlett said. “If we are at about 4 inches right now, with the thermometer dropping that low, we could add as much as 2 more inches of ice by Saturday morning.”

Polar Dip participants receive pledges to brave the freezing lake waters and last year more than $10,000 was raised for “Feed the Need” which provides financial assistance for food pantries in Casco, Gray, Naples, New Gloucester, Raymond, Sebago, Standish and Windham.

The Cumberland County Ice Fishing Derby is in its 22nd year in 2023 and despite participants not being able to fish on Sebago Lake, the Rotary reminds everyone that there are more than 20 other lakes available in Cumberland County to fish on. The fishing derby runs Feb. 18 and Feb. 19 with hundreds of perch and pickerel fish pool prizes and community gift cards drawings up for grabs.

The Sebago Lake Rotary Club uses proceeds from the Ice Fishing Derby for charitable donations across the community throughout the year. 2023 Derby sweatshirts will be on sale this weekend at each of the weigh stations and fish collected will be sent for processing and donated to local food pantries.

Last year more than 800 participants tried their luck in fishing holes all over Sebago Lake and fishing ponds across Cumberland County. Fewer fish were caught in 2022 as fishermen mentioned the togue out of Sebago seemed to be thinner and fewer were biting.

But derby fishermen continued to donate much of what they were able to catch. Those donations were delivered to Nova Seafood in Portland for processing and then delivered to assist in feeding the homeless and those facing food insecurity.

According to Cyndy Bell of the Sebago Lake Rotary Club, the exact number and weight of fish donated from the derby was about 7,500 pounds of fish which was collected, flash-frozen and donated to food pantries in the Greater Portland area.

The credit for coming up with the idea for the annual Ice Fishing Derby is Tom Noonan, a Sebago Lake Rotary Club member, who proposed staging the contest in 2001 in cooperation with the Maine Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Department.

Since then, the event has grown substantially to become the Sebago Lake Rotary Club’s largest annual fundraising initiative and has supported hundreds of charities over the past two decades, with more than $1 million donated to local causes since its inception. The derby gained additional national notoriety as one of only four fishing derbies in the United States to be featured in a television program filmed for the National Geographic Channel that aired in June 2014.<

MDOT reveals details of upcoming Raymond highway projects

By Ed Pierce

More detailed descriptions of highway improvement funding for the Town of Raymond contained in the Maine Department of Transportation’s “Three Year Plan” have been announced.

The Maine Department of Transportation
provided $53,324 to the Town of Raymond
in 2022 for road maintenance and has
unveiled plans for several road improvement
projects in the town as part of its new
Three Year Plan for 2023, 2024 and 2025.
The new plan covers the time frame between 2023 and 2025 and provides specific MDOT project information. It also shows a list of MDOT work in Raymond and capital projects that were accomplished in 2022 and local road assistance payments made to the town.

Many activities that are often managed on a larger scale, such as snow and ice removal and any road maintenance work performed by contract labor are not included.

For 2023 in Raymond, MDOT is planning on making capital improvements to the Frye Island Ferry Service between Raymond and Frye Island. It is part of MDOT’s General Multimodal Improvements Highway Corridor Priority Project. The cost is estimated at $311,000.

Another project will be the reconstruction of electrical systems for ferry boats as part of the Ferry Boats Rehabilitation Highway Corridor Project. The cost of that work is estimated at $150,000.

Also in 2023, MDOT plans to rebuild the mainland ramp, apron hinge, and island slip headwall for the Frye Island Ferry Service. The cost of the project is estimated at $175,000.

MDOT is also planning to install backplates with yellow reflective strips and replace supplemental signal heads along Route 302 in Raymond. That is intended to improve safety for drivers using Route 302. The cost of that work is estimated at $395,000.

For 2024 in Raymond, MDOT is planning on continuing to make improvements to the Frye Island Ferry Service between Raymond and Frye Island. It is part of MDOT’s General Multimodal Improvements Highway Corridor Priority Project. The cost is also estimated at $311,000.

For 2025 in Raymond, MDOT will continue making improvements to the Frye Island Ferry Service between Raymond and Frye Island. The cost is estimated at $389,000.

In local road assistance, MDOT reports that it provided $53,324 to the Town of Raymond in 2022 for road maintenance.

Completed MDOT projects in Raymond in 2022 included 1.80 tons of patch applied for bridge work; 46 miles of striping applied to highways; 2 miles of roadway shoulders; 20.50 miles of roadway shoulder sweeping; a highway drainage structure was repaired; 26 linear feet of brush was removed near highways; and 700 linear feet of backhoe ditching was performed.

