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The ABCs of a Healthy Start

backpack-winner-(2).jpgAt EMHS, we believe health issues such as access to care, opioid misuse, and obesity are our priority. To get to the heart of building healthy communities, we also focus on needs that aren’t always visible like access to healthy food, warm clothing, and other essentials. We know the building blocks to good health begin in the classroom. So, EMHS member organizations are working with our communities to offer kids who need help, what they need to be their best.

A Backpack for Every Child
Laurie Alexander, health and wellness education coordinator at Sebasticook Valley Health, believes that there’s power in bringing the whole community together to help kids thrive. She recently coordinated the second annual SVH Back to School Fair on August 8. This year’s fair provided backpacks stuffed with school supplies to every child who completed a scavenger hunt. Families also found tips on cybersecurity, sun safety, bus safety, health and wellness, and other topics shared by SVH departments and community vendors. The Kiwanis Club distributed bike helmets, Atlantic Partners EMS provided an interactive seat belt demonstration, and the local police department offered fingerprinting. Even a local salon provided free haircuts to children.

“I saw two little girls get their first backpacks, and they did a big happy dance. They were so excited,” said Laurie. “You can communicate so many messages in a day like this. We can connect families with resources in the community that they may not know about. It’s a feel-good event for everyone, including our employees.”

Kara Livingston, Access Center associate at Sebasticook Valley Health, was initially hesitant about bringing her three children to the event—she wasn’t sure they’d like it. As soon as her children started visiting the various vendor tables, she knew they would have a great time.

winners.jpg“You would have thought it was Christmas morning. They were so excited about getting their backpacks,” she said. “It got them more excited to go back to school. This event is a great opportunity to connect with the community and provide resources that not all parents are able to provide. It teaches kids everything from how to brush their teeth to how an ambulance works. I feel like even I learned some things.”

A Community Comes Together
The residents of Aroostook County have a reputation for self-sufficiency, but when someone is in need, everyone comes together to help. Over the summer, TAMC worked with several partners to address unmet needs both inside and outside of the classroom. The Stuff the Bus program invited TAMC employees and community members to drop off backpacks and school supplies at the hospital and at local businesses. The United Way and Aroostook County Action Program distributed them to families in need.

“TAMC’s size allows us to do things others can’t,” said Jamie Guerrette, community health specialist at TAMC. “We can bring groups together to identify problems and solve them. We welcome any opportunity to help people and be an active part of the community.”

TAMC also supported the first ever Second Chance Community Closet. The United Way of Aroostook collected new and gently used clothing from TAMC employees and the community and distributed them to families in need at three popup boutiques held in various regions of The County. Each family could pick out a dozen pieces of clothing as well as new socks and underwear.

On August 15, TAMC, Freedom Church, and the Presque Isle Housing Authority hosted a Back to School Bash at one of Presque Isle’s largest public housing facilities. More than 100 backpacks filled with supplies were given out in ten minutes, and another 50 were distributed a week later. The night wrapped up with games and snacks. While the Back to School Bash was a huge success, event organizers are already looking to do more.

“We accomplished a lot at the Back to School Bash, but we know that the school supplies will only last so long,” added Jamie. “Now we’re looking at holding a Re-Pack the Sack event in January to replenish supplies for kids and families who need them.”

No Child Should Go Hungry
Kids-and-lunch.jpgAsk Barb Haskell why she’s planning to volunteer to deliver food from the Tree of Life Food Pantry to schools in Blue Hill, and she’ll tell you that Maine ranks third in the nation in food insecurity. Barb, manager of Dietary Services at Blue Hill Memorial Hospital, has deep roots in the community: she was born in Blue Hill, graduated from the area’s high school, and her kids attend local schools. When she was presented with a chance to do something to help the place that she calls home, she jumped at the opportunity.

Beginning in September, once each week, Barb and other volunteers in the community will stop by the local food pantry and pick up food for elementary and high school students. They will deliver it to the schools and break the food down into portions, which will be discreetly placed in the backpacks of students who need it.

“The program is as anonymous as possible,” she said. “Volunteers, staff, and students don’t know who is receiving food. This program is important because we may be able to help families who are temporarily food insecure. These families often fall through the cracks.”

Last year the program served 24 families. Barb expects to be joined by other employees at Blue Hill Memorial Hospital who are interested in helping.

Together, We’re Making a Difference
The back to school initiatives in Pittsfield, Presque Isle, and Blue Hill are each unique, but they have a common goal: to build healthy communities by ensuring students have everything they need to do their best at school. Success in the classroom is one of the foundations for a healthy life both in school and at home. EMHS is making a difference, one backpack, granola bar, and haircut at a time.