FARMINGTON — When Melissa Sawyer-Boulette and her classmates started their resource management and grant writing class at the University of Maine Farmington this semester, they were mostly in it for the grade.

But after a visit to Western Maine Homeless Outreach, a homeless shelter on Wilton Road, the class started to feel more personal.

As they toured the 16-bed facility, which mostly houses homeless families, the students learned the shelter did not have enough funding to keep its doors open during the day.

It took the students months of research, meetings and grant-writing, but on Monday afternoon those efforts paid off as representatives from Skowhegan Savings Bank presented shelter staff with a $5,000 check to run the 11-week daytime educational program.

“Every year we try to find funding for our day program so that the guests don’t have to leave during the day,” Tricia Ploude, the shelter manager, said Monday. “It’s very dangerous for them to be walking, especially with kids, on Route 2.”

Each morning at 8 a.m. shelter residents must find places to pass the time until they can return to their temporary home again after 4 p.m.

Some take up posts at a nearby Dunkin’ Donuts. Others trek more than 2 miles down the busy Wilton Road corridor, which is also U.S. Route 2, to downtown Farmington, often with small children in tow.

When the students learned about a program that might help the shelter stay open for at least portions of the day, one that would also teach residents financial management and communication skills key to finding and keeping their housing, they resolved to apply for grants to secure funding for the shelter.

“Farmington is such a close-knit community that we feel like the homeless people are also part of this community,” Sawyer-Boulette, 37, said. “If it was any one of us, we assume that people would help us too.”

As the students spoke Monday with Skowhegan and shelter staff at the university’s Education Center, UMF assistant professor Kelly Bentley looked on. Bentley has been teaching the grant-writing class for six years but said this was first time her students got to see their efforts pay off.

More importantly, she said, the students were able to make the connection between their coursework and the impact they can have on the world around them.

That impact was not lost on Rhiannan Jackson, 21, of Saco. Jackson said she shared many of her classmates’ sentiments about the class when it began, but as she learned more, the academics felt less important.

“We cared a lot and really wanted to do something for the shelter,” Jackson said. “We had such an invested interest in the subject, we did get good grades.”

Now some of Bentley’s students say they want to keep writing grants after they graduate. Sawyer-Boulette said she’s hoping to work in the non-profit sector.

“I love it. I really do. I think the writing part and all that is difficult, but I think if you really want to help a nonprofit or an organization that it doesn’t become work,” Sawyer-Boulette said. “It’s more meaningful.”

Kate McCormick — 861-9218

[email protected]

Twitter: @KateRMcCormick

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