5 Maine Nonprofits Giving Back in Big Ways

A spotlight on some of the state’s most dedicated and innovative nonprofit organizations, helping make communities healthier, safer, better educated, and more welcoming.

Good Shepherd Food Bank of Maine
Photo courtesy of Good Shepherd Food Bank of Maine

When Minutes Matter

LifeFlight of Maine is ready during Mainers’ most critical moments.
Back row, left to right: Madeline Dougherty, pilot/captain; Steve Leavins, flight paramedic; Thomas Judge, executive director; Brad Alleger, flight paramedic. Front row: Charlotte Duncan, paramedic; Megan Day; Kyra Day; Denise Saucier, flight nurse. Photo by Ashley L. Conti.

In August of 2004, when she was 38 weeks pregnant, Megan Day started feeling an unusual back pain. A doctor diagnosed kidney stones, but a few days later, as her husband made lunch in their Vinalhaven home, Day walked upstairs, realized she’d started bleeding, and hollered for help.

“The next thing I know,” she says, “I’ve got an EMT yelling at me because I kept going unconscious.”

Much of what unfolded felt almost scripted: Day’s lobsterman husband was home only because it was a summer Sunday, when commercial fishing is prohibited. In Rockport, Pen Bay Medical Center’s entire labor and delivery team was on-site, celebrating the babies they had delivered over the prior year. Most fortunate of all, a LifeFlight of Maine helicopter crew was on the island, conducting a training exercise with the Vinalhaven Fire and EMS crews, and was able to resuscitate Megan.

Reaching the hospital by boat would have taken more than an hour; Day’s LifeFlight helicopter ride took just five minutes. The doctor who performed her emergency C-section later said that two more minutes would have cost both Day and her baby girl, Kyra, their lives.

Kyra was taken by ambulance to Portland, to Maine Med’s NICU, while Day stayed at Pen Bay, where surgery revealed a renal-artery aneurysm. After a second LifeFlight trip, this time to Portland, doctors saved her kidney, and she recovered three floors down from her new daughter.

“When you’re critically ill or injured, time and geography are as big a determinant of how you’re going to do as the disease itself,” says LifeFlight of Maine founder and executive director Tom Judge. “It’s incredibly important to know that help is there when you need it. That’s why we built this system.”

LifeFlight currently operates a fleet of three twin-engine helicopters and one airplane, and the organization provides ground transport in partnership with local EMS agencies. As a nonprofit, LifeFlight cares for all patients regardless of ability to pay — a commitment made possible by the support of generous donors. “It really is of Maine, for Maine, by Maine,” Judge says. “We take care of each other. We have a responsibility for each other.”

Four years after Kyra’s birth, Megan took a job with Island Village Childcare, Vinalhaven’s only childcare center, and in 2014, she became its director. Every year, on Kyra’s birthday, Megan sends a photo to LifeFlight, thanking the organization for the quick action that saved both of their lives. This summer, she sent her 18th photo, just months after Kyra graduated high school.

“We owe a debt of gratitude to LifeFlight,” Megan says. “It’s definitely a great service to have available in the state of Maine.”

In 2023, LifeFlight of Maine celebrates 25 years of safely transporting patients.

LifeFlight has cared for more than 35,000 patients
in 24 years.

87% of patients are transported from rural hospitals to larger medical facilities. The remainder originate at an emergency scene.

12% of patients are transported to Boston and beyond for specialized care.

LifeFlight currently averages one
mission every
2.5 hours.

Services are available 24/7/365.

To learn more, donate to LifeFlight of Maine, or join the Cross For LifeFlight or Emergency Care Open golf tournament, visit lifeflightmaine.org

Maine Roots, Global Reach

A decades-long commitment to public health links MCD Global Health’s efforts at home and abroad.
Pediatric-care training in Benin. Photo courtesy of MCD Global Health.

Skowhegan native Julie Niemczura was living in Washington, D.C., when she heard about a job opportunity managing a malaria-elimination program in the central African nation of Equatorial Guinea. When she looked into it, she was surprised to learn the hiring organization was headquartered in her home state. Founded in 1966 as Medical Care Development, Hallowell-based MCD Global Health (MCD) carries out critical public health initiatives both internationally and throughout the U.S., including across Maine. And while MCD’s leadership is globally recognized, particularly in the fight against malaria, its staffers often think of it as a “best-kept secret” back in the Pine Tree State.

