AUGUSTA — Community leaders from several industries spoke to Cony Middle School students Tuesday as part of the school’s Aspirations program.

The program, started last year by social studies teacher and basketball coach Thomas Maines, aims to foster students’ aspirations through exposure to community resources.

“We’re just trying to show them different ways that people have become successful,” Maines said. “We want to give them different voices of people that have found success, not just mine or their other teachers.”

About 160 students gathered in the school’s auditorium for an introductory assembly where speakers ranging from Augusta Fire Chief Roger Audette to Ganneston Construction CEO and owner Stacey Morrison talked about their career paths. The students then broke off into six groups for breakout sessions with the speakers.

Audette told the attentive students that he didn’t know what he wanted to be when he graduated from high school. He worked in construction for several years until he volunteered to fight a fire near his home, which sparked his passion for firefighting.

Audette said events such as Tuesday’s are important because the students are at such an impressionable age.

“There’s just so many opportunities for kids to go in the wrong direction, and we are supposed to be positive mentors,” Audette said before his classroom session with about 20 students. “You never know what these meetings might bring.”

Morrison, owner of the state’s only woman-owned business certified by the Maine Department of Transportation, said she never dreamed of owning a multimillion-dollar construction company when she was younger. She told students that there is a nationwide shortage of laborers in the construction industry and stressed the need to stay in school because “the more time you’re in school, the more earning power you have.”

Maines said the most popular breakout session was with Game Warden Christopher Roy, who spoke to students last year and said he loves coming to the school and meeting new people.

“It has become such a popular job because of what we stand for, and what we do is so unique because we are law enforcement, but a lot of contact with people is positive,” Roy said. “It’s a great job, and these events are awesome.”

Maines said he started the program in part because he saw that students’ aspirations didn’t seem to be getting bigger, and he wanted to show students that there are different avenues to becoming successful.

“We tend to see a cycle where kids say that because of how their family is, this is how they are going to be,” Maines said. “Let’s not be all doom and gloom; let’s have some hope for the future.”

Some students have great parental guidance at home and have a clear focus of where they want to go in life, Maines said. Others say they can’t wait to drop out of school, and “those are the kids we are trying to reach. If this is a spark for a couple of these kids, it’s a worthwhile day.”

Maines said having speakers from the community talk about their paths to success is “unbelievably significant. When you put successful people in front of others, it sets a standard they can try and reach.”

Other speakers included Brad Chase, from the Augusta Police Department; Kennebec Valley Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Ross Cunningham; and Nate Cotnoir, a vice president at Camden National Bank.

Cony High School seniors participated Tuesday in Financial Fitness Fair, an interactive workshop organized by Wendy Brochu, from Connected Credit Union. Several local organizations provided insight into how to prepare for financial success, which was followed by panel discussions on topics including college, the military and various work opportunities, according to Assistant Principal Stewart Brittner.

Senior Alana Nichols, 18, said it is important to think about the future and to save money to be able to prosper in life.

Juniors listened to the guidance department talk about postsecondary planning, while sophomores visited the University of Maine, in Orono, and freshmen toured Thomas College in Waterville.

“(It was) an enriching day for all students at Cony,” Brittner said.

Jason Pafundi — 621-5663

[email protected]

Twitter: @jasonpafundiKJ

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