Aroostook- On June 7th Aroostook Aspirations celebrated their special day in style with friends, Gauvin Scholars, and strategic partners at the Aroostook Centre Mall. It was a day to recognize the achievements of the Gauvin Scholars and the many graduates in Aroostook.
The Loring Job Corps escorted Ray and Sandy Gauvin, representatives from Senators Collins’ and Kings’ Office, representative Alex Willette, and Vice President Jason Parent to the stage. Jason Parent welcomed` the crowd with some background information, including the motivation behind the start of this supportive program, steeped in mentoring and the constant support of the Gauvin Scholars. “These Scholars are both historic and symbolic. As the first class of Gauvin Scholars, many of us will watch with anticipation to see what their futures hold.” Sandy Gauvin, co-founder of the Aroostook Aspirations Initiative took some time to thank the many people for the day, for the last year, and made sure to remind everyone that this day and the initiative focus on the future, “The kids are our future. With the tremendous amount of out migration over the past two decades, our workforce is now below sustainable levels. Our goal is to help kids go on to college and give our young people the training they need to find success in Aroostook.” After presenting the Gauvins with a key to the community and a tree, Patty Crooks, Mall Manager, celebrated and praised the work of the Gauvins, “I am just in total awe of their generosity, their dedication to this community, to the County, and to our kids. Go Ray and Sandy! May we all walk in your shoes one day!”
Sharon Campbell, the representative of Senator King’s office, and Phil Bosse, the representative of Senator Collins office, read the congressional sentiment placed in the national records by Senators King and Collins. Campbell and Bosse are both members of the Board of Directors for AAI. Senator Collins reflected on how special “The County” is, “Aroostook County, where I was born and raised, is defined by an extraordinary work ethic and the enduring spirit of its people. It is Maine’s northern most and largest County, and its economy depends on an able and educated workforce.” Senator King echoed the thoughts of the senior senator and spoke about the partnerships AAI has throughout Aroostook. “AAI’s partnerships with all 16 of the County’s high schools and its four colleges are a shining example of what the forward thinking of private citizens, schools, colleges, universities, and businesses can accomplish when they set out to better their communities.”
In addition to the sentiments read by Bosse and Campbell, and State of Maine declaration that formally announced June 7th as Aroostook Aspirations Day, read by Representative Alex Willette, Aroostook Aspirations unveiled a mural painted by Heather Harvell, an Aroostook County native. April Flagg, executive director of Aroostook Aspirations, spoke to the crowd about the symbolism within the mural. “The tree represents this program, its Gauvin Scholars, the community, and the past, present and future. With a strong trunk, the tree can stand the test of time. The Gauvins assured this program had strong footing to stand on a powerful 24 member Board of Directors, strategic business and collegiate partners. The 16 Gauvin Scholars, each with a picture on this wall, are the face of our program, and the future of this County. Supporting them in their reach for a firm foundation based in education is the goal of our program and of our partners.” Flagg also thanked the crowd for their support over the last year and encouraged every one present to donate, “It is vital that this program expands every year, keeping more kids in the County, helping to raise degree attainment, and working to stabilize our economy.” Flagg also recognized the Grocery stores that have come out in support of the project by participating in the Add it Up campaign across the region. “Paradis Shop ‘n Save and IGA’s in Caribou, Fort Kent, Houlton and Mike’s Family in Limestone, Graves Shop ‘n Save in Presque Isle, Star City IGA in Presque Isle, Fort Fairfield, and Mars Hill, and Country Farms Markets in Washburn and Easton, have all jumped on board participating at different times throughout the next year. Add it Up, exemplifies the adage that just a little can go a long way. The grocery stores have truly been just exceptional. We are so excited and humbled by their participation.” Grad Caps are available the entire month of June at the Mall and Add it Up campaigns will occur in grocery stores across Aroostook.
At noon, after being entertained by the amazing Fireman Fred, the Gauvin Scholars walked in behind the Loring Job Corps Color Guard and took their places on stage and in history. Recognized one by one, the Scholars stood to the applause of the crowd. After the official announcement of the scholarship recipients, Ellen Nickerson, manager of the Presque Isle location of PenAir, took the stage. After congratulating the Gauvin Scholars and their accomplishments, and wishing them well in their college endeavors, Nickerson, presented each Scholar with a round-trip airfare ticket for anywhere PenAir flies on the East Coast. She encouraged the students to see the world, but to always remember the path home. The day was full of surprised for the students and the program. NMCC spoke about the matching scholarships provided by the colleges, and the reason NMCC is so invested in the program. “We (NMCC) believe that Gauvin Scholars are important to the future of Aroostook County and they represent the future of our region.” Says Tim Crowley, president of NMCC.
Linda Schott, president of the University of Maine at Presque Isle was also present to congratulate the Scholars. Celebrating her birthday, President Schott took a few moments to snap a quick picture with the students attending UMPI and spoke about the college’s work on experiential learning, and their eagerness to be a part of the Aroostook Aspirations program. “Aroostook Aspirations goal of keeping students in the County, and encouraging more of our students to seek out post secondary opportunities early is vital in the future of Aroostook. Raising the aspirations of the youth in our County, assuring the support of the colleges, universities, and public schools, AAI is blazing new trails. UMPI is so happy to provide the second year scholarship to the Gauvin Scholars, and we are honored to be the location of the first Gala, Night with the Stars. The future is indeed something to look at with great anticipation. Scott Voisine of UMFK hosted a booth about the college, and especially UMFK’s early college program. Voisine spoke of the importance of college classes while students are in high school. “Our Rural U program at UMFK is an excellent example of an aspirations building program. It allows high school youth throughout Aroostook County and Maine to experience college style learning while receiving support from their teachers and parents. It is an excellent way to give kids the chance to experience success in college before graduating from high school.” The fourth collegiate partner, Husson University also came out to support AAI and the Scholars. “We wanted to show the County that we have the Husson experience right here at home. Our students do not have to go to Bangor to get it,” says Coleen Rand, the administrative assistant to Jennifer Flynn, director of Husson Presque Isle Division.
Other strategic partners present included APP, Cary Medical Center, Key Bank, and The Aroostook Medical Center. APP President Bob Dorsey spoke about the importance of an educated workforce in Aroostook. “The fact that we have a diminishing 18-48 age workforce, and the fact that we have so many emerging jobs that require education, means that this Initiative is very important, essential to the County. This event demonstrates that our communities are beginning to understand the sense of urgency; we need to retain and educate our young people so our employers have an educated workforce to hire from. We are all in this together, the businesses, the schools, and the community. It is important to see the work that is occurring all over Aroostook to meet the growing need of our employers. Junior Achievement, Jobs for Maine Grads, and of course the Aroostook Aspirations Initiative are all examples of the work being done County wide.” Also joining AAI was Aroostook Author Cathie Pelletier, who did an impromptu book signing, the Boy and Girl Scouts, Wintergreen Art Studio, the Forestry Department, the Army, Presque IsIe Fire, MSSM, TD Bank, the PI Chamber, ACAP, NMDC, and After the Bell, MoonDance Studios, and the Presque Isle Middle School Jazz Band.
Mall walkers and shoppers enjoyed booths with interactive games, door prizes, freebies, and lots of information about the amazing programs in Aroostook. “Along with celebrating the work and success of our Gauvin Scholars, we wanted to celebrate the communities who helped to get them to where they are today. Aroostook’s uniqueness comes from her people. We make the County strong, and we will continue to do that today, tomorrow and five hundred years from now.”