A Maine upbringing paddling the Allagash and exploring the north woods, Niemczura says, helped prep her for a career connecting with people in less-developed places — and she couldn’t imagine having to forgo her favorite activities for fear of mosquito-borne disease. “I’m really passionate about malaria in particular because it’s so cheap to prevent and cure,” she says. Today, more than six years later, she still works for MCD Global Health, helping run two U.S. President’s Malaria Initiative projects.

Left to right: practicing hanging bed nets to prevent malaria, in Equatorial Guinea; community health workers in Maine. Photos courtesy of MCD Global Health.

Another MCD focus: building capacity for the health-care workforce, both abroad and at home. Since COVID-19 hit, telehealth has been a crucial component of that effort, says Danielle Louder, co-director of MCD’s U.S. Programs and director of the Northeast Telehealth Resource Center. As a native of Corinna, a small community in central Maine, Louder knows firsthand how rural living can make accessing health care difficult and telehealth essential. “People absolutely had to have it, and agencies had to implement it overnight, to maintain access to their patients and avoid people falling through the cracks,” Louder says. Along with providing telehealth training to health-care providers throughout New England and New York, MCD works with state agencies and other partners to help bridge the digital divide in rural and underserved communities.

Left to right: Maine health-care workers attending a training; and harvesting carrots to reduce food waste in Lincoln County. Photos courtesy of MCD Global Health.

Other MCD initiatives are hyperlocal. For Kelsey Robinson, born and raised in Damariscotta and now MCD’s director of the Healthy Lincoln County program, supporting the health of her community is a calling. She once envisioned becoming a surgeon, but her vision changed after she lost her mother to a battle with cancer. “I remember thinking, I don’t want to be the last resort,” Robinson says. “I want to be on the front end, finding ways to prevent people from getting sick in the first place.” At Healthy Lincoln County, prevention efforts include addressing substance misuse, food insecurity, and nutrition education.

With the world shrinking every day, MCD Global Health understands that the need for — and the right to — improved health outcomes is a big part of what connects us. From distributing mosquito nets in sub-Saharan Africa to distributing free, healthy meals to children in midcoast Maine, the means may vary, but the mission of improving the health and well-being of people worldwide is profoundly unifying.

To learn more about MCD Global Health’s vision of a world where all people have access to high-quality health solutions, visit mcd.org

Rooting Out Hunger

Good Shepherd Food Bank’s Campaign to End Hunger is ambitious and sincere — and achievable.

Photos courtesy of Good Shepherd Food Bank of Maine.

Last year, Good Shepherd Food Bank of Maine, founded in an apartment and garage in 1981, proudly worked with a network of nearly 600 partner agencies to distribute 31.6 million meals to communities across the state. Maine’s only member of the national Feeding America nonprofit network, the Food Bank today operates from two centrally located distribution centers, in Auburn and Hampden, and an office location in Yarmouth.

But make no mistake, says Erin Fogg, vice president of development and communications: growth is not the goal.

“We don’t want to keep getting bigger and bigger. We’d like for the problem to get smaller,” Fogg says. “We always say we would love to work ourselves out of a job.” It’s a mentality that informs an aggressive goal: ending hunger in Maine by 2025. The food bank’s Campaign to End Hunger is committed to ensuring that every person in the state has access to enough nourishing food when and where they need it. Part of the effort involves increasing resources for hunger-relief organizations, while another part involves addressing broader systemic issues of food insecurity. Recent efforts have included sourcing culturally relevant foods for communities of color and Indigenous, refugee, immigrant, and asylum-seeking populations in need and advocating for a bill, signed by Governor Janet Mills last year, making Maine’s universal free-school-lunch program permanent.

Photo courtesy of Good Shepherd Food Bank of Maine.

With inflation on the rise, the food bank and partners are bracing for rising rates of hunger. “Some pantries are saying they’re seeing a need as high as it was during the start of the pandemic,” Fogg says. “There’s a lot of stress on all of us in our day-to-day budgets — and especially our neighbors who are experiencing food insecurity.”

The Campaign to End Hunger launched last year with a fundraising goal of $100 million in cash and $150 million in donated food by the end of 2025. The food bank is already 80 percent to its goal, thanks largely to support from large-scale donors, including longtime partner Hannaford and philanthropist MacKenzie Scott, whose headline-making $25 million donation came as a substantial vote of confidence. But accomplishing the remainder, Fogg says, requires the generosity of Mainers and others who care about the state.

“The impact of grassroots donors is pretty incredible,” she says. “If we band together, we could choose to end hunger in our state. For good.”