Also in 2022, MDOT rebuilt 1,200 linear feet of highway shoulder in Raymond; applied 1,042 square feet of pavement legend; completed two underwater inspections; installed a new drainage structure; and spent 12 hours on traffic signal maintenance.

MDOT Commissioner Bruce A. Van Note said that the selection of projects for the state’s new Three Year Plan is driven by MDOT staff committees: the Highway Committee, the Bridge Committee, the Multimodal Committee, the Safety and Mobility Committee, and the Management Team of the Bureau of Maintenance and Operations.

“These committees are comprised of staff from relevant disciplines and specializations. They include engineers and technicians with hundreds of years of cumulative experience,” Van Note said. “The committees work throughout the year in conjunction with the Bureau of Planning to identify project candidates and prioritize them for potential inclusion in the Work Plan.”

He said selection methods for these committees vary according to asset type and transportation mode, but the underlying asset management principles, managing the overall transportation system, using current, reliable data and rational scoring systems, and building in flexibility for unanticipated needs and developments, are common across all areas.

“In the fall of each calendar year, the committees review the last two years of the current Work Plan and make any needed adjustments in cost, schedule, and project scope,” Van Note said. “Once those adjustments are made, new projects are typically added for the third year of the Work Plan. MDOT’s Results and Information Office, with ongoing guidance from senior management, coordinates the work of the asset committees, receives input from the Bureau of Planning’s public outreach efforts, and assembles a Work Plan.”

Van Note said about 44 percent of the planned projects statewide will be paid for through federal funding, which the department estimates to be around $1.75 billion for the state in this three-year span. State Highway Fund revenue sources are derived from state per-gallon fuel fees and motor vehicle fees. <

Friday, February 10, 2023

Woodbrey confident in leading Windham’s MSSPA

By Ed Pierce

When the Maine State Society for the Protection of Animals was looking for a new leader to replace longtime executive director Meris Bickford last month, it didn’t have to search very far. Kathy Woodbrey of Raymond, who has been part of the leadership team at MSSPA for the last 11 years, has assumed the leadership role for the nonprofit organization and is eager to put what she’s learned through the years to good use.

Kathy Woodbrey of Raymond will lead the
Maine State Society for the Protection of
Animals as its new executive director. Woodbrey
has worked for the MSSPA for 11 years and
succeeds Meris Bickford, who has retired.
Woodbrey was born in Pennsylvania and her family moved to the mid-coast of Maine the summer before she entered sixth grade. She graduated from Lincoln Academy in Newcastle and went on to receive an Associate of Science degree in animal medical technology from the University of Maine at Orono. In 2004 and 2005, Woodbrey attended Andover College to study accounting and in 2021 she earned a Non-Profit Management certificate from the University of Southern Maine.

She originally joined MSSPA because she was looking to change careers.

“Before working for the MSSPA, I worked for the Raymond School Department while attending Andover College in the evenings. Shortly after graduating from Andover College, I saw a job listing for a "local non-profit," Woodbrey said. “The job listing was a little vague and it did not disclose the name of the organization. Imagine how thrilled I was when I learned it was the Maine State Society for the Protection of Animals. I have always loved animals, I am one who roots for the underdog, so I was very pleased to work on behalf of the horses.”

Based in Windham, the mission of the MSSPA is to provide refuge, rehabilitation, and placement of seized equines. MSSPA does not charge for its shelter services and seeks no reimbursement from any public source. Horses cared for by the MSSPA come from Maine law enforcement officials and most of them have been abused or neglected.

The MSSPA’s goal for each horse is rehabilitation and a new home, but if no suitable adoption is found, horses may live out their natural lives at the organization’s farm.

“Most of the MSSPA herd has experienced abuse and neglect at some point in their life,” Woodbrey said. “So, for me the best thing is seeing them content in their surroundings, watching them happily munching on hay, and hearing them nickering to one another.”

According to Woodbrey, she’s not planning on making significant or community engagement regarding MSSPA.

“I have to say that our local community is incredibly supportive of the MSSPA. Members of the local community volunteer at the farm and donate to fundraising campaigns,” she said. “Residents of the Southern Maine Re-entry Facility regularly volunteer and one resident at SMWRC is employed by MSSPA. Students from Windham High School and Windham Middle School volunteer every Friday during the school year. And the Windham Primary School second graders hold a fundraiser for the horses and then come for a field trip each spring. It's a wonderful community and we are glad to be a part of it.”

But like every other nonprofit organization these days, MSSPA is adapting to changing needs in the 21st century, such as working with other groups to help save the lives of animals.

