One Aroostook community initiative sees early success
PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — The Aroostook County Action Program and United Way of Aroostook have partnered for a community initiative aimed at giving County residents opportunities to help fulfill basic but crucial needs facing local individuals and their families.
In February, the two organizations launched One Aroostook — Investing in Community to assist people who have received services from ACAP but remain left without certain basic needs.
Once a need is identified, ACAP Resource Developer Monica Jerkins sends an email to everyone on the One Aroostook email list outlining the story of the person or family in need of assistance. People on the list are then free to donate any financial amount they can.
The first story shared through One Aroostook already has resulted in a happy ending, according to Jerkins.
When a homeless single mother, who asked not to be identified, and her six children — three biological and three nieces and nephews — found an apartment with help from ACAP Family Coach Heidi Rackliffe, their circumstances were looking brighter than they had in a long time. But after settling into their new home, Rackliffe spoke to the mother and realized that the family had no pots and pans for cooking, dressers for storage, or couches and chairs.
Less than two days after telling the family’s story via the One Aroostook email list, ACAP had received their requested donation of $500 total from community members that will allow the family to receive pots and pans, four dressers and some other furniture.
“Sometimes the smallest things can become huge needs for people that don’t fit in with traditional programs or funding,” Rackliffe said. “When I spoke to the mother recently, she told me that she felt ‘truly blessed and beyond thankful.’”
Unlike many services, One Aroostook is not a state, federal or grant-funded program but rather an initiative to make community members aware of issues facing fellow residents and neighbors. There is no obligation to donate, but those who wish to contribute can click on the “Donate Now” button at the bottom of an email, which will lead them to United Way of Aroostook’s donation website.
“Those who are on the mailing list can unsubscribe at any time and if they donate those funds go directly to the story that’s attached with that particular email,” Sherry Locke, United Way of Aroostook executive director, said. “Even if a story doesn’t connect with everyone, they still become aware of some of the obstacles facing Aroostook County residents.”
ACAP and United Way’s major goal for One Aroostook is expanding members of the email list to increase both awareness of the stories they showcase and encourage people to donate if they feel compelled. Both the donors and recipients will remain anonymous throughout the entire process and subscribers will receive a follow-up email detailing how the story turned out.
Jerkins emphasized that One Aroostook will only release stories on an as-needed basis and only when individuals have a specific need that has been identified through their work with ACAP family coaches and case managers. She said that for many people in the County, what may seem like a small, attainable need can lead to devastating consequences if they do not have access to helpful resources.
“If someone is working a minimum wage job, they’re likely living paycheck to paycheck. So if their car needs major repairs and they lose their means of transportation, they can lose the only job they have,” Jerkins said. “A situation that might set me back a day can set another person back much longer.”
One Aroostook is modeled after similar initiatives in southern Maine that have greatly benefited individuals in situations that Jerkins described.
“There was a single mother in southern Maine who lacked transportation. She wasn’t asking for a vehicle or money for car repairs. She just needed a stroller so that it would be easier to walk in town with her children,” Jerkins said. “The most rewarding part about this program is the fulfillment of knowing you helped someone and so we just want to build an even bigger community of givers.”
Those who wish to be added to the One Aroostook email list can contact Jerkins at (207) 764-3721 or firstname.lastname@example.org.