Contact: David Munson at (207) 581-3777; Kathryn Hunt at (207) 581- 1553; Joe Carr at (207) 581-3571; Rod McKay (City of Bangor) (207) 992-4240
ORONO — They are the inescapable questions that plague nearly every downtown district in Maine: How does a city make its youth feel welcome downtown while avoiding conflicts with downtown businesses and residents? How does a community provide enough affordable housing to meet the needs of its elderly and lower income residents? How do the people of a community build and maintain the level of connectedness that fosters a vital and dynamic downtown?
These questions, in various forms, have been on the lips of legislators, activists, and everyday citizens in Bangor for decades, and, with the help of a battery of newly funded and far-reaching community programs, some of the answers may soon be forthcoming.
The United Stated Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) recently awarded nearly $400,000 in grant monies to the University of Maine for the establishment of the UMaine-Bangor Community Outreach Partnership Center (UMB-COPC), a collection of people and programs aimed at fostering a positive environment for all in Bangor’s downtown neighborhoods. This grant was supported by the city council of the City of Bangor, and the city will provide substantial in-kind support throughout life of the program.
“We’re very fortunate. This is one of the bigger grant programs in HUD, and one of the most competitive,” said Kathryn Hunt of the University of Maine’s Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center. “We’ve been awarded $396,281 to be distributed over three years, which will fund a broad range of projects in downtown Bangor.”
Leading the project since its inception nearly two years ago, Hunt has attended scores of meetings and fielded hundreds of phone calls, establishing goals and setting up lines of communication between the university and the more than 20 different downtown organizations that will be involved in UMB-COPC projects. Distributed over a three-year period, the federal funds will be used to support three main initiatives.
Through work skills training, life-planning, and educational guidance, the Community Inclusion Project is intended to help homeless teens reconnect with school, work and community in positive ways. In addition, through facilitated dialogues involving disenfranchised, disconnected young adults, downtown residents and downtown business owners, the project will focus on creating an atmosphere downtown that is welcoming to all residents and visitors.
UMB-COPC will also take an active role in the development of the Salvation Army’s Powerhouse Teen Center. From providing engineering expertise for the renovation of the center’s future location to assisting Salvation Army staff with fundraising and development, UMaine students and faculty will assist the Salvation Army in achieving the project’s full potential. Through a partnership with the Bangor Daily News, the Bangor Public Library, the Powerhouse Teen Center, and the UMaine Department of Communication and Journalism, UMB-COPC funds will also help to jumpstart a community newsletter for and about Bangor’s downtown created by the young adults that live there.
Some of Bangor’s housing issues will be addressed through the UMB-COPC project as well. In an attempt to help downtown neighborhoods better serve the area’s elderly and special needs residents, program participants will conduct a needs assessment with regard to housing and special services, leading up to the establishment of recommendations and the development of informational workshops that will help residents in need find and maintain decent, affordable housing.
At the heart of many of the UMB-COPC initiatives is service learning: UMaine students applying their skills “in the field” for the benefit of the community. From building assessments carried out by undergrads in engineering to fine arts programs led by student instructors, the project promises to strengthen the University of Maine’s connection to the city of Bangor while providing students with opportunities in their fields of study that can’t be duplicated in the classroom. A truly interdisciplinary endeavor, the UMB-COPC project will combine the enthusiasm of dozens of UMaine students with the expertise of 27 faculty members representing all six of the university’s colleges.
According to Bangor City Manager, Ed Barrett, “This cooperative venture between the City and the University will allow both organizations to focus their efforts to build upon the progress that has been made in recreating downtown Bangor and will work closely with groups and organizations with an interest in our downtown. It will expose students to real life issues and problems, challenge their creativity, and further strengthen the growing relationship between the university and the city.”
By creating new avenues of communication between the university and the larger community, the project will allow residents of Bangor and other Maine communities to access university resources more easily than ever before. Hunt hopes that, by streamlining the process through which students and faculty connect to the community, the UMB-COPC project will provide many more opportunities for communication and cooperation between the university and the cities and towns of Maine.
“We will essentially be creating a new front door to the university that will help people reach into the university more effectively,” said Hunt. “It will help the community access information and services. It will help the faculty integrate service learning into their programs. It’s really exciting.”
CONTACTS: Kathryn Hunt, Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center, 581-1553; Rod McKay, Director of Community and Economic Development, City of Bangor, 992-4240.