We often hear about people doing extraordinary things to help their communities.

Ray Breton of Vassalboro comes to mind. In 2010 he bought the former American Woolen Mill on Main Street in Vassalboro at auction for $35,000 because he didn’t want to see it further deteriorate. He transformed it into a community gathering place with an adjacent artisans’ shop called The Olde Mill Place.

He’s also renovated properties in town, developed a recreational boating and swimming area, and created walking trails and a playground, among other things.

Then there are people who are less visible, operating under the radar to help such efforts succeed.

Samantha Lessard is an example.

Lessard is the volunteer manager for the mill. I met her there Feb. 5 while covering the Maine Sci-Fi & Fantasy Nerd Fest, one of several events now held annually inside the mill at 934 Main St. The various events help raise money for the roof, which was damaged in a wind storm a few years ago. It’s in sore need of repair and will require a few hundred thousand dollars worth of work.

Advertisement

Lessard, 47, was scurrying around the facility during the festival, making sure everyone was having a good time and had what they needed. While on a mill tour, she took me inside a gigantic, unheated room that is the site of a “lawn sale” she started, the proceeds from which also go to the roof and mill repair fund.

Mountains of donated clothing, dishes, housewares, books, games, bedding, furniture and toys fill the space, which is open 4 to 7 p.m. Wednesdays, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sundays and by appointment. I noticed no prices on anything.

“I ask for a reasonable donation — it’s what people can afford,” she explained.

If customers don’t have much money, for instance, they might pay a dollar or two for a couple bags of stuff. Sometimes Lessard gives clothing and household items away, such as when a family flees domestic violence.

“It’s community supporting community,” she said.

Lessard told me this week that she volunteers 20 to 30 hours a week for the mill, which recently was named a national historic site. A volunteer at the town’s historical society, Lessard helped with the historic designation effort. She has done a lot of research on the old mill and now is trying to create a nonprofit that would enable the mill to apply for grants to help fund repairs.

Advertisement

Besides managing the lawn sale, she schedules other events there, including annual Easter and Halloween festivals, Vassalboro Days, which is organized by the Vassalboro Business Association, a yearly haunted house and a mill market.

“We do a lot of community events — free events for the community like the tree lighting at Christmas time,” she said.

Besides her volunteerism, Lessard works for Winslow Elementary School, providing remote teaching for students with autism, a job she said she loves.

Over the years, other volunteers also have helped with the mill effort, she said. I asked where she’d like to see the building in five years.

“It would be wonderful if all the roofing was fixed, the windows fixed, small businesses inside renting space and having more community events, like a community center,” she said.

Lessard doesn’t have to devote her free time there, but you might say it’s a calling — a labor of love generated from an old memory.

“The mill means a lot to me,” she said. “I grew up in Vassalboro. When I was younger, I used to play outside the mill. It was abandoned at the time. I just felt a connection to it.”

Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter 33 years. Her columns appear here Saturdays. She may be reached at [email protected]. For previous Reporting Aside columns, go to centralmaine.com.

Related Headlines


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.