April 10, 2017

PORTLAND, Maine – The Portland-based Lerner Foundation today announced that eight Maine organizations will participate as partners with the Foundation in its new $7 million Aspirations Incubator Program (AIP), a mentoring-based initiative aimed at raising and sustaining the aspirations of middle school and high school students in rural Maine communities and small cities.

The Lerner Foundation program will help the youth development organizations partner with local school districts over the next six years to increase resiliency and create opportunities for young people through mentoring-based programs. Collectively, these partnerships represent 39 towns and cities in Maine, with most having a population of less than 2,000 residents.

“Too many young people in rural Maine are missing out on opportunities to reach their full potential as future citizens and leaders in our state,” said Eliot Cutler, president of the Lerner Foundation and chair of its board of directors. “This program will address that challenge by helping each of our partners develop and implement a multi-year pilot program serving local youth, starting in middle school and continuing through high school.” 

The eight programs each will incorporate important principles developed in the highly effective Trekkers program that serves communities in the mid-coast and will seek to reproduce the successes that the Trekkers program has achieved.  The Trekkers program is a unique outdoor-based mentoring program that works with 200 students from six communities in mid-coast Maine. The Lerner Foundation believes that the program principles and practices developed by Trekkers, which the Foundation has supported for several years, comprise a model that can be adapted in many Maine communities to achieve similarly positive outcomes.

The Lerner Foundation’s financial support will help build organizational capacity and provide professional development for program staff, consulting support for program implementation, assistance with comprehensive program evaluation, and opportunities for peer learning.  These activities will continue through the end of 2023, at which point the outcomes of the program will be shared broadly with the statewide philanthropic and education communities.

The Aspirations Incubator Program partner organizations and the school districts with whom they will work are:

Chewonki/RSU #1. Chewonki is a school and camp based in Wiscasset that inspires transformative growth, teaches appreciation and stewardship of the natural world, and challenges people to build thriving, sustainable communities throughout their lives. RSU #1 serves Arrowsic, Bath, Phippsburg, Woolwich and surrounding communities. 

Community Bicycle Center/Biddeford School Department. The Community Bicycle Center (CBC) in Biddeford is a free, year-round youth program that provides kids of all backgrounds with a safe place to connect with caring adults through bike rides and repairs. Embedded in the fabric of the community – and supported by a legion of volunteer mentors, the CBC has evolved into a home base for hundreds of young people each year. 

Kieve-Wavus Education/AOS #93. Since 1926, Kieve-Wavus Education Inc. has been committed to empowering people to contribute positively to society by promoting the values of kindness, respect for others, and environmental stewardship through year-round experiential programs, camps for youth and adults, and guidance from inspirational role models. AOS #93 serves the Lincoln County towns of Bremen, Bristol, Damariscotta, Jefferson, Newcastle, Nobleboro, and South Bristol.

Old Town-Orono YMCA/RSU #34. The Old Town-Orono YMCA is a community-centered organization that serves all ages by promoting healthy living, nurturing the potential of every individual and family, and fostering social responsibility. RSU #34 serves Alton, Bradley and Old Town in Penobscot County. 

Seeds of Independence/Brunswick School Department. Seeds of Independence is a youth development organization in mid-coast Maine serving youth and teens within the greater Brunswick, Topsham, and Freeport school districts. Its mission is to provide youth and teens ages 11-18 with peer and community mentors to reinforce self-worth, good decision making, and healthy lifestyle choices in order to become independent, productive members of our world.

The EdGE program of Maine Seacoast Mission/SAD #37. The Maine Seacoast Mission founded the EdGE program in 2002. Through after-school, in-school, and summer programs, EdGE offers children from Gouldsboro to Machias the opportunity to challenge themselves, engage with their communities and the outdoors, and explore college and career options. SAD #37 serves the Washington County communities of Addison, Columbia, Columbia Falls, Harrington, and Milbridge. 

The Game Loft/RSU #3.  The Game Loft is an after-school program serving youth from the ages of 6-18 in Belfast and Thorndike. The mission of the Game Loft is to promote Positive Youth Development through non-electronic games and community involvement. RSU #3 serves the Waldo County towns of Brooks, Freedom, Jackson, Knox, Liberty, Monroe, Montville, Thorndike, Troy, Unity and Waldo.

University of Maine 4-H Center at Bryant Pond/SAD #44. The University of Maine 4-H Center at Bryant Pond is dedicated to helping young people reach their fullest potential through affordable hands-on learning in the outdoors, in the classroom, and beyond. SAD #44 serves the Oxford County towns of Andover, Bethel, Gilead, Greenwood, Newry, and Woodstock. 

“I’m thrilled for the chance to get to work with such passionate youth development practitioners from around the state,” said Don Carpenter, senior program officer at the Lerner Foundation. “The opportunity we have to help incubate program models that seek long-term engagement with students throughout the course of their adolescence is extremely exciting.  We’ve been working on the selection process for nine months, and I can’t wait to start working with our partners.” 

