The Next Step readies for 18th Chocolate Fest

Posted Jan. 27, 2011, at 9:08 p.m.

The old saying “you learn something new every day” proved true for me when I spoke this week with Laurie Fogelman, executive director of The Next Step Domestic Violence Project serving Hancock and Washington counties.

What I did not know is The Next Step originally began 18 years ago as an outreach program of Spruce Run Association in Bangor.

Spruce Run, I also learned, started as a support group in 1972 and incorporated in 1973.

Laurie has been with The Next Step for 11 years, 10 as its executive director.

The program went on its own in 1993, serving Hancock County and expanded to include Washington County in 2004.

“We cover a large geographic area,” she said, adding its mission is “working with our communities to help keep victims safer, and hold batterers more accountable.”

The Ellsworth office on Route 1A, and the Machias office on Main Street, are open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.

The Calais office is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays at its new location, 43 Main St.

The program, served by a full-time staff and “lots of wonderful volunteers,” has two toll-free hot lines, 800-315-5579 and 888-604-8692.

The volunteers answer hot lines nights and weekends, and work as court advocates and on fundraisers.

Laurie describes the organization’s funding as “a smorgasbord,” ranging from state and federal funds to grants and, of course those all-important fundraisers.

Plans are under way for its next big event, the 18th annual Chocolate Fest with Live and Silent Auction, 2-4 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 12, at Ellsworth Elementary-Middle School.

The snow date is the same time Sunday, at the same place.

Laurie expressed appreciation for the community and business support for this event, which offers “a little bit of anything and everything.”

She greatly appreciates the effort, for example, of 95-year-old quilt-maker Helen Blake, whose work will be raffled. Making quilts for The Next Step “works for her,” Laurie said.

“She just enjoys putting them over her lap to keep warm in the winter while she works.”

And Laurie recognizes, as well, the contribution of items from local business owners, especially in light of the difficult economic times.

“It’s proof, again, to us and the people we serve, that people care. They are willing to donate services and goods” to support The Next Step, Laurie said.

When we talked, she was chuckling over a Boston Celtics basketball she was looking at, “apparently signed by everybody on the team, although you wouldn’t know it looking at it. But we do have a letter of authenticity,” she added.

Then there’s the contribution of what she fondly referred to as their “private band,” conductor Michael Povich and the Fletcher’s Landing Philharmonic Orchestra, a mainstay at this event.

Tickets are $10 at the door or available in advance at any of the offices listed above.

While raising funds is important, so is raising awareness, Laurie said.

“We can’t do it alone,” she said.

“We need to engage and work with our communities. There are so many good people out there who want to make sure victims are safe; that people’s lives are safer and better” and that no matter where you live, no matter what your background, if you need help, it is available.

As this February fundraiser approaches, Laurie also extends her deepest appreciation to everyone who supported its in-house holiday gift program in December.

Individuals, families, business owners, churches and community groups donated money and items and hosted toy and food drives to help make the holidays happier for those The Next Step serves.

When those gifts are delivered, Laurie said, “we get the hugs. They give us a hug, and they thank us.”

“Well, I love that hug, but I really feel I am just representing all the good people out there who make other people’s lives better.”

For those hugs, The Next Step thanks you all.

Joni Averill, Bangor Daily News, P.O. Box 1329, Bangor 04402; javerill@bangordailynews.com; 990-8288.

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