National news has dominated headlines these past few weeks. The holiday season is suddenly around the corner. Now is the time for Mainers to return their focus to our local communities.

This upcoming holiday season, many of us will take the time to make gratitude lists. Near the top of my list is love for the state of Maine. Yet my concern for its future has grown in recent months, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The future of Maine depends on guaranteeing a bright future for every child. In the current environment, we all serve as role models for our youth. Our actions speak loudly. We have a responsibility to lead by example, and it is leadership composed of decency, integrity and respect for diversity that will determine the character of our youth. Guiding children toward their full potential in adulthood does not happen by accident. Each of us has a responsibility to create paths to greatness for all of Maine’s youth.

Community is everything in rural states like Maine. Tight-knit communities can make the difference between children reaching their full potential or falling short of achieving their dreams. As we look forward to celebrating in new ways, we cannot turn a blind eye to the youth who are living next door in the nearby cities and towns of Maine.

As a loyal volunteer for the Boys and Girls Clubs of Kennebec Valley, I’ve stood face-to-face with the hope and tenacity of countless Maine children. I’m privileged to play a role in an organization that accommodates more than 3,000 youth each year. Since the turn of the century, the Boys and Girls Clubs of Kennebec Valley has enriched the lives of over 20,000 children by offering safe, high-quality childcare, providing educational teen programming and organizing the youth sports programs throughout the community it serves.

The Boys and Girls Clubs of Kennebec Valley acts as a sort of microcosm of the broader Maine community: It protects its most vulnerable. Maine is home to many underprivileged families – families whose children simply cannot thrive alone. These days, parents are juggling the needs of remote learning while managing their own workloads. Resources are stretched. Organizations like the Boys and Girls Clubs of Kennebec Valley offer those families a safety net by providing children with quality child care and a stable, safe environment in which to learn, play and grow.

Yet organizations like this one – like the youth they strive to serve – need help. They need to function at peak efficiency to reach their full potential. Our current building is maxed out and stretched thin, leaving too many children behind on a waiting list. In response, the Boys and Girls Clubs of Kennebec Valley recently launched a $10 million Great Futures Capital Campaign for the construction of a new facility to expand our membership. At a time when Maine families face unprecedented struggles, this new facility will allow us to triple our capacity and better serve the children and families who need it most.

In Maine, the return on investment for high-quality early childhood development is 7 percent to 10 percent annually. There is no better investment. The facts and figures tell all: better educational and health outcomes; higher employee engagement and productivity; reductions in crime, and the proliferation of a stronger, growing workforce in Maine. When Maine’s youth succeed, Maine’s economic future is secured for the next generation.

Children in need should not be left on a waiting list. This holiday season, in addition to shopping locally, consider giving locally. Right in our own backyards, local Maine nonprofits are relying on the generosity of their neighbors to meet their expanding needs in this time of crisis and uncertainty.

I urge all of us fortunate enough to live in Maine to keep our neighborhood nonprofits in mind. If you can give, please give. Every dollar matters to a local Maine charity. They need your help now more than ever.


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