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Telethon pulls in over $45,000 for homeless vet shelter

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — Over 30 volunteers invaded the WAGM studios Thursday, March 9 to help with a telethon for homeless veterans in Aroostook County. When the fundraiser wrapped up with the evening newscast, the initial goal was broken and support was still coming forward.

According to Cary Medical Center Community Relations and Development Director Bill Flagg, $45,668 was raised as of 10:30 a.m. on Friday, March 10, and donations were still coming in.

Project 16, a group whose name comes from the number of homeless veterans unable to find local services in 2015, spearheaded last night’s fundraiser. Several organizations fall under the Project 16 umbrella, including the Presque Isle television station, Cary Medical Center, United Veterans of Maine, the Marine Corps League, VFW, and the American Legion.

With the objective of helping homeless veterans in Aroostook County, money raised from the telethon will support the United Veterans of Maine’s effort to establish a homeless veterans shelter and farm in Caribou. UVM President John DeVeau says the shelter will accept veterans with alcohol, drug, or mental health issues who are otherwise turned away from conventional shelters. In addition, the facility’s self-sustaining nature will allow residents to earn money through farm work that also goes toward maintaining and growing the operations.

The farm, located on the Washburn Road in Caribou where Phil’s Florist formerly stood, will be named the Dahlgren-Skidgel Farm of Hope, in honor of two late County veterans who received the Congressional Medal of Honor.

Formed on Jan. 5, Project 16 started when Bernard Lagasse, of WAGM’s local sales team, heard about the effort to build a shelter in Caribou.

“I told Kelly Landeen (WAGM general manager) there were several homeless veterans in The County and the shelter and suggested a telethon,” Lagasse said. “We both talked about it and thought it would be a great idea.”

Landeen said the Project 16 crew had been at the WAGM building in Presque Isle since about 5 a.m. and will be staying until 7 p.m. March 9.

“It’s been a long day but it’s well worth it,” DeVeau said.

Cary’s Flagg, a founding member of the group, said he was thankful for media outlet’s participation.

“It’s one thing to raise the money, but with WAGM’s reach, nearly everyone in Aroostook County will know about the project at 6 p.m. tonight,” Flagg said. “Even if they can’t give, they might know a homeless veteran and could contact one of us to get them help. Homeless shelters do a great job, but they’re not prepared to deal with people who have drug, alcohol, or mental health issues. There’s a high barrier for many homeless veterans.”

“This is a county-wide effort,” DeVeau said, “not just Caribou or Presque Isle. Without this partnership, we it wouldn’t have been so successful. The shelter and farm was just a scatterbrained idea, but so many people joined me and they’re the ones making it happen. It’s truly a team effort.”

Flagg added that all work and other support on the project so far has been given freely.

“All renovations on the main building were done through volunteer labor,” Flagg said, “and a lot of us have even put our own personal money into the project.”

Landeen said that, in honor of the recently formed Project 16, her station has challenged community members to do 16 jumping jacks to raise awareness.

“People have been posting videos of themselves doing jumping jacks to Facebook,” Landeen said, “and it’s already gone viral.”

DeVeau says that WAGM donated a conference table while Job Corps already has a third of the floor installed in the main shelter building.

“These guys are the champs,” DeVeau said regarding all who have helped. “It wouldn’t be happening without their help and support.”

The Dahlgren-Skidgel Farm of Hope will hold a grand opening ceremony on April 15th.

Any people, businesses and organizations interested in donating can visit wagmtv.com and click Project 16 on the upper toolbar. Checks can also be mailed to United Veterans of Maine, 358 Washburn Street, Caribou ME 04736.

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