There are a lot of inspiring people, groups and projects in Maine. Here are some that inspire me.

Let’s start with individuals. Nathanael Batson, 18, of Fairfield, is legally blind and has a rare hereditary disorder, neurofibromatosis, which causes tumors throughout the body. He plays the trumpet and recently won a National High School Heart of the Arts Award. “I’m so overcome, and I so love music,” he said. Inspiring.

And so is Nicholas Alexander, of Belgrade, a junior at Mid-Maine Technical Center who won a 2019 Inclusion Award from Maine Developmental Disabilities Council for creating art that exemplifies the idea that people with developmental disabilities should be included as full members of our communities.

Given my illness, ALS, many people with ALS inspire me with a very positive spirit and determination to make the most of every day. And my brother Gordon, who the governor selected to lead our effort to address the opioid crisis, inspires me with his enthusiasm and hard work. I can’t imagine a tougher job.

I was also inspired by the get-together of a dozen Maranacook Community High School students with students at Lewiston High School. Mixing a group of students from rural Maine with a diverse student body (some of whom were black, Muslim, or immigrants) at a city school actually scared the students at both schools at first.

After four years of getting together once each quarter, all the kids were good friends. Clair Frohmberg of Maranacook explained it well, saying, “When you see these people (in the group), you stop seeing, ‘Oh that’s a black person.’ You start seeing, ‘that’s my partner, Amino. Her mother survived the Civil War and a drought in Somalia. They live in Maine now.”

It would be great if more schools would do this. Yes, kids can be inspiring. And businesses can be too.

Reny’s was a major competitor for Wilson’s Dollar Stores, where my dad worked and eventually became a part owner. Wilson’s eight stores are long gone but somehow Reny’s has survived and prospered despite the competition from major chain stores.

I got to know and admire Bob Reny, the store’s founder, because he often came to the Legislature to lobby on various issues. One year there was a ballot initiative to allow stores to be open on Sunday. My sister Edie and I worked on the campaign in favor of Sunday shopping.

Bob Reny was a major opponent because he did not want his employees have to work on Sunday. We won the campaign by less than 1 percent of the vote.  I’ve wondered ever since if maybe Bob was right and we were wrong. Reny’s is celebrating their 70th anniversary this year — and that’s inspiring.

I’m also inspired by many organizations and nonprofits helping Mainers. A good example would be Coastal Enterprise Institute, which has a variety of programs including one that helps immigrants start their own businesses. And I’m inspired by Island Institute, which helps people on our islands with everything from energy issues to Lyme disease. The stories in their newsletter are inspiring.

My wife Linda and I certainly appreciated the work of the Red Cross, which sent two fellows to our house to check our fire alarms and make sure they were working. They also installed one new alarm. And they didn’t charge us a cent. The two workers came from Lewiston and were both originally from Somalia. They were really wonderful. Red Cross is doing this all over Maine.

It astonishes me that so many people are going hungry in Maine. Volunteers staff a food bank in Mount Vernon every Saturday morning, and it’s nice to know that hungry people have access to that food. I know this is happening all over Maine. And yes, these volunteers are inspiring.

As an outdoors person I’m also inspired by all the land trusts and environmental groups working to protect everything we love about Maine. Local land trusts are particularly inspiring, including my favorite, Kennebec Land Trust, headquartered in Winthrop. And groups like The Nature Conservancy have protected a large amount of Maine’s best lands.

And Dianne Winn and Marc Payne at Avian Haven in Freedom have inspired me for years, since they tried to save a loon that had ingested a lead sinker in the lake behind my house. Avian Haven has treated more than 26,000 birds over the years, plus lots of wild animals. And one of their volunteers, Don Fournier, has driven almost 34,000 miles to deliver injured and neglected birds and animals to Avian Haven.

So many wonderful groups and people doing so many good things for Maine lands, wildlife, and people. And so many Mainers who don’t let disabilities stop them. All are inspiring.

George Smith can be reached at 34 Blake Hill Road, Mount Vernon 04352, or [email protected] Read more of Smith’s writings at www.georgesmithmaine.com.

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