The University of Maine men’s and women’s basketball teams didn’t have much success at this year’s America East championship held at West Hartford, Conn.
The tournament nonetheless proved rewarding for a UMaine community partner, The River Coalition of Old Town.
The nonprofit organization was presented March 7 with a check for $10,000 from the Newman’s Own Foundation as part of its Campus Community Service Challenge in conjunction with America East.
“It was some excellent news,” said Linda McGee, executive director of The River Coalition which, along with UMaine representatives, was recognized during the tournament at the University of Hartford. “It was really exciting and it was a great trip.”
Last fall, America East began a partnership with Newman’s Own, a food company started by late actor Paul Newman, as the title sponsor of the 2010 America East Men’s and Women’s Basketball Championship.
The Newman’s Own Foundation subsequently offered more than $100,000 to nonprofit organizations affiliated with America East schools.
“Each school partnered with a local charity and each local charity was guaranteed a minimum of $7,500 from Newman’s Own,” said America East Commissioner Patrick Nero.
The River Coalition was the third-place recipient.
The Chittenden Emergency Food Shelf, affiliated with the University of Vermont’s Campus Kitchen, received the top grant of $25,000. Best Buddies Connecticut, working with the University of Hartford’s Best Buddies chapter, earned the runner-up prize of $15,000.
Grant decisions were based on the level of the student group’s involvement with the nonprofit, the degree to which that involvement reflects Newman’s philanthropic spirit of creativity and commitment, and the mission and programs of the nonprofit, the populations and purposes it serves, and the impact the grant would have on them.
“Maine, yes the university’s large, but our service area is small compared to Boston University, Hartford or Binghamton,” McGee said. “We were really excited that we got the $10,000 grant.”
The River Coalition for several years has partnered with UMaine’s Bodwell Center and its Black Bear Mentor Program. McGee said UMaine students, including some student-athletes, work one on one with local schoolchildren in Greater Old Town.
The program, which is patterned after Big Brothers and Big Sisters of America, has served approximately 250 area children in the last five years.
“It works for the kids, especially for the kids that maybe aren’t so academically focused,” McGee said. “You get somebody to go out and play ball with you and do something you’re interested in, yet the kids are learning without the stress of it and without even knowing it.”
The River Coalition picks the students up at school, transports them to different activities, then drives them home. McGee said transportation accounts for much of the program’s cost.
The mission of The River Coalition, which serves Old Town, Milford, Bradley, Greenbush, Alton and the Penobscot Indian Nation, is to ensure safe and healthy communities through collaboration, strengthening partnerships and assisting in resource development.
The $10,000 Newman’s Own grant will be directed specifically at The River Coalition’s youth mentoring program.
“This grant will allow us to expand it in the community,” said McGee, who now expects to be able to serve students in schools from Bradley, Greenbush and Alton in addition to Old Town and Milford.
Nero said the benefits of America East’s affiliation with Newman’s Own have been many and he hopes in the next few weeks to be able to announce a new three- to five-year partnership with America East.