“We are expanding collaborations with other equine shelters in New England and beyond. The MSSPA, the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty of Animals and the New Hampshire Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals occasionally transfer equines between the shelters which ultimately increases adoptions and affords each organization to help more horses in need,” Woodbrey said. “MSSPA is one of 10 equine shelters in the U.S. to be named as a Mentoring Partner of the Equus Foundation. The Equus partners are recognized for operating at the highest standards for business and equine welfare practices. And last summer, MSSPA transported three wild mustangs from the River Road farm right here in Windham to Skydog Sanctuary's 3,000 acre ranch in Bend, Oregon.”

Her family is excited and supportive about her new leadership role with the MSSPA.

“My husband, Mitch, has always been supportive of me and he values the work of the MSSPA. We live on a small farm in Raymond with two horses, one of which we adopted from the MSSPA,” she said. “Mitch and I share in their daily care. I do morning chores before work, and he does the evening chores after work. My sons Patrick and Justin are also very supportive and help out on the farm when they can.”

She says that her favorite horse at MSSPA is the one who hasn't quite made its way there yet.

“It's the horse who is out there waiting for human intervention, waiting to be brought to the MSSPA where it will receive the very best care from the skilled staff and volunteers,” Woodbrey said. “I’d like readers to know that the MSSPA couldn't rescue, rehabilitate, and adopt formerly abused and neglected equines without their support. Last year MSSPA provided life-saving programming to 134 equines, 32 horses were adopted, fundraising efforts exceeded $1 million, and volunteers donated over 8,500 hours. It may sound cliche but MSSPA's supporters make this vital work possible, and we thank you.” <

Volunteers exhibit kindness in stepping up to help homeless

By Ed Pierce

The late Coretta Scott King once said that the greatness of a community is most accurately measured by the compassionate actions of its members. Bearing that in mind, a group of Windham volunteers stepped up to assist those in need when a blast of arctic air dropped the temperature outside to -18 degrees last weekend and asked for nothing in return.

A group of volunteers from Windham gather in the kitchen
at First Parish Church in Portland on Saturday, Feb. 4 to help
fix and serve meals to the homeless and those in needs on
the coldest day of the year. The volunteers also collected 
warm winter clothing and blankets to assist those suffering
from the cold sub-zero temperatures. SUBMITTED PHOTO    
Friends and neighbors in Windham concerned about those less fortunate banded together to help the homeless and those experiencing food insecurity on what was the coldest weekend in many years.

“When the temperatures dropped to unprecedented levels, this started a frenzy about how to best help many people in Windham,” said Carol Walsh of Windham. “First, it was asked how can we help the needy so they will be warm while they weather out the two days? Secondly, how can the needy be helped with a place to warm up and also get a hot meal?”

The group of Windham volunteers chose to join others at the First Parish Church Warming Center in Portland to lend a hand on Saturday, Feb. 4 and then began collecting winter items and meals to take with them to the church that day.

“Starting with the first thing on the list, warm clothes and blankets, a friend who volunteers for Maine Needs, Amy Weickert, sent our friend's group a quick text stating the dire straits of getting enough warm items for people who would be encountering the low temps,” Walsh said. “I sent out an email to some of my neighbors and friends, and boom, I had hats, gloves, mittens, blankets, boots and jackets, and some items were bought at Reny's. The multiple bags were delivered to Maine Needs the very next day. I then saw the huge donations from American Roots, a Westbrook company who produce ‘Made in Maine’ items, and said yikes, talk about generous.”

Walsh said that the volunteer group from Windham then discussed how to help those coming that day to the Warming Center at the First Parish Church.

“Kristen Harris, the co-founder of Maine Meal Assistance, saw the need for help there,” Walsh said. “She contacted the church, then she went and saw the space and knew our group would help. I called out to friends and they were happy to volunteer for whatever was needed.”

Among volunteers agreeing to pitch in and help at the church were Walsh, Ellen LaChapelle, Cheryl Alterman, Judy George, Marilyn Pierce and Kristen Harris.

“We saw firsthand the people from the frigid cold coming into a warm and welcoming center where a hot meal was being offered to those in need,” Walsh said. “People with frost-bitten hands, everything they own by their sides and then we saw the complete satisfaction on their faces with the delicious food.”

The volunteers gathered and served the homeless at the church a meal made up of donated foods, including ziti with beef, ziti with sausage, vegetarian ziti, roasted turkey, roasted potatoes, gravy, stuffing, squash risotto, mashed sweet potatoes, lasagna from Lasagna Love of Windham, a vegetarian ziti with tons of vegetables and hundreds of homemade cookies and brownies baked by the Windham volunteers.

