As you struggle to recover from two disappointing national political conventions, perhaps this news will help. Let’s focus on the wonderful work of three Maine organizations: Coastal Enterprises Inc. (CEI), Island Institute and the Maine Community Foundation.
It was a real pleasure to attend — with more than 500 others — CEI’s annual conference this year. CEI is an amazing organization, investing in Maine people, places and enterprises for the past 38 years. Their mission is to “help create economically and environmentally healthy communities in which all people, especially those with low incomes, can reach their full potential” and “to make investments in small businesses, create employment, and develop the state’s natural resource industries.”
The group has led efforts to strengthen agriculture and food systems, fisheries and aquaculture, forestry, nature-based tourism, renewable energy, community facilities, affordable housing, and sustainable real estate development. Since 1977, CEI has mobilized $1.2 billion for more than 2,555 businesses and community development projects.
Last year, they focused a lot of attention on climate change and inequality. I was very impressed by their Start Smart program that has assisted more than 1,300 people from 87 countries start or grow 380 businesses in Maine. I also really appreciate CEI’s focus on rural communities.
This year, CEI’s priority issues are focused on sustainable development, including creation of a framework for state policy, investing in Maine and its people, investing in natural resource industries, growing and attracting entrepreneurial businesses, and supporting affordable housing opportunities — a very ambitious set of goals, to be sure.
The Island Institute works with the good people who live on Maine’s islands and in our coastal communities to strengthen their economies. I have been impressed with their work for many years, especially appreciating their fellowship program that places young college grads on various islands where they work on economic and education issues and opportunities. My young friend Zain Padamsee just signed up for his second year of fellowship work on Frenchboro Island.
Island Institute works on community development, through fellowships, scholarships, and leadership training programs that increased capacity for communities and local projects, and on economic development to diversity coastal economies by supporting aquaculture development, improving access to broadband, and assisting small businesses with loans and mentoring — including an interesting business development program for artists.
Their energy programs help communities reduce the costs of energy through weatherization and efficiency projects in island homes, schools, and businesses, and supporting community planning for sustainable energy generation. They have a marine resources team that works with communities to understand and adapt to environmental and economic changes through ocean planning, working waterfront access, and marine science.
The Island Institute is very involved in education, working to strengthen leadership, invest in students and teachers, and support families to improve high school and post-secondary graduation rates. They even publish two of my favorites: The Working Waterfront newspaper and Island Journal magazine, where their stories of island and coastal communities are fascinating and informative.
The Maine Community Foundation works with donors and other partners to improve the quality of life for all Maine people, drawing on their deep knowledge of the state to build strong communities. For example, their Aroostook County Fund, established by businesses and individuals, celebrates its 30th anniversary this year. Since 1986, the fund has grown to almost $1 million and the Aroostook County Committee has awarded more than $450,000 in grants.
You need look no further than the revived Mayo mill in Dover-Foxcroft to see what can be achieved with leaders like Maine Community Foundation and other committed partners who believe in and are willing to invest in our rural Maine communities.
The foundation’s annual report is full of great news, with funding and initiatives that support older Mainers, promote fitness in girls in Wilton, teach independence in the Culinary Works program in Saco, welcome new Latino residents in Washington County, bring doctors to Maine, encourage innovation in the aquaculture industry through research at the Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences, and preserve our history at the Abyssinian Meeting House in Portland, Maine’s oldest African-American church.
You can learn more, support, and get involved in these amazing groups and initiatives through their websites: www.ceimaine.org, www.islandinstitute.org , www.mainecf.org. It’s a whole lot better than wasting your time, energy, and money on politics, or waiting for our political leaders to actually lead us to a better tomorrow. CEI, the Island Institute, and the Maine Community Foundation, are doing just that, every day.