One stroll down Main Street Saco and you are transported back. There is something special about seeing your neighbor at the post office that makes you feel connected to something larger than yourself (or your smartphone).
Over in Old Orchard Beach, it might be making a scoop of gelato at Rinaldi’s, some candy at Dickinson’s, and some Pier fries at Lisa’s Pizza an annual summer ritual. In Biddeford, maybe strolling through the art walk to see the cultural renaissance going on there. No matter the community, no matter the area, each has a distinct flavor and feeling that adds value to the quality of life here.
Though that doesn’t mean everything is issue-free. There are still empty storefronts on Saco Main Street, Biddeford is still overcoming a negative perception, and the attempt to make Old Orchard Beach a year-round destination still continues. But hope remains. The drive to make our communities succeed is shown everyday is our pride for where we live and the work that goes into making things happen here.
Individually each of the downtown development organizations benefit each community in its own way from event planning, to re-imaging a community to yearround status, to stimulating a cultural arts economy, each serves a purpose of a larger vision. Having served on the Saco Spirit Board of Directors and having worked with several people in other groups, it’s easy to see how hard they work. Alongside these groups are the local chambers of commerce. Organizations committed to assisting existing businesses thrive through networking, advertising, legislative and community programs, as well as attract new, long term growth to the area.
It was President Abraham Lincoln who said the famous quote, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” To me, Saco Bay as a region is our “house.” Even in the recent pairing of “Saco-Biddeford, Biddeford-Saco no matter how you say it,” phrasing and logo creation, it leaves out an important factor –Old Orchard Beach. Each of our three communities had rocky pasts whether it be old rivalries through strained socio-economic differences between the twin river cities or the recent educational differences in a regional setting with Old Orchard Beach. However, I believe there is one thing that can unite us: community service through citizen participation.
Imagine the things we could accomplish if, while remaining true to our identities as separate communities, we worked together for the common good. The development organizations, the chambers of commerce, other service groups, coming together to market and promote all of us as a region, as Saco Bay. This could be done through the cross promotion of events, organizationally behind the scenes, or even joint community projects that each of us could get involved with.
This is one of the many reasons I founded the Saco Bay Center for Civic Engagement – implementing a much larger vision of what our entire region needs – volunteer glue between Saco, Biddeford and Old Orchard Beach. This is no easy task and will require compromise and setting aside personal, political and sometimes cultural differences in order to make this a reality.
Our first event at Saco Bay Center for Civic Engagement aims to help kickstart this effort. Dirigo Talks is our new community-driven speaker series featuring local leaders in business, politics, nonprofits, arts and community action to make leaders accessible to you and spur positive ideas.
On Thursday, Feb. 27 at 7:30 p.m., over at Engine in Biddeford (265 Main St., Unit 103), we will bring together all three communities’ downtown organizations, Saco Spirit, Heart of Biddeford and OOB365 alongside the chamber of the commerce to help spark ideas for ways to revitalize our downtown areas through community development. Any ideas you have are also welcome.
To make suggestions for potential speakers, contact our Dirigo Talks director Luke Nielson online at our website www.sacobaycenter.org.
I truly believe a regional approach to community development is in the best interest of everyone in theSaco Bay area and together we can make it happen.
Justin Chenette is the State Representative for Saco, CEO of Chenette Media LLC, and is the Founder/ President of the Saco Bay Center for Civic Engagement. To contact Justin and to follow his updates, you can visit www.justinchenette.com and Facebook.com/ JustinChenette.
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Beyond the Headlines
Weekly Column featured in The Biddeford-Saco-OOB Courier Newspaper by Rep. Justin Chenette of Saco