Franklin Countys First News

United Way Summer Experience students donate backpacks of supplies to the homeless

Left to right is Jenna Pond; Aydrian Dakin; Cindy Harnden, a youth outreach worker with New Beginnings; Andrew Parlin, shelter manager at Western Maine Homeless Outreach; Michal Cushman; and Nichole Ernest, community resource coordinator with United Way.

FARMINGTON - Backpacks of supplies - from rain ponchos to food to hygiene items - will be available for people without homes in the Franklin County area, thanks to kids participating in United Way of the Tri-Valley Area's Summer Experience program.

The Summer Experience program runs twice through the summer, each session is a week long, and each is available for up to 12 students entering grade 8 and 9. The program is paid for through a partnership with a GEAR UP grant and the University of Maine at Farmington. Participating students visit with some of United Way's community partners and learn about needs of the community; they then meet to decide which need to address. The program is designed to teach leadership skills and help the students grow through service.

This summer's latest group decided to help the local area homeless, working to raise funds and supplies to fill backpacks with useful supplies. They approached local businesses like Community Dental and James H. Creznic, DMD, Walmart and Comfort Inn, as well as Franklin Memorial Hospitals to collect band-aids, flashlights, water bottles, toothbrushes and other supplies. The students also traveled across the region to purchase 20 backpacks, as most stores only had a few on hand.

"These guys were super tenacious," Nichole Ernest, community resource coordinator with United Way, said of the students. "They went everywhere."

On Friday, a few of the students were on hand to donate the backpacks to two organizations: Western Maine Homeless Outreach on the Wilton Road and New Beginnings, which is based out of a Main Street office in Farmington and deals with youth ages 14 to 21 that are either homeless or near-homeless.

Andrew Parlin, the new shelter manager at WMHO, and Cindy Harnden, the youth outreach worker at New Beginnings, said that the packs and their supplies would be distributed to people that could not be placed in either the WMHO location or New Beginning's shelter in Lewiston.

"Hygiene supplies, clothing, food," Harnden said. "Backpacks are a big need."

New Beginnings helps 700 youth a year in Androscoggin, Franklin and Kennebec County, while WMHO currently has no beds available and a waiting list that is up to 20 people long.

Parlin noted that WMHO currently has a need for kitchen appliances, silverware and cookware. Items can be dropped off at the shelter between 4 p.m. and 8 a.m. or by calling 491-4100.

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  1. Wonderful work everyone!