Walsh said that serving utensils were donated by Hannaford in Windham and Amatos of Windham. Gift cards were donated by various Windham businesses to help defray the expenses for buying plates, utensils, and napkins.

In helping out at the church, the volunteers met Harry Bailey, who has opened a shelter at 160 State St. in Portland for about 40 residents. These are mostly young adults who have aged out of foster care and individuals recently from incarceration. Walsh said the Windham volunteers are talking about ways they can help Bailey and the residents of his shelter too.

Returning to Windham, Walsh said all of the volunteers were grateful for the opportunity to serve those in need on the coldest day in years.

“Every person getting a plate was so grateful, kind and came back before leaving to say thank you,” Walsh said. “My reason for helping is I just can't stand by and not do something. It warmed my heart, serving hot food to people who were so grateful. After being a volunteer cook for three years with Maine Meal Assistance, it's just in my blood to help.”

She said that anyone can help.

“The help can be making something. Have someone pick it up and deliver it or complete the whole process. The people you meet make you remember that any one of us could be a step away from what we take for granted. This is a very fulfilling experience. I have had friends who donate gift cards to me so in turn I can buy the ingredients for the home-cooked meals. They recognize my passion, and I am so appreciative to them for their support.” <

Friday, February 3, 2023

Windham student wins state VFW 2023 ‘Voice of Democracy’ award

By Ed Pierce

Accolades continue to roll in for Hunter Edson, a Windham Christian Academy senior whose audio essay has been judged as the best in the state in the 2023 Voice of Democracy contest.

Hunter Edson, left, a senior at Windham Christian Academy, 
congratulations from VFW Post Commander Willie
Goodman after Edson’s audio essay won the 2023 Maine VFW
Voice of Democracy contest on Jan. 21 in Augusta. Edson 
advances to represent Maine in the national competition
this spring. SUBMITTED PHOTO

Edson had captured the Windham VFW Post 10643 Voice of Democracy title in November and then won the district competition to advance to the state contest, where he was awarded first place at a dinner at the Augusta Civic Center on Jan. 21. Winning the state award means that Edson’s audio essay qualifies for the national VFW Voice of Democracy contest later this spring.

The “Voice of Democracy” competition is open to all high school students, grades 9 to 12, including those who are home-schooled. For this year, students were asked to write and record a 3- to 5-minute essay on an audio CD about this year's theme "Why is the Veteran Important?"

In winning the Maine Voice of Democracy contest, Edson also qualifies for a four-day, all-expense paid trip to Washington for the national competition. The annual competition was established in 1947 and encourages students to examine America’s history, along with their own experiences in modern American society and provides students with a unique opportunity to express their own thoughts about democracy and patriotism with a chance to win college scholarship money.

The national first-place scholarship prize is $35,000, with second- and third-place national winners taking home $21,000 and $15,000 respectfully. Each year more than 25,000 students across America submit audio essays for the competition.

Windham VFW Post 10643 Commander Willie Goodman said that Edson’s presentation is worthy of the awards and attention it has received.

“I think Hunter Edson’s Voice of Democracy presentation is so powerful for two reasons,” Goodman said. “First, throughout his speech, Hunter posed questions directly related to the topic which engaged the listeners, and secondly, he provided specific examples and thoughtful, interesting answers to those questions. He gave factual answers about veterans but also went beyond those to give his personal reflections on what the term veteran means to him.”

Goodman said that VFW Post 10643 members are extremely proud that Edson will represent Windham and the state of Maine in the national contest this year.

“Not only is Hunter’s content exceptional, but his delivery is top-notch,” he said. Hunter definitely has a voice for radio and/or television and this is a definite plus for him. It is clear the Lakes Region students know about, and care about, our veterans and I attribute this to both the values instilled in them by their parents at home and recognizing the honor and sacrifice of military members being taught at some schools.”

Edson says he is humbled by winning the state’s Voice of Democracy Award.

“This entire thing has been one of the greatest experiences of my life,” he said. “When I wrote my essay last fall, I had no intention of winning, I just wanted to write a good essay and do an overall good job on it. I never thought I would make it this far, but I am so glad that I did. I am very thankful for my wonderful school and the VFW for making this experience a reality for me.”

He says that he’s optimistic about his chances to win the national contest but realistic in that his audio essay will be judged along with 53 deserving finalists in the national competition.

“The national contest is predetermined before you arrive meaning that all judging and awards are based on the first audio recording when you submit your essay,” Edson said. “At this point it is only a waiting game to see who wins the national level. In my opinion I believe winning the national level would take a great deal of thought and effort in the essay and a truly patriotic writer whose passion for our county stands above the rest.”

