2017-01-19 / Front Page

Reaching out

Great Person feeds children, families
By Anthony Aloisio
Staff Writer


Bryan Litchfield, winner of this year’s Great Person Award, at the food shelves in his office at JFK Elementary School in Biddeford. For more than a decade Litchfield has worked to remedy poverty in its many aspects. At his job as school social worker at JFK, Litchfield runs a backpack program on Fridays to make sure kindergarteners go home each weekend with food. (Anthony Aloisio photo) Bryan Litchfield, winner of this year’s Great Person Award, at the food shelves in his office at JFK Elementary School in Biddeford. For more than a decade Litchfield has worked to remedy poverty in its many aspects. At his job as school social worker at JFK, Litchfield runs a backpack program on Fridays to make sure kindergarteners go home each weekend with food. (Anthony Aloisio photo) BIDDEFORD – Bryan Litchfield is endeared to those who know him for his problem-solving mindset and generosity. It’s those qualities that earned him this year’s Great Person award.

“He has a very kind heart,” said Claire Boucher, food service worker at JFK Memorial elementary school, where Litchfield works as the school social worker.

Boucher nominated Litchfield for the award, in part because of his efforts to keep his students fed. According to Boucher, his motto is “please take what you need.” But Boucher said his work goes farther.


Litchfield, with the help of co-worker Sharon Buonanno, distributes about 1,500 pounds of food once every month to families in the community. The food is purchased from Good Shepherd Food Bank with grants from Hannaford. (Courtesy photo) Litchfield, with the help of co-worker Sharon Buonanno, distributes about 1,500 pounds of food once every month to families in the community. The food is purchased from Good Shepherd Food Bank with grants from Hannaford. (Courtesy photo) “I didn’t nominate him because he had a good rapport with the kids at Kennedy School, as a social worker,” she said. “I nominated him for everything he does with his time donated – his love for the community and beyond. He’s such a wonderful guy, he touches everybody’s heart.”

Boucher said Litchfield helped her family this past year, when her own brother was diagnosed with cancer and could no longer work. She said Litchfield made sure her brother had food from his food distribution program.

Litchfield’s other peers spoke equally highly of him.


A child-scale guitar and a set of small hand drums in the office of Bryan Litchfield, school social worker at JFK Elementary School and winner of this year’s Great Person Award. Litchfield said that he uses the instruments for art therapy with students who come for his help. “The kids really respond to the music,” Litchfield said. “When you get a kiddo who is shy and not participating in class, they can come here and get behind the drums, or the guitar, and start singing, it just opens them up.” (Anthony Aloisio photo) A child-scale guitar and a set of small hand drums in the office of Bryan Litchfield, school social worker at JFK Elementary School and winner of this year’s Great Person Award. Litchfield said that he uses the instruments for art therapy with students who come for his help. “The kids really respond to the music,” Litchfield said. “When you get a kiddo who is shy and not participating in class, they can come here and get behind the drums, or the guitar, and start singing, it just opens them up.” (Anthony Aloisio photo) “I can’t think of a more deserving person,” said Lindsey Nadeau, coordinator of the elementary school.

Litchfield has worked in the Biddeford school system for 10 years and has been at JFK Memorial for eight. His services were shared between there and Biddeford Intermediate School for the first two.

“My role within the district is oftentimes to bridge the gap between the students here at school, and the families at home,” Litchfield said. “If a family is struggling with poverty, (food) insecurity, housing, things like that, I’m usually the contact person. I approach it from a mental health perspective. I try to get the kiddos to feel comfortable enough at school, even though things at their home might be in turmoil.”

A primary part of Litchfield’s work at JFK Memorial is individual counseling of students. There are about 190 kids at the school, he said.

“I consider myself more of an integrated art therapist, where I try to do art therapy, music therapy, play therapy,” Litchfield said.

Litchfield earned an associate’s degree in human services from New Hampshire Technical institute, a bachelor’s in social work from Plymouth State University, and later a master’s in social work from the University of Southern Maine. He said he began his career at the Head Start program in Plymouth, New Hampshire.

“Really, that’s where I got my first taste of heavy poverty,” Litchfield said. “We found a much different type of poverty in New Hampshire than I’m seeing here, I was doing very rural work.

“We’d have to actually search out families. We would hear stories that they’re somewhere in the mountains, but not attending schools, or not plugged into the community. We would find them and connect them with services in town.

“That was the start of my thought process around food insecurities. To me—richest nation in the world, with everything to offer everybody, but still we have children in our own county that go hungry every day—it makes no sense to me. That was the spark.”

Litchfield moved to southern Maine because his wife is from Buxton, he said. From 2000 to 2004 he worked for Kids Peace Community Services in Portland, and he came to Biddeford first in 2005 as an intern when he was studying at the University of Southern Maine.

“Working in the Biddeford school system has been an amazing experience over the last 10 years,” Litchfield said, adding that Biddeford is “one of the most giving communities.”

Litchfield said that the food distribution program at JFK Memorial started four years ago.

