2017-09-14 / Editorial

Charity work yields large return on investment

Beyond the Headlines
by Sen. Justin Chenette

One of my ongoing passions is the opportunity to run the nonprofit organization I founded back in summer 2013. The goal was simple yet overarching: To increase our local capacity of volunteerism through community-based projects; really an outlet for initiatives that didn’t fit in with an existing organization, especially ones that needed to be started. I also felt a regional focus of bringing people together through service was an important component missing in our area. Thus, the Saco Bay Center for Civic Engagement was born and we have never looked back.

We are an all-volunteer operation housed out of the Biddeford-Saco Chamber of Commerce with all of our donations and sponsorships going directly to our programs. Because volunteerism is such a broad subject, we have a variety of different things we do in our area.

Project Blue Light seeks to honor the brave men and women in uniform who put their lives on the line to protect us by placing a blue light in people’s windows. We provide these blue lightbulbs for free, but encourage a small donation to cover the cost. This project came about after the shooting in Hillview Heights and has been a steady source of pride in our local police departments since. Even Saco City Hall got in on it by shining a blue light out of its clock tower.

Support Our Heroes is an initiative that started out bringing all of our local veterans groups together to talk about issues and coordinate joint Veteran-support events. Most recently, at the beginning of the summer, we launched the Support Our Heroes Grant, specifically to help homeless veterans and those in transitional housing get back on their feet. Through the help of some major business donors we are able to provide homeless veterans with free courses at the OOB/Saco Adult Education program with everything from certification classes to resume building, computer skills and everything in between to help them earn meaningful employment.

Arts Action Fund is a mini-grant created for the purpose of assisting creative, visual or performing arts teachers as major needs arise throughout the school year. Fine arts teachers in Saco, Biddeford and Old Orchard Beach schools can apply for the grant that will support programs and supplies to enrich the arts education of our local children. Friends for the Holidays connects young people with service projects around specific holidays like volunteering ringing the bell for the Salvation Army, visiting nursing homes, making cards for troops overseas, and helping young children with arts and crafts at the Harvest Festival.

And last but not least, our scholarships. Our Spirit of Service Scholarships aim to empower a new generation of leaders through providing financial assistance to attend college. Meeting students on their own individual paths to finding success and passion is inspiring and gives me hope for the future.

Overall, since the organization was founded four years ago, I’m proud to report we’ve invested well more than $7,000 into our community via scholarships and grants, not to mention the volunteer hours that would boost that number higher in value.

We aren’t done yet. There is a way for you to help us continue the good work we’ve started.

Hannaford has a program called Hannaford Helps Bags where $1 from every reusable bag sold at one of their stores in a particular area goes to a local nonprofit. We applied for this over a year ago never thinking we would be selected. So here we are!

During the entire month of September, for every reusable bag with a ‘Good Karma’ message on it sold at the Saco Hannaford location only, our organization will receive a $1 donation. This is a great way to help give back while getting a great bag in return. I love using reusable bags when I go grocery shopping. It’s a nice way to reduce my impact and reliance on plastics. It’s also easier to carry for me.

I would love to have your support of our programs, grants and scholarships by picking up one or a few of these bags next time you are out and about. The students, teachers, seniors, first responders and veterans who benefit from our organization would be extremely grateful.

You can visit www.SacoBayCenter.org for more information.

Justin Chenette is serving his first term as the youngest senator in the Maine Senate representing Saco, Old Orchard Beach, Hollis, Limington and Buxton. He previously served two terms in the Maine House of Representatives. Outside the Legislature, he is the owner of Chenette Media LLC, a marketing & public relations firm, works as the marketing coordinator of Saco Sport & Fitness, and is the president/ CEO of the Saco Bay Center of Civic Engagement, a 501c3 nonprofit service organization. Sign up for legislative updates at www.justinchenette.com or www.Facebook.com/JustinChenette.

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