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Morgan Rielly of Westbrook represents District 34 in the Maine House of Representatives. He is the author of “Neighborhood Heroes: Life Lessons from Maine’s Greatest Generation,” and a graduate of Bowdoin College.
Increasingly, young people are leaving Maine after graduation. This isn’t a new problem — Maine lawmakers, educators and entrepreneurs have been discussing this for decades. But it’s one of the many issues that compelled me to run for the Maine House last year. As someone in their mid-20s, I understand why so many of my peers are leaving the state. And I have an idea on how to change that.
Here’s the blunt truth: If we do not find big solutions to address Maine’s youth flight, we are going to face severe workforce shortages that could have serious ramifications on our state’s economy for years to come. At a time when our focus is on the economic recovery from COVID-19, I believe we also need to be thinking long-term about how we can keep our state’s young people in Maine.
That’s why I am introducing a bill to create the Maine Service Fellows, a program intended to retain Maine’s graduates and give them an opportunity to develop their career skills here. Fellows will work in rural communities that have proposed recovery projects to address local needs. The program will pay service fellows a living wage for their work and provide some student loan reimbursements upon completion of service, making this program appealing to the thousands of young people in Maine who find themselves in debt after graduation.
Through their work in rural communities, Maine Service Fellows will address the economic fallout and ongoing issues stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic and have the opportunity to work in public health, housing and workforce development. Fellows will provide day-to-day community support, such as helping rural homeowners conduct audits of their heating systems or connecting community members with programs that can assist them with medication costs and home health supports.
Our small towns know what they need. Maine Service Fellows will give them the support to take on these issues. At a time when Maine communities need support and Maine’s young people need career opportunities, the Maine Service Fellows program is needed now more than ever.
The Maine Service Fellows Program is designed to complement the existing AmeriCorps program in the state. AmeriCorps, which has done and is doing tremendous work in Maine, doesn’t have the tools to address the specific needs facing Maine’s smaller, rural communities and micro-organizations. Maine Service Fellows will address these needs by making the application process efficient and simplifying accountability requirements.
Creating a new program amid a tight budget will undoubtedly concern some folks. However, expanding service programming is a fiscally smart investment that is proven to bring in a high return on invested funds. According to data provided by Maryalice Crofton, the executive director of Volunteer Maine, the Maine Conservation Corps typically generates $3 additional dollars in return for every $1 invested. Maine Service Fellows will not only pay for itself, but provide investments in rural Maine communities.
Expanding service opportunities is one of the few areas of public policy that unites Americans across the political spectrum. Public servants ranging from the late President George H.W. Bush and the late Sen. John McCain to Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Sen. Elizabeth Warren have all called for the expansion or creation of service programming. I’m already seeing a lot of bipartisanship support for the Maine Service Fellows Program.
A generation of young Mainers are ready to serve and meet this moment and this decade. They now need to be given a chance.
LD 1010, the bill to create the Maine Service Fellows Program, will have a public hearing in the Legislature’s State and Local Government Committee on Wednesday at 10:15 a.m. If you want Maine Service Fellows to become reality, sign up by going to http://bit.do/maineservicefellows.