In August, the food bank invested campaign funds to launch Harvesting Good, a frozen-food–processing venture to help small and mid-size Maine farms sell outside the season for fresh produce — and keep healthy, Maine-grown produce on shelves all year. The project is launching with frozen broccoli florets, grown by Caribou’s Circle B Farms, flash-frozen by Orland’s W.R. Allen Co., and packaged by Cherryfield’s Jasper Wyman & Son. All profits will benefit food banks in the Northeast. “It checks all the boxes,” Fogg says. “It’s providing food today, it’s investing in root-cause solutions, it’s innovative, and it’s creating more equitable access to local food for all Mainers.”

To learn more and donate to the Campaign to End Hunger, visit gsfb.org/campaign

Solid Foundations

Kents Hill School students flourish, in the classroom and out, thanks to the school’s four cornerstones.
Photo by Ben Wheeler.

Ask head of school Chris Cheney how Kents Hill School, in Readfield, is weathering the challenges of the pandemic, and he points without hesitation to the nearly 200-year-old preparatory school’s “four cornerstones.” While educators across the country have worried about learning loss from pandemic disruption, Cheney says he’s seen Kents Hill students thrive. It helps that the private high school, which enrolls both boarding students and day students, returned to in-person learning in the fall of 2020, but Cheney also gives credit to the school’s commitment to its guiding principles around broadening perspectives, preparedness, building connections, and advisory support. The powerful way those ideas mesh, he says, is something COVID-19 couldn’t shake.

“While there are four cornerstones, the interconnectivity of the cornerstones is essential,” Cheney says. “The way they interlock really helps kids to develop both in and out of the classroom, and that’s allowing them to experience a learning gain.”

Prepared for Anything

For senior Clara Eve Landry, who’s from New Brunswick, Kents Hill’s athletic programs were a major draw. These days, she’s a three-season athlete in soccer, hockey, and lacrosse — but she has also developed the skills and confidence to navigate life off the field, in her studies and beyond. “I really wanted to challenge myself to become a better student athlete, and Kents Hill has provided that for me,” Landry says. “With the school’s flexible schedule, I’m able to balance academics, athletics, and my personal life.”

That sense of versatility is at the core of what Kents Hill aims to instill through its academic curriculum, along with the readiness and resilience that come from students acquiring a broad knowledge of themselves and the world. “I love how everything we learn in class relates to the real world. Last year in my physics class, we learned about electricity, and in a project, we had to wire a cardboard house with a complete functioning light system,” Landry says. “Growing as a person has been a big thing for me. Kents Hill continues to prepare me for the outside world by making me stronger in all areas of my life.”

Grounded in Maine, Connected to the World

Senior Cordell Perne grew up in Belgrade, not far from Kents Hill. He was in eighth grade when he caught the travel bug, during a two-week trip to China. “It was a different world to me,” Perne says. “I got to see some beautiful things, some very different things: the food, the language, the culture.”

One of Kents Hill’s cornerstones is a pledge to nurture such global perspectives. Since enrolling at Kents Hill School, Perne has spent two more summers studying abroad in China. Then, this past summer, he headed to Bishops Diocesan College, in Cape Town, South Africa, one of several international schools with which Kents Hill offers exchange programs. “I was drawn to the experience of seeing something culturally different, politically different, economically different,” Perne says. And while his high-school experiences have broadened his perspective, Perne says they’ve also made him more appreciative of his home. He has sights set on college in Maine.

Photos by Ben Wheeler.

Built on Belonging

Kents Hill enrolls 240 students, both day students, who live locally, and those who board in one of five dorms on the 400-acre campus. Senior Naomi McGadney is the rare student who’s had both experiences, a day student for her first two years and now a boarding student, following a family move. The school’s small size and commitment to a personal and collaborative environment, she says, has given her a feeling of connection all throughout — one that extends outside the classroom. “My sports teams were a big part of me finding my place here,” says McGadney, who’s on the soccer, basketball, and track-and-field teams. “Every single day, you’re with your team. We have overnight trips and team-bonding experiences, even team breakfasts sometimes.”

Athletics are just one way that Kents Hill facilitates belonging, with students encouraged to pursue learning opportunities in the arts, community engagement, and other extracurriculars. For McGadney, even her downtime around campus feels community-centered. “Being around people after school hours and on the weekends, pickup basketball games, tennis-court parties, walking around listening to music,” she says. “That sort of stuff makes you feel at home.”

Photos by Ben Wheeler.

