MUNJOY HILL OBSERVER
Good Neighbors of the Month Ken Grade and Ben Adam Making a safe home a priority on the Hill
By Caron Murray
Community Volunteer Profiles: First-Hand Perspectives on the Joys of the Walking School Bus
By Sarah Cushman Have you seen groups of children walking through the neighborhood in the early morning, accompanied by adults wearing bright orange reflective vests? Then you’ve caught sight of the Walking School Bus – a fun and safe way for local students to walk to school with the help of grown-ups! So, who are these orange-vested adults walking with our East End students? The answer is, a wide variety of incredibly committed and wonderful community volunteers. “Initially, we thought a lot of our volunteer Walk Leaders might be parents,” says Betsy Critchfield, Director of the Portland Walking School Bus Program. ‘’And we do have some parents who’ve been stalwart and fantastic volunteers. But families often have younger children at home or other time constraints that don’t allow them to volunteer. So what we’ve found is that our core group of Walk Leaders comes from the broader community, often with no previous connection to the East End Community School which is pretty special.” Elise Boyson, one of a number of volunteer Walking School Bus Leaders in the 25-35 age range notes, “I’m at that age where I and my friends don’t have children yet and there are no real opportunities for us to hang out with elementary-age kids. So this is one of the best parts of my week. These kids are so fun, they say the funniest things and they hold hands and are really sweet with each other.” In her work as the Volunteer Manager at Preble Street, Elise sees her fair share of sadness and despair. Starting the day with the Walking School Bus, “it’s just wonderful to get to be with these happy, healthy kids with the whole world ahead of them. They’re signs of hope.” Elise teams up with other Walk Leaders on the East End Community School Route #1, which starts at 7:40 at the corner of Oxford and Smith Streets and winds its way from Kennedy
Park up the hill to school. “Unlike other kinds of volunteer work, this totally fits into my work day. I leave my house at 7:30, we get to school by 8:15, and then I have plenty of time to get to work on time.” Allison Paine, age 55, has volunteered since last spring on the East End Community School Route #2, which starts at 7:40 at the corner of Eastern Promenade and Munjoy Street, and winds its way across the neighborhood to arrive at the school by 8:15 as well. A resident of Munjoy Hill for the past 17 years since moving from Brooklyn, New York in 1996, Allison was a database designer and software engineer for most of her career; she has recently started a textile enterprise. In addition to her work as a Walk Leader for the Walking School Bus, Allison also volunteers as the President of the Board of the Portland Stage Company. “I enjoy walking to school with the 12-15 children on our route twice a week,” Allison says. “It’s fun to see how eager they are to talk about their upcoming school day, looking forward to things they’re learning and upcoming field trips. The kids enjoy walking and being together and they get fresh air and exercise before they start their school day.” With a diverse group of kids on each Walking School Bus route, Elise notes in particular that, as a native Mainer, “I feel like the multi-cultural community in Portland is just growing, growing – which is great. But in reality, there aren’t many opportunities for us to interact with folks from different backgrounds. I love that I get to be part of this parade of all different kids walking through the city. They are all so comfortable with each other - in a way that we
The holiday season is a time of gift-giving and caring about each other. The Root Cellar, whose motto is, “Compelled by Love. Empowering our Community”, is an organization centered on giving and caring. The Root Cellar, located on Washington Avenue on Munjoy Hill is an organization of volunteers who reach out to the local disadvantaged community, offering food and clothing, children’s programs, adult education, job training and placement They coordinate with volunteer professionals to offer dental clinics and in-house adult and pediatric medical services. In addition, they offer several community programs cooperating with local agencies for community crime watch. They provide a meeting place, offering Thursday night dinners, weekly women’s breakfasts and monthly international teas, as well as seasonal and annual events. The Root Cellar is a connection point with other community organizations such as the Portland Police Department, Portland city government, Big Brothers and Big Sisters, and ethnic groups that seek to be preserved and/or united.
questionnaires ask, “Are you aware of your rights as a tenant in the state of Maine?”
Lewiston, Maine, both Sociology majors at St. Joseph’s College in Standish, Maine. St. Joseph’s requires a personal community service investment. Through mentors and other programs they were involved in, Ken and Ben found Christine at The Root Cellar. She quickly put them in touch with the Portland community as Community Advocates. Each day they set out into the Munjoy Hill neighborhood with clipboards in their hands, carrying questionnaires and guidance information. The questionnaires list Needs Assessments regarding adequate heat, clean water, functional
In addition to the questionnaires they are carrying, Ken and Ben provide each resident they visit with an information sheet explaining: “What Can I Do if My Home is Not Safe?” Step 1 – Ask your landlord to fix the problem Step 2 – Call your city hall or town office and ask about housing codes that may apply to your building Step 3 – If you cannot get local help, reach out to state agencies. For a complete list of these agencies, please contact The Root Cellar at 207-774-3197. I sat down with Ken Grade and Ben Adams, and asked them about what they were doing. The bottom line, “Humans deserve to have a good life.” Ken feels his life gains meaning by giving back to the community. “People should feel comfortable in their homes and in their lives.” And the two felt that, by being part of this program, they were contributing to a “community as one”. The message they convey: “People care. Our lives are worth living. When we walk into a place that is unsafe and there are children there, it hits deep,” said Ben. “It makes me want to continue this work”.
I didn’t even know they were here doing this good work, but I learned a lot very quickly when I visited them in November and met Christine Ming, a program coordinator. I got such a direct feeling of the importance of the work being done by The Root Cellar from The Root Cellar Christine that I was always needs volimmediately drawn in. unteers. There are Christine was excited Ken Grade, of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and Ben Adams, of Lewismany ways to get inby a new program, just ton, are both Sociology majors at St. Joseph’s College in Standish. volved and contriba month old, that she ute. This is the season of giving. felt was having a huge impact on electricity and exposed wires, the community. She quickly in- leaking roofs, signs of mold, To find out how to get involved, troduced me to two young men bugs, evidence of smoke and car- please contact: The Root Cellar, who have fielded this project, bon monoxide alarms, as well 94 Washington Avenue, Portland, Ken Grade, of Portsmouth, New as questions about responsive- Maine 04101, 207-774-3197, Hampshire, and Ben Adams, of ness of their landlords. Also, the www.therootcellar.org . as multi-generational adult Mainers don’t often get the chance to be. And it provides the chance for their parents and for us as volunteers to get to interact with each other, too. We get to connect as people – we have a common goal, we all
want to get these great little kids off to school safely.” Volunteer Walk Leaders attend a 1-hour training, are background checked, and then get to work in pairs on each route - walking with students 1 or 2 times a week. All routes are designed to be no more than a 30 minute walk at a casual pace. The number of children the program is able to serve on different routes is governed by the number of volunteers in place. So please see www.PortlandWalkingSchoolBus.org for more information and to sign up
to join in the fun! Allison shares, “Volunteering with the Walking School Bus is a great opportunity to connect with the community and get exercise. Elementary school children radiate such great energy, it’s a real boost.” “It’s really fun to volunteer in your own neighborhood,” Elise reiterates. “It’s pretty wonderful to see kids on a Sunday and know who they are, to know more people in your own neighborhood in general. It’s another way to be a good neighbor.”