AROOSTOOK COUNTY — An innovative County-wide project that supports educational aspirations and economic development recently was recognized by leaders in the Maine House and Senate.
Assistant Minority Floor Leader Representative Alex Willette of Mapleton sponsored a Legislative Sentiment in the House that also was introduced in the Senate by Majority Leader Sen. Troy Jackson of Allagash, recognizing early efforts to launch the Aroostook Aspirations Initiative.
The Aroostook Aspirations Initiative is designed to provide significant opportunities for young people in northern Maine to pursue their dreams, and, in turn, support higher education institutions and bolster economic development efforts in the region. The project was co-founded by County philanthropists Raynold and Sandra Gauvin of Mapleton, and Jason Parent of Caribou. It was publically launched in April 2013.
The effort involves six components, all aimed at encouraging, supporting, and motivating young people to pursue higher education opportunities in Aroostook County. The first is the Gauvin County Scholarship, which, beginning in the fall of 2014, will initially award a $1,000 scholarship to a graduating senior at each of the 16 high schools in Aroostook County.
“We love The County that has given so much to us and our children. We want to help grow our economic base and support our county, so that more of our youth can enjoy the quality of life we treasure,” said Sandy Gauvin, president of the AAI Board of Directors.
Priority awarding of the Gauvin County Scholarships across Aroostook will be to those who represent the first generation in their family to attend college and those who are economically disadvantaged. Recipients will be students who have chosen to attend one of the four colleges in northern Maine – Northern Maine Community College, University of Maine at Fort Kent, University of Maine at Presque Isle, and Husson University’s Presque Isle site on the NMCC campus.
The AAI will award a $1,000 scholarship to a graduating senior at each of the 16 high schools in Aroostook County beginning in the fall of 2014. The 10-year goal for the Initiative is to raise the endowment to $5 million to fund more than 100 scholarships for multiple years to student in The County.The inspiration and impetus behind the Aroostook Aspirations Initiative was born in the life experiences of project co-founder Ray Gauvin.
The second component is an annual fall gala, which will be where the scholarship awards are presented to the students and also serve as a key fundraiser. In addition, schools that have been on the cutting edge of technology in the classroom and individuals who have demonstrated outstanding support of students to attend college will receive awards.
Among the four other components of the Aroostook Aspirations Initiative is an aspirational weekend for scholarship recipients that will explore areas such as funding, money management, leadership skills, and dealing with college issues.
Two other aspects of the project are internships and entrepreneurial training. Gauvin County Scholars will be offered internship opportunities with County businesses and organizations. Later in their college careers, the scholars will meet with successful area entrepreneurs and talk about what it takes to be a successful leader in Northern Maine. A final component will engage students County-wide in community service projects.
“The Aroostook Aspirations Initiative is a key component in our collective efforts to help grow the economic base in northern Maine,” said Rep. Willette. “We need to ensure that a well-educated and well-trained workforce is available as we work to attract new business and industry. We also need to do whatever we can to retain more of our young people in The County. This effort will certainly help on all fronts.”
“What has been accomplished here by a key group of community leaders is truly impressive and a model for others across the state and nation to emulate,” said Sen. Jackson. “Seeing the private sector, public secondary and higher education, and the community come together to tackle this critical issue will undoubtedly have a very positive impact moving forward.”
The Initiative is overseen by a Board of Directors that currently has 19 members, including leaders of area businesses, non-profits and community organizations. In addition to being project co-founders and serving on the board, Raynold and Sandra Gauvin are also the first major donors. The central Aroostook couple, well-known for their generosity to numerous community causes, have gifted the Aroostook Aspirations Initiative $300,000. Additionally, they intend to bequeath a significant portion of their estate to the initiative.
The Gauvins and the Aroostook Aspirations Initiative Board of Directors are asking the community to also help “pay it forward.” The initiative recently was awarded official non-profit status and is capable of receiving gifts that will provide donors with the appropriate tax deduction.