OAKLAND — Cheeks, a 5-year-old cat, became the face of the Waterville Humane Society on Wednesday at Messalonskee High School’s performing arts center.

And what a face he has.

The orange tabby, named for his robust mug, accompanied humane society director Andrea Pasco to a presentation she made to area Jobs for Maine Graduates students.

Each year, students in the program award grant money provided by Jumpstart Our Youth to area nonprofit agencies in an effort to help make a difference in their communities.

Jumpstart Our Youth is a philanthropic organization funded by the Unity Foundation, Maine Community Foundation and UniTel.

Jobs for Maine Graduates seeks to identify youth in grades 6 through 12 who face educational challenges and help them be successful in their education, careers and lives.

Pasco told Jobs for Maine Graduates students from Messalonskee High School, Waterville Senior High School, Winslow High School and Winslow Junior High School how she would put the grant money to good use.

Pasco said she would form a youth education team to teach youngsters in area schools how to be responsible, caring pet owners, and to stress the importance of spaying and neutering animals.

Cheeks likely has feline leukemia because he was not neutered, she said.

“He’s a perfect example of why you spay and neuter pets,” Pasco said. “When cats are not spayed or neutered they’re at a greater risk to get the disease. If his owners had neutered him, he probably wouldn’t have roamed or fought and he’d be healthy.”

While Cheeks has a weakened immune system, Pasco said he has no symptoms and could have a long, happy life.

Pasco was one of 10 representatives of area nonprofit organizations who made presentations Wednesday.

People from Make-A-Wish, Maine Children’s Home for Little Wanderers, Mid-Maine Homeless Shelter, Autism Society of Maine, Big Brothers Big Sisters, The Children’s Center, Pine Tree Camp of Rome, Blessings in a Backpack-Snack Pack in Oakland and South End Teen Center in Waterville talked about how they would put grant money to good use.

After the presentations, each of the 200 or so Jobs for Maine Graduates students in attendance voted for their top five choices.

Winners will be announced this spring and the $8,000 in grant money will be split among the top five vote-getters.

Chauncy Paradis, a sophomore at Winslow High School, said Pasco’s presentation and Cheeks’ presence were impressive.

She said she liked helping fix local problems.

Paradis, who has been enrolled in the program since seventh grade, said she volunteers at the humane society.

She said she was also impressed with the Make-A-Wish Foundation, a group that fulfills wishes of children with life-threatening illnesses.

One recent granted wish involved buying a snowmobile for a sick boy so he could spend his last few days of life sledding with his family.

All the nonprofit organizations represented are positive agents in their communities, said Catharine Hartnett of Jumpstart Our Youth, and winning a grant would be an added boost.

She said that in the last four years, 3,300 Jobs for Maine Graduates students at 60 sites have presented 272 grants totaling $180,000, and have put in 54,000 hours of community service.

Hartnett said the program promotes youth participation and teaches valuable skills. “It formalizes what Bert Clifford did intuitively,” she said about the Unity Foundation founder.

She and Lori Roming, research & program officer at Unity Foundation, both said children who take part in community service are likely to continue contributing to their communities as adults.

As for Cheeks, after his stage appearance Wednesday, he returned to the humane society.

Pasco said Cheeks is available to a good home. Because of his illness, he cannot be in a home with other cats unless they also have feline leukemia.

Beth Staples — 861-9252

[email protected]