8 finalists named in new Maine initiative that aims to tackle state’s toughest challenges 8 finalists named in new Maine initiative that aims to tackle state’s toughest challenges

Field narrowed in Working Communities Challenge as teams chosen to receive $25K each to plan Field narrowed in Working Communities Challenge as teams chosen to receive $25K each to plan

March 5, 2021

A new initiative that aims to mobilize Maine residents to tackle tough statewide challenges and seize economic opportunities took a major step forward Friday when eight recipients of $25,000 grants were announced.

The eight teams hail from all over Maine, from the vast Katahdin region to the north, to the state’s most densely populated area, Cumberland County, to the south. The teams propose to take on challenges ranging from developing a strong rural workforce, to boosting social connections and career opportunities for youth.

Each team is vying to be one of five chosen for the next, multiyear phase of the Working Communities Challenge, a community development initiative run by the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston.

The teams now each receive $25,000 “design grants” and participate in a six-month Design Phase, starting in April, to learn more about the WCC model, build out their internal structures, and define their strategies. After that, the final five will be chosen and awarded three-year, $375,000 grants to implement their plans.

The Boston Fed’s Peter Nalli, who is leading Maine’s Working Communities Challenge, said the eight proposals have potential to have enormous impacts, not just on their individual regions, but the entire state.

“This is a time when people are looking for opportunities to come together,” Nalli said. “And to the extent that (the WCC) can be that connective tissue that is helping connect places and people across the state as they’re working on these major issues, that’s very exciting to me.”

The WCC was launched in Maine in October. It’s backed by $2.7 million in contributions from local and national philanthropy, business contributions, federal grants, and $300,000 over three years from the State of Maine.

Lelia DeAndrade of the Maine Community Foundation, who was on the jury that selected the finalists, said the eight teams each had a clear vision of what they wanted to achieve. They were also all collaborating with knowledgeable people across the private, nonprofit, and government sectors – something she said is essential for success. And multiple teams included members from the populations they’re trying to help, she said.

“I think that every one of the applications that we received was addressing something really critical,” DeAndrade said. “It was obvious that their communities needed it.”

The following lists the eight teams that received design grants, along with a short description of their long-term vision:

  • Cumberland County: Increase access to affordable, accessible, high-quality childcare, and reimagine the profession so it can be a reliable source of jobs and entrepreneurial opportunity.
  • Greater Bangor: Increase job training and skills development so marginalized workers in the food and trades industries can secure higher-paying jobs or start entrepreneurial ventures.
  • Katahdin Region: Build a thriving outdoor economy that delivers lasting prosperity for residents and creates career paths that help attract and retain younger workers.
  • Lewiston and Auburn: Build, support, and sustain a culture of opportunity, equity, and inclusion that increases opportunity among marginalized racial, income, and social groups.
  • Maine Highlands: Empower and enable people living at or near poverty level to become healthy, independent, and engaged community members.
  • Sagadahoc County: Create a web of educational, mentoring, training, and employment programs that build social and professional connections in youth and combat drug addiction, depression, and suicide.
  • Southern Kennebec County: Increase access to safe and affordable housing, as well as the understanding on how to secure it.
  • Washington County & the Passamaquoddy Tribe: Invest in young people and parents to expand the number of living wage careers and reduce rates of child poverty in the county and the Passamaquoddy Tribe.

The WCC is under the Working Places umbrella, and it’s an offshoot of the Boston Fed’s Working Cities Challenge, which focuses on improving life for residents in New England’s smaller post-industrial cities. The Working Places model unites people from various community sectors around a common vision for change.

In Maine, any town could be part of an application, but communities below 6,000 population had to be part of a multi-town submission that covered at least that many residents. The applications also had to include a “priority community.” These have high economic need and high opportunity to change policies and practices that are perpetuating the challenges they face.

The WCC received 22 applications, and all 16 Maine counties were represented in the applicant pool. A jury made up of a subset of the Maine WCC’s local steering committee selected the final eight.

Learn more about the Working Communities Challenge in Maine.

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