“(Biddeford Schools Superintendent) Jeremy Ray connected me with Barrett Johnson from Hannaford and we met, and with a very generous donation from Hannaford, I was able to connect with Laura Higgins from the Good Shepherd Food Bank, and coordinate with them,” Litchfield said.

He said that Hannaford gave him a grant of $5,000. Litchfield used that money to pay Good Shepherd Food Bank, which operates throughout the state, for a monthly delivery of food. Each delivery includes about 1500 pounds of food, he said.

“I’ll take that food and I’ll distribute it to the community,” Litchfield said. “Anything left over, I shelve here and do food boxes for families that, say, do not want to access the food pantries in town, whether it’s a convenience issue or a stigma. I can, more on the downlow, get food to families who have food insecurities.”

Litchfield is still running on the same $5,000 grant he received four years ago.

“I’m running pretty low,” Litchfield said. “Maybe I can get through the end of this year, at which point I’ll touch base with Hannaford again.”

One Wednesday per month Litchfield receives the food at the school, and distributes it to families who come, with a helping hand from Sharon Buonanno, who also works at JFK. Community members who come to pick up food are not asked questions, and the distribution is not limited to school families, Litchfield said. He said that once that two elderly women from York County, who come to pick up food for themselves, told him that they often can’t afford both their medicine and their food.

“Sometimes the choice between food and medicine is a very real choice,” Litchfield said. “The food I’m able to provide them helps offset their monthly cost, which in turn allows them to purchase their medicine. That we’d ever have to live in a society where we’d have to choose between food and medicine is absolutely ridiculous. To hear that kind of feedback from the community really makes it worthwhile.”

Litchfield said his holistic strategy for supporting the community was influenced by a former colleague, Denise D’Entremont, who retired after working as a guidance counselor for Biddeford Intermediate School.

“She showed me what it meant to the community to go above and beyond,” Litchfield said.

He made a point to credit his accomplishments to others. That included the Great Person award.

“I was a little confused, only because I’ve always looked at the work that I do as a collaborative effort,” Litchfield said. “Nothing that I do is on my own. I’m constantly seeking out support and input from the people that I work with.”

He named people such as Sue Patterson, who works at York Hospital, as well as businesses such as Unum, an insurance company in Portland.

Another peer, Sister Theresa Couture, a nun with the St. Joseph convent on Pool Street who also works with Biddeford Adult Education, said her collaboration with Litchfield brought more value to the community. She said while Litchfield works with children, she works with those children’s parents.

“I see the same problems at a different angle, and it’s going down from one generation to the other,” Couture said.

Nadeau and Litchfield both also shared the wider view of problems faced by the community and its children.

“Pretty much all the things that are going on in the community are the things that are going on in the school,” Nadeau said.

Litchfield declined to get into specific stories, for the sake of confidentiality, but he admitted one problem that families are facing frequently.

“It’s the neglect around the struggle of addiction,” Litchfield said. “Our community is in the grips of some pretty heavy stuff right now. It definitely trickles down to the kids.

“The community realizes. They see the police reports and they see the arrests that are made in town and the overdoses that are occurring. Those are our families. The child will come in to the school, and we will know what has happened in that family the night before, that the police have been there, that the family member has been rushed to the hospital. And yet, here these children are. They’re coming in, this empty vessel of themselves.

“It’s beyond education at that point. We’re not concerned about them learning their ABCs and 123s as much as (we’re) concerned about them being able to tell their own story – giving them a safe place that they can come and talk about what’s going on in their lives.”

“One of the benefits of working at a kindergarten center is, the children have no filter,” Litchfield added. “When I was working in the fifth grade, it was oftentimes very hard to find out the true struggles that the families were having.

“Here at the kindergarten center, if (a student) says he has no food, there is no food, and I believe exactly what (he) says. They’re almost better advocates for themselves and their families than the older kids are.”

Litchfield credits his colleagues with the support he depends on.

“This job is tough,” he said. “It can get heavy, and you start to think about some of the struggles that these families are going through, but then the people that I work with make it so amazing. If I could, I’d list every teacher in this building as an incredible educator and support to this community.”

Litchfield also credits the time he spends with music. He said he has been playing music since trumpet in high school. Since then he’s played string instruments and performs with a duo called Billybilly, a Bob Dylan tribute band called Bob Band out of Portland and collaborates with George Brown, a New Hampshire singer-songwriter.

“It’s a great release, that’s for sure,” Litchfield said. “If I didn’t have music, at the end of the week, it’d be pretty dark.”

Litchfield is also the father of a 9-year-old daughter, Addison. He said that she “keeps him on his toes,” and that parenting and music make up most of his time outside of his work.

One of the ballots that gave Litchfield the award was signed by students in the Biddeford Intermediate School’s chorus, which is taught by Andrea Wollstadt, who also teaches music at JFK Memorial. Boucher said she isn’t surprised that those students – most of whom would have been students at JFK – would remember Litchfield and his work.

“They don’t forget him,” Boucher said. “Children don’t forget people who reach out.”

Contact Staff Writer Anthony Aloisio at news@inthecourier.com.

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