In Your Corner, All the Time

Through Kents Hill’s KHS-365 advisory program, advisors partner with students and their families to think about their goals and growth year-round — not only when students are in school. For boarding students like senior Alex Cephas, who came to Maine from Kingston, Jamaica, the relationship with advisors can be especially meaningful. “Earlier this year, it was prom time, and I was dependent on the school to take me to Men’s Warehouse to get my suit,” Cephas remembers. To figure out a shopping trip, he went to his advisors, who not only took him to pick up a suit but also brought him to dinner, to commemorate the occasion.

“My advisors are basically like my parents here,” Cephas says. “My parents in my other home.”

For dean of enrollment management Meghan Bennett, Kents Hill’s commitment to this and the other three cornerstones help set the Kents Hill School community apart. “It’s a school where students can be seen and heard and can feel safe and supported to grow and develop into students, athletes, artists, and people,” Bennett says. “It’s about not just graduating students who are prepared for college and academics but also for life.”

To learn more about Kents Hill School and tuition-discount opportunities for Maine residents,
visit kentshill.org

That’s the Spirit

After a beloved theater closed, Milbridge residents rallied to revive it, with help from Wyman’s.

Milbridge Theatre owner David Parsons understood that he presided over something bigger than a movie house. “It’s part of what has helped Milbridge be cohesive as a town,” he said on the theater’s 76th anniversary, in 2013. Indeed, when Parsons died the following year and his theater went dark and was found to be in disrepair, the loss was deeply felt in the community of 1,325 people. Then it became a catalyst for renewal, not just of the beloved downtown anchor but of the village itself.

“You can feel the energy,” says Richard Bondurant, chairperson of Gateway Milbridge, the nonprofit revitalization organization that formed in the wake of the theater’s demise. Bondurant is standing outside the new Milbridge Theatre as he sweeps his arm in the direction of Main Street, where once stood a dozen empty storefronts. Today, most shops are full, the houses are tidy and trim, and boxy planters overflow with deep-pink impatiens. Milbridge looks cared for. It radiates pride.

The theater, which is still under construction, is Gateway Milbridge’s biggest project, and one of many. “When we first formed, people were skeptical,” Bondurant recalls. “We wanted an immediate impact. That’s why the planters were key: They were a physical, visible result.”

Next came free outdoor concerts on a stage erected by volunteers. Toting folding chairs, Downeast residents come to the waterfront venue by the hundreds on summer nights to hear Allison Ames, the Crown Vics, Whiskey Bent, and other bands. Refreshments are sold by donation, to ensure that all residents, no matter their income, can enjoy them. Gateway Milbridge hosts holiday celebrations, game-show nights where residents compete in a spin-off of The Price Is Right, and art projects, such as a downtown display of artist-decorated lighthouses that were then auctioned to benefit the theater reconstruction. The group has helped re-energize Milbridge Days, an annual three-day celebration with a parade, blueberry-pancake breakfast, cornhole tournament, and another Dave Parsons legacy, Maine’s original greased-codfish relay race.

Homeowners and business owners have responded to the positive vibe by sprucing up their properties, and that, in turn, has attracted newcomers. “Milbridge is one of the only communities in the area that’s growing, both in economy and population,” Bondurant says.

Gateway Milbridge’s spirited response to the loss of a downtown icon has been not only to rebuild it but also to beautify the downtown, launch a concert series, and reenergize the annual Milbridge Days celebration.

Wyman’s, the 148-year-old Milbridge-based wild-blueberry grower and processor, shares Gateway Milbridge’s vision for a vibrant, engaged, and welcoming community. “We’ve been a supporter from the start,” says April Norton, Wyman’s vice president of human resources. “There are a lot of challenges to living in Downeast Maine, so part of our vision is healthy communities. Healthy communities encourage a healthy, productive workforce, which is exactly what we need for future economic growth and prosperity, not just at Wyman’s, but the whole area. Gateway Milbridge is a perfect partner.”

When it opens next summer, the Milbridge Theatre will again be more than a movie house, this time in a real sense. Its stage will host concerts, plays, and other events, and its gallery will show local artists’ work. With 202 seats, it’s the largest indoor-performance space between Ellsworth and Eastport. Wyman’s is the corporate sponsor for half of those seats, a removable section that increases the theater’s flexibility. “Gateway Milbridge has advanced that facility from the simple theater and concession it once was,” Norton says. “They’ve created a modern venue for cultural events, community gatherings, educational programs, and, of course, films.”

Wyman's logo

To learn more about or donate to support the Bring Back the Milbridge Theatre project, visit milbridgetheater.org