Carpenter believes that partnering closely with key stakeholders in these communities to develop leadership and program implementation skills and to apply those skills to local youth programs will foster the development of strong social and emotional support networks for young people participating in the initiative. 

In addition to investing in the AIP community partnerships, the Lerner Foundation also is funding the creation of the Trekkers Training Institute for Youth Development.  The institute will provide the leadership development component of the AIP program.

The Trekkers Institute will offer training modules focused on its 10 Youth Programming Principles, as well as provide AIP partners a full immersion training experience working within the Trekkers organization. They will get to to see the 10 Principles in action, and consider how to incorporate or adapt them into their own programming and activities. Starting in 2018, the Trekkers Institute will open its training opportunities to other practitioners in the fields of youth development, mentoring, and education.

The Lerner Foundation also will partner with the PEAR Institute: Partners in Education and Resilience, a joint initiative of Harvard University and McLean Hospital in Belmont, MA. The PEAR Institute integrates research, theory, and practice for lasting connections between youth development, school reform, and mental health. 

All AIP partners will be trained in the use of PEAR’s Holistic Student Assessment (HSA) – a data-driven tool that measures social and emotional development in school and afterschool settings. The PEAR Institute will play a key role in helping AIP partners become proactive and preventative, rather than reactive and crisis-driven.

According to Erin Cinelli, executive director of the Lerner Foundation, the Foundation’s plan is to achieve a sustainable future for AIP programming by demonstrating replicability and success across the eight partnerships.  The Lerner Foundation has contracted with the Data Innovation Project (DIP), housed at the Cutler Institute for Health and Social Policy at the University of Southern Maine, to provide an independent evaluation of the incubator program over the course of the seven-year initiative. 

Cinelli said that the Lerner Foundation hopes the independently-evaluated outcomes of the Aspirations Incubator Program will launch a conversation about effective youth development and post-secondary attainment program models for rural Maine communities, as well as encouraging additional philanthropic investment in the fields of education and youth development throughout the state.


About the Lerner Foundation

The Lerner Foundation was established in memory of Emanuel and Pauline A. Lerner, philanthropists and owners of a successful business in the Washington, D.C. area.  Mr. and Mrs. Lerner loved Maine, and they were frequent visitors to the state. The Lerners believed deeply in the importance of equal opportunity and social mobility, and the Foundation, through its grant making activities, is dedicated to furthering opportunity for the citizens of Maine.

Following several years of supporting many diverse organizations throughout Maine, the Foundation Board decided in February 2015 to suspend grant making for a time and to re-examine the emphases and focus of the Foundation’s activity.

The decision to direct most of its resources toward raising the life aspirations of middle school students in Maine’s rural communities and small cities followed that year-long period of reflection, research and planning.



Trekkers’ 10 Youth Programming Principles

1.     Designing Intentional Program Delivery Systems for Long Term Engagement – A commitment to creating small, purposeful learning communities and designing a multi-year, “step-ladder” program delivery system that works with students during middle school and follows them to and through high school graduation. This long-term commitment to relationship building allows for the time and space needed to adapt to the ever-changing developmental needs and interests of adolescents.

2.     Developing a Skilled Network of Caring Adults and Peer Mentors – A focus on recruiting and training caring adult volunteers and cross-age mentors (young leaders) to play a critical role in meeting the relational needs of local youth growing up in their community.

3.     Applying a Comprehensive Approach to Youth Development Strategies – A dedication to building targeted holistic youth development methods into the overall program design to help young people find success and navigate challenges during adolescence by focusing on proven promotion, prevention and intervention strategies.

4.     Creating Circles of Care – A practice of assembling support networks for young people by partnering with parents, schools, key stake holders, health services, and other youth advocate agencies, with the goal of building high-level supports to assist in meeting the academic and non-academic needs of students.

5.     Prioritizing Informal Relationship Building with Youth – A commitment to “showing up” and being present in the lives of young people outside of regular scheduled programming.  By designing outreach in the community into the overall program delivery model, staff and caring adult mentors can build even stronger relationships with mentees and maintain relational links to students even when core programs are not in session.

6.     Expanding Worldviews – A priority for introducing students – through outdoor, experiential and travel-based educational opportunities – to the diversity of people, cultures, places and natural resources that exist outside the reach of their everyday lives.

7.     Embracing Student Voice & Choice – A willingness to share power and give young people input into the overall educational process.

8.     Encouraging Civic Responsibility – A desire to incorporate service into curriculum design and a commitment to enhance civil discourse.

9.     Preparing Students for Success after High School – A focus on increasing opportunities for youth to identify, explore, and cultivate their future aspirations – whether those aspirations include immediate entry into the workforce or ambitions for college – through hands-on experiences.

10.   Utilizing Validated Assessment Tools to Promote Social-Emotional Development in Young People - An emphasis on collecting social-emotional development and resiliency data as a way to inform individual intervention strategies and influence programming – all with the intention of better detecting barriers to academic achievement in students at an early age.


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