Teens Will Never Forget Momentary Sacrifice
BANGOR – In what experts believe is the largest coordinated demonstration of community service in Maine history, thousands of generous citizens are volunteering their time this week to support young people trying to achieve their goals.
“I never knew the adults in my community cared so much about my future,” said 10th grader Jordan Davis, who attends Sumner High School in Sullivan and wants to be a diesel mechanic someday. “It is truly touching.”
The volunteers each spent countless minutes with teens at venues such as the Bangor Auditorium and the Cumberland County Civic Center, taking time from their busy schedules to offer support and advice, such as “SHOOT IT!” and “What the hell are you DOING?!”
Many community members interviewed this week humbly downplayed their sacrifice, saying it was all part of being a responsible citizen.
“We have to make sure these kids grow up right,” said Donald Turner of Veazie. “A lot of them don’t come from good homes, and it’s the least I can do, knowing that kids are our future, to spend a few hours here yelling things at them.”
Maureen Burgess, 44, smeared her face with paint and brought her old high school pom-poms to the upper balcony of the Bangor Auditorium, where she mentored and counseled kids from Old Town High School’s basketball teams.
“Just to see the look on these kids’s faces when you take an interest in them, it’s priceless,” Burgess said from behind her binoculars. “It makes it all worthwhile.”
Some volunteers acknowledged that teenagers can be moody, spoiled, and generally difficult to be around. “But that’s just part of growing up,” said Melanie Franklin, who traveled all the way from East Machias. “That doesn’t mean they don’t need us. They’re still kids.”
Emily DeFelice, 17, says she hopes to become a dental hygienist after she graduates from Gardiner High School next year. “It’s nice to know that, even if I wasn’t leading my basketball team in rebounding and shooting percentage, all these people would still be here to make sure I graduate and go to a decent college,” she said.
The Maine Principals’ Association coordinates this annual mentoring program. MPA President Gus LeBlanc acknowledges that it serves a relatively small percentage of the state’s high-school-age population. Only about half of the schools in Maine are eligible to participate in a given year, and each school can send but twelve students to the event, and of those twelve, only six or seven will actually get any attention from adults. The rest sit in padded chairs and watch from the sidelines.
“We could give a shit about them, to be honst,” says LeBlanc.
But, he says, the impact on the kids who do get to participate is immeasurable.
“Well, okay, I guess we could measure it,” LeBlanc admits. “We could study graduation rates and college matriculation rates and stuff like that, but we don’t bother.”
Nevertheless, proof of the program’s worth can be found by talking to kids like 16-year-old Evan McDonnell of Houlton, a future oncologist. “I wasn’t sure I could hack it in medical school before I came to the Auditorium and heard all this support,” he said. “I can feel my G.P.A. rising already.”