Maine volunteer services receive federal funding

Posted Jan. 28, 2011, at 10:19 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — Six volunteer agencies in Maine have been awarded a substantial amount of federal grant money to bolster their programs, officials announced Friday during a press conference at the offices of the United Way of Eastern Maine in Bangor.

The grants will go toward improving the coordination and efficiency of community service projects in counties throughout Maine, according to Mary Alice Crofton, executive director of the Maine Commission for Community Service, a state agency dedicated to enhancing the capacity and sustainability of Maine’s volunteer and service communities.

Selected volunteer programs were allotted $198,000 each. The funds were provided through the Volunteer Generation Fund, an account established by Congress in 2009 when it passed the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act. The legislation was designed to increase the number of people who serve in meaningful roles as volunteers dedicated to addressing important needs in communities across America.

“This money is extremely important in sustaining our program,” said Nancy Teel, a volunteer coordinator at the United Way of the Tri-Valley Area in Franklin County, one organization chosen as a grant recipient. “Often, you hear about a great volunteer program, and then it just disappears. This money is going to allow us to be self-perpetuating and more efficient.”

Despite the recent economic crisis, the national volunteer rate went up to 26.8 percent of the population in 2009. In Maine during the same year, approximately 367,000 volunteers contributed 52.6 million hours of service, according to the Corporation for National and Community Service.

Crofton said the awards allocated Friday were significant because Maine was one of only 19 states chosen to receive grant funding. She added that the funds specifically would go toward building the capacity of volunteerism in the state by improving training, networking and the management involved with volunteer services.

In addition to the United Way of the Tri-Valley Area, Friday’s recipients were the United Way of Eastern Maine, Maine Sea Coast Mission in Washington County, the United Way of Mid Coast Maine in Bath, the United Way of Greater Portland and Faith in Action, which provides free services to elderly and disabled residents in Hancock County.

“For years, these organizations have not had centralized locations with all services under one roof,” Crofton said. “Now, there will be locations and better Internet capabilities where people can go to get the resources they need to volunteer efficiently and find the opportunities that best suit their desires to serve the community.”

Teel said the United Way of the Tri-Valley Area would use the funds to create a greater Internet presence and make existing programs stronger.

For instance, the organization provides volunteers to help weatherize local homes during the winter months, so the funds will be used in part to buy extra materials and to give better training to volunteers. Additionally, plans are in place to help strengthen programs provided by the United Way in Franklin County schools, such as the Lunch Buddy Program, which provides at-risk youth with mentors.

Representatives of U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe attended the event in addition to a staffer from the office of 2nd District U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud.

“Volunteering is a selfless act,” read a statement from Michaud. “The fact that Maine was chosen from a competitive round of grant selection at the federal level speaks to the power of volunteer services in this state.”

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