I had a dream most of my life – to run a nonprofit organization. In summer 2013, I made it a reality.
The Saco Bay Center for Civic Engagement was born out of a need to house creative community service projects that didn’t quite fit within the area’s existing nonprofits; projects and initiatives that I and others in the community always wanted to do but didn’t have an outlet for.
Now, five years and countless fundraisers and projects later, we are saying goodbye.
Our mission has been accomplished. We created a platform to encourage volunteerism in creative ways and made a real impact on the lives of others. Our team set the bar high for what can be accomplished with a little elbow grease and good ol’ fashion community organizing.
Since we started, our 501(c)(3) organization has raised and donated nearly $10,000 to advance arts education through direct classroom grants, connect homeless veterans to job training, help students afford college and honor our brave men and women in uniform.
Our Arts Action Fund Grant provided a number of our area schools with much needed resources. Oftentimes during budget cuts, the arts are one of the first things to go. As someone who benefited from the arts through the band and television production program in high school, I wanted this to be a focal point.
For instance, we provided Saco Middle School $500 for a new stage curtain, performance lights, audio system and other improvements to its performance space. Old Orchard Beach High School is using its $400 grant we provided to paint a world map mural for all to see after students researched about different cultures. You can now see that mural in the halls of the school. Burns School was able to fund ethnic instruments for cultural immersion experiences and Loranger Memorial started a ukulele program. These projects wouldn’t have happened without our efforts.
Honoring our brave men and women in public safety and law enforcement is personal to me. After a shooting and home invasion in Hillview Heights, we created Project Blue Light as a way of appreciating the important and dangerous work involved with protecting our community. We have continued to distribute free blue lightbulbs for folks to place in their windows as a reminder to those who serve. Any remaining lightbulbs will be donated to Saco Main Street for continued use and distribution.
One veteran homeless is one veteran too many. The Support Our Heroes Grant we launched last year provided $1,500 for veterans in Saco and Biddeford transitional housing programs to take advantage of free classes through OOB/Saco Adult Education. They are in the process of holding a computer class for these veterans to acquire important skill sets to get out into the job market.
Our Friends for the Holidays crew will spin off and still be out and about sending cards to loved ones fighting overseas, visiting with our seniors, making crafts at the Harvest Festival, and ringing the bell every Christmas season.
The important community-based work of engaging people to get more involved continues, just in a different form, particularly our college scholarships.
Our two previous college scholarships, the Justin Chenette Spirit of Service Scholarship at Thornton Academy and the Future Entrepreneur Scholarship at Old Orchard Beach High School, will continue on through a new nonprofit scholarship fund being created. The Chenette Scholarship Fund will continue empowering the next generation of civic and business leaders in our community. It is a true passion of mine and I’m excited that this part of the organization I founded will live on. It will enable me to continue working with students and helping them achieve their goals.
In addition to the scholarship fund, my involvement in our community is just shifting, not ending. As president of Saco’s downtown development organization, Saco Main Street, vice president of Friends of the OOB Ballpark, and an active member of the Saco Bay Rotary Club, I will be living what I preach. Service above self, as my fellow Rotarians say, isn’t just a catch phase, it’s a lifestyle.
Thank you to everyone for supporting this nonprofit over the years, for donating, volunteering and participating in our events. Our board of directors have made this organization what it is today and I couldn’t have done it without them. For that I am eternally grateful. This whole experience has taught me if you want something in life to just go for it, no matter the naysayers, no matter how difficult it may be. The experiences I’ve had, the people I helped, will be with me always as I continue the next chapter of my service-orientated career.
For more information on the Chenette Scholarship Fund, how to apply for scholarships and to donate, visit www.ChenetteScholarships.org.
Justin Chenette is serving his first term as the youngest senator in the Maine Senate representing Saco, Old Orchard Beach, Hollis, Limington and Buxton. He previously served two terms in the Maine House of Representatives. Outside the Legislature, he is the owner of Chenette Media LLC, a marketing & public relations firm, works as the marketing coordinator of Saco Sport & Fitness, and is the president of Saco Main Street. Sign up for legislative updates at www.justinchenette.com or follow updates at www.Facebook/JustinChenette.
Beyond the Headlines
Weekly Column featured in The Biddeford-Saco-OOB Courier Newspaper by Rep. Justin Chenette of Saco