Faye Nicholson, left, and Jackie Dalton, co-directors of REM, said Monday the organization had to close its Waterville office temporarily when the coronavirus pandemic hit in March. REM also had to cancel all of its scheduled events for the year. Nicholson and Dalton, who are not paid for their work, continue to connect with REM partners and members virtually. Photo by WMStreet

WATERVILLE — About 25 years ago, the community group REM formed after Faye Nicholson held a gathering — dubbed a community catalyst — at the Waterville Opera House to garner input from people about what would make the city a better place to live.

Some of the ideas that came out of that meeting were to build a recreational trail network throughout the area, create an amphitheater on the waterfront and develop a large youth center — all of which have since become reality, although other people got involved to eventually create Kennebec Messalonskee Trails, the RiverWalk at Head of Falls and the Alfond Youth & Community Center.

The community catalyst drew national attention, with U.S News & World Report featuring a story and photograph on Nicholson’s efforts.

That same year, she formed REM, which stands for Revitalize the Energy in ME. REM encourages the development of nonprofit groups that help people in the community. REM also serves as their sponsor, doing all the paperwork and tax documents so they do not have to take on the burden and expense of doing so.

“They don’t need to have an office. We have the office,” Nicholson said Monday. “They don’t need to have a copy machine. We have a copy machine.”

But now REM needs help. A combination of issues, including the coronavirus pandemic, has stressed REM’s finances.

REM, an all-volunteer organization, has launched the “Imagine That!” campaign, seeking to attract 600 new members by Jan. 1, 2021, and raising at least $35,000 to cover rent and expenses for its downtown office on Temple Street.

REM now has 62 members and many more community partners, including area colleges and hospitals.

Nicholson, who is REM’s co-director with Jackie Dalton, said Monday the organization had to close its office temporarily when the pandemic hit in March and has canceled all of its scheduled events for this year. Nicholson and Dalton, who are not paid for their work, continue to connect with REM partners and members virtually.

“If we don’t get 600 members and enough to cover our rent, we won’t be able to exist,” Nicholson said.

REM’s largest fundraiser is the REM Craft Fair, held every October at Champions Fitness Center. Nicholson said REM is looking to do a “combined” fair this year by allowing only 50 people into the event at a time and offering online sales.

REM took over sponsorship of the fair 11 years ago when Colby College could no longer serve as its host location because other college events were held during the same time. Many crafters who had tables at the fair needed a sponsor so REM accepted the challenge, booking vendors for a fee and hosting its own REM table.

Nicholson is confident those who count on and have invested in REM, and others who care about the community, will come forward to help with the membership campaign.

“I have total faith that 600 people will see the importance of what REM does in our community,” she said.

Those wanting to become members may go to the REM website — rem1.org — and click on REMership Form. Prospective members can select the amount they want to contribute to become a member, but the average is $50 a year, according to Nicholson. Some people donate $1 a year, while others contribute hundreds, she said.

A person becoming a new member will be asked to convince another person to join in 2021, she said.

 

REM INITIATIVES, COMMUNITY PARTNERS

Nonprofit entities that exist under REM’s umbrella include the Tourmaline Singers, a group that goes into hospitals and nursing homes to sing to people who are dying; Women’s Initiative, a group that gets together to socialize and support one another, sew, knit and leave handmade scarves downtown seasonally for anyone who needs or wants one; and Delta Prime Robotics, a group of teens who take part in competitive robotics contests. REM also sponsors a support group for those recovering from substance abuse.

Tina Chapman, development and communications director for Kennebec Behavioral Health, has been involved in REM for about 15 years as either a community member or member of REM’s board of directors.

Chapman, formerly president and chief professional officer for United Way of Mid-Maine Inc., said Monday she loves that REM “nurtures people’s passions for the betterment of the Waterville community.”

“A lot of organizations’ missions are very specific to an issue area or to a defined population,” Chapman said Monday, “but REM is about creating connections for all people who simply want to make our community a more vibrant place to live, work and play.

“REM is really unique in that it is powered solely through volunteerism. In order for REM to continue to help turn dreams into reality for local people who now live in a global world, we need to expand our support base. Our ‘Imagine That!’ campaign, with the goal of reaching 600 members, would provide that support base for the organization’s future.”

W. Elery Keene, a board member who has been involved in REM since its inception and is on its financial team, said it is difficult to hold fundraising events during the COVID-19 pandemic or hold the annual REM ceremony.

REM is having to find other ways to generate funds to continue to sponsor nonprofits that do good work in the community, according to Keene. He said Nicholson has been good about contacting many businesses in the community to ask for contributions.

“It’s just amazing all the time that Faye and Jackie (Dalton) give, without getting paid, to make this happen,” he said Monday.

Keene was the first executive director of the Kennebec Valley Regional Planning Commission, which moved from Winslow to Fairfield in the late 1980s and eventually became Kennebec Valley Council of Governments. He spent 30 years at the helm, retiring in 2000, and has remained faithful to REM.

Nicholson, he said, is very good at helping people who approach REM with ideas for starting a nonprofit organization, telling them about what may already exist in that area, or encouraging them to start a new nonprofit.

“I think this is very important for our community,” Keene said, “and I don’t know how many times I’ve heard Faye say she thinks the whole state of Maine should be doing this for smaller groups across the state.”

REM produces an annual directory that includes information about its partners and others who want to be included. REM also is planning to start the “Lifelong Learning: Neighbor to Neighbor Program,” which will be part of a senior college network, according to Nicholson.

She said some REM members have moved to other states but continue to be members.

The organization itself uses a process of trust and building consensus when making decisions. Nicholson, whose husband, Jim, also is on the board of directors, said it is the people in the organization who are the valuable players and she and Dalton are merely guides.

“We are at the bottom of the REM structure because it is the people who make the decisions,” Nicholson said. “It’s a bottom-up organization — the only bottom-up organization I know.”

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