Edson says that he wanted to compete in this contest because it gave him a chance to voice his opinions and stand up for our country’s veterans who have and always will be the greatest heroes of our country.

“They are the men and women who are willing to put it all on the line for our safety and to ensure a better future for our great nation,” he said.”

Edson, who is in the process of determining where he would like to attend college, said that he hopes that his win at the state level encourages more students to take part in the VFW essay competition to boost their understanding of our country and its history as well as honor those who paid the ultimate sacrifice to ensure our country’s freedoms will be protected.

“It is an amazing experience and you get to meet many wonderful people at the VFW and I would recommend this to any high school student,” he said. <

Cub Scout Pack 805 exhibits teamwork at Pinewood Derby

By Matt Pascarella

It’s a Cub Scout tradition that goes back many years and is something the dens of Windham’s Cub Scout Pack 805 look forward to every year. On Saturday, Jan. 28 at Windham Middle School, assisted by Boy Scout Troop 805, there were cheers and celebration as the Pinewood Derby gave scouts a chance to see how their cars stacked up against other scouts from within the pack.

Windham first-grader Billy Corson, left, kindergarteners
Elijah Easton and Luca Bove, and fifth-grader Miles Moreau
watch in excitement as their Pinewood Derby cars
approach the finish line at Windham Middle School on
Saturday, Jan. 28 during Cub Scout Pack 805's 2023
Pinewood Derby racing. PHOTO BY MATT PASCARELLA    

There were 42 racers and each scout got to race their car four times. The top five and overall best in show moved on to the district race in April.

What begins as a block of wood with two axles and four wheels can end up having any shape and design that a scout can come up with; and there were a variety of very cool and very fast cars that competed in this race.

“The scouts really root each other on,” said Cub Scout Pack 805 Cubmaster and Webelos Den Leader Casey Melanson. “Even if they don’t win their heat, they’re still rooting for each other. The day went really well; the boys were very excited. There was a lot of enthusiasm and we set some records with some speeds.”

Pinewood Derby participants construct and paint the tiny cars from fabricated blocks of pine and then attach them to small plastic wheels and flexible metal axles. The cars are placed on a wooden track and entered in races powered by inertia and gravity.

Racing in the Pinewood Derby is a fundamental part of scouting and a tradition whereby each Cub Scout is given a block of pine and they must meet some general guidelines about weight, height, and length. They then spend the next few weeks designing, carving, and painting all while using artistic expression and developing a basic understanding of physics.

Participants also work with their parents in planning, cutting, sanding, and painting the cars.

Winners from these Windham races advance to the District Pinewood Derby races featuring participants who won community races in their packs last month.

Results of the 2023 Pinewood Derby at Windham Middle School are as follows:

Fifth place, second-grader Drew Foxe, Wolf

Fourth place, kindergartner Isaac Littlefield, Lion

Third place, first-grader Kye Fowler, Tiger

Second place, first-grader Owen Conroy, Tiger

First place, third-grader Jackson Bennett, Bear – who set a record of 191.60 miles per hour.

Bennett said he and his dad built the car. His design for it was to make it a little round at the edge so it could go the fastest down the track; they also put the weight in the back.

He said he thought he did his best and when asked why he simply held up his first-place trophy. He said that he definitely had fun at the event.

According to Melanson, the biggest lesson of the Pinewood Derby is teamwork. The scouts and their parents build their cars, they work with other scouts and when it comes to racing everyone cheers everyone on.

The Cub Scout motto of “do your best” is highly embodied during the annual Pinewood Derby. The Cub Scouts build the best cars they can and use their creativity to turn a simple block of wood into something spectacular. It shows both good spirit and is a good learning experience, Melanson said.

Best in Show results:

Fifth-grader Zach Welch, Arrow of Light

Fifth-grader Tyler Buck, Webelo

Third-grader Leo Bernard, Bear

Second-grader Henry Chartier, Wolf

First-grader Kye Fowler, Tiger

Kindergartner Thomas Johnson, Lion

Best in show overall was fourth-grader Logan Gay, Webelo

Gay’s car was shaped like a pirate ship, complete with removable mast. His dad helped him, but he stained it.

“I feel very happy for all the people, even if they didn’t win awards; I feel like everyone did their best,” said Gay.

He is so excited to compete in the district championship and is happy he got ‘best in show.’

All money raised during the Pinewood Derby will go toward the Spring Fling in May.

The top five fastest racers and the ‘best in show’ winner will compete at the district race in April at Camp Hinds in Raymond hosted by Cub Scout Pack 805. <