BANGOR, Maine — When the SkillsUSA Maine state officers served as volunteers at the Bangor Thrift Store owned by Kathy Harvey on Hogan Road, they were inspired to organize a men’s jeans drive to assist Hands of Hope, the charitable arm of the store. As a result, 300 pairs of jeans, amounting to eight full shopping carts, were donated to the store. In return for their efforts Harvey had pledged to pay them $2 per pair of jeans, netting $600.
“The students didn’t want the money,” Harvey said. “They wanted it to go Hands of Hope. I was very impressed with them. They wanted make sure that area children have a good Christmas. What they did showed that if everyone does a little, it means a lot.”
SkillsUSA is a national nonprofit organization serving teachers, and high school and college students who are preparing for careers in trade, technical and skilled service occupations, according to its website at skillsusa.org.
Kate Campbell, Leslie Campbell and Erica Hemphill, students at Presque Isle Regional Career and Technical Center; Brooke Knights and Elli Robitaille, students at Hancock County Technical Center and Patrick Garrett and Nathan Guindon, students at MVR10 Technical School in Brunswick, were in Bangor to attend a SkillsUSA leadership conference on Oct. 30. Part of the conference agenda required them to do a community service project. They were at the thrift store sorting clothing and hanging up wedding gowns when they learned that money had been stolen from the store the day before.
Moved by the fact that the store had been victimized and acting on a desire to help Hands of Hope in its mission to aid those in need, Leslie Campbell, 18, took the lead to help organize the jeans drive at her school in Presque Isle.
“The best part about [community service] is that it allows us to be more humble, to compare how privileged we are to some families all over the country who don’t have the things we do,” she said. Other SkillsUSA Maine students had volunteered, also on Oct. 30, at Ronald McDonald House and with the Bangor Recreation Department doing cleanup along the banks of the Penobscot River and Kenduskeag Stream.
“It was the state officers team’s idea [to do the jeans drive],” said Harold Casey, state director of SkillsUSA Maine, who teaches computer systems and networking at Eastern Maine Community College in Bangor. “They put out a lot of information, worked to get all the [technical] schools involved. They saw a need and responded quickly. They are a brand new officer team, elected the day they jumped into the project. They put it together themselves and said this is how it ought to be done. They are very dedicated.”
“Even students who aren’t involved in SkillsUSA but who attend the tech center, and SkillsUSA alumni, participated,” said Amy White, business technology instructor at Presque Isle Regional Career and Technical Center and adviser to the SkillsUSA Maine state officers.
The Bangor Thrift Shop Hands of Hope program serves more that 1,500 children in 42 towns in Penobscot County during the holiday season, Harvey said. Families who register for the program must meet certain financial guidelines, she said. Many businesses throughout Penobscot County assist with the project by putting up trees decorated with tags, each bearing a gift wish.
“Much of what is asked for is needs, such as bedding — not wants,” Harvey said. “I’m seeing an increase in those kinds of requests: needs, not wants.”
Harvey will oversee the distribution of gifts to families the program serves on Dec. 21 at the Airport Mall.
“It’s very emotional,” Harvey said of the event. “I get to see all the genuine thankfulness people have. I’m just a bridge and it’s an incredible position to be in. Everyone doing a little is what makes this program work.”
For information about Hands of Hope, email firstname.lastname@example.org. For information about SkillsUSA Maine, call 266-9675.