This spring, Simone Babineaux stepped aboard Maine Seacoast Mission’s Sunbeam for a trip to Frenchboro, Isle au Haut, and Matinicus. It was her first official visit to the islands as the Sunbeam’s new nurse, carrying on a tradition of care to island residents started in 1905 when the Mission was started. While much has changed in those 118 years, the Mission’s commitment to the residents of Maine’s unbridged islands, to provide help and support, remains the same.
The Sunbeam stops on six islands regularly, to provide not only health care, but also food and fellowship. Its crew includes Captain Mike Johnson and Engineer Storey King, who pilot and manage the boat; Steward Jillian, who serves meals; Douglas Cornman, Director of Island Services, who builds community and offers support through education and general outreach; and Babineaux, who provides routine health screenings aboard the vessel, facilitates telemedicine visits, and goes ashore to visit homebound islanders.
Last winter, the Mission began hosting a series of listening sessions these islands, as well as in Washington County, where the Mission’s down east campus is located. The questions were simple: what issues are you facing, what are your hopes, and how can the Mission continue to help during times of economic, environmental, and cultural change? “The overriding premise is that we want individuals and communities to have access to opportunities and resources, so they can have real agency in their own lives,” says Maine Seacoast Mission President John Zavodny. Beyond Babineaux’s work, the Mission operates a food pantry, serves free community meals, offers educational programming, and awards approximately 80 annual college scholarships.
The role of the Sunbeam nurse has evolved over the years to mirror broader changes in health care. The position was first filled in 1920, after World War I, when the Red Cross began sending nurses to rural areas. In 2001, in response to a decline in on-island medical resources, the Mission launched the cutting-edge telehealth program on the Sunbeam, so residents could virtually attend doctor’s visits. When COVID allowed more flexibility for appointments and for people to connect from their own homes, the staff of the Sunbeam identified residents who might need a device or way to connect and provided iPads and hotspots. Through these changes and more, Maine Seacoast Mission, including the Sunbeam crew, as a caring, trusting, and reliable resource, has been a constant.