Cascade Foundation grant provides new van for Wayfinder Schools

Posted on Thursday March 3, 2011

Cascade Foundation grant provides new van for Wayfinder Schools

Wayfinder Schools of Camden is Maine’s oldest alternative high school, and serves at-risk youth and teen parents who are drawn to the school from across Maine. It has been successfully graduating students since 1974, equipping them to handle life’s many opportunities and challenges. One of the keys to the successful programming at Wayfinder Schools is its ability to provide daily transportation for students. So when the school’s old multi-passenger van broke down the day before new students were scheduled to arrive in September, staff and volunteers were left scrambling to come up with alternatives.

The most immediate impact of the van’s loss was felt in the school’s Residential Program, in which students live at the school’s downtown campus for a nine month academic term. Each morning, residential students are transported to work sites throughout Camden, Rockland, Rockport and Lincolnville. There, they learn job skills that help prepare them for post-graduation success. In the afternoons and evening, they pursue academic work, which sometimes takes them off-site. One afternoon each week, they drive to Appleton to volunteer with Big Brothers Big Sisters. As part of the school’s Green Project initiative, the students help plant community gardens, clear hiking trails, visit local farms, and more. On weekends they are off on hiking and camping trips, touring college campuses, visiting museums and art galleries, and completing community service projects. In their down time, they take in the occasional movie, or go ice skating, sledding, swimming, contra dancing, rowing, bowling, or pursue morning workouts at the YMCA.

Reliable group transportation is also immensely important to the school’s Passages program for teen parents. Although Passages students receive instruction in their own homes, thereby eliminating the need to secure daily childcare and transportation in order to complete school, they still need transportation in order to attend to group workshops on everything from budgeting and smoking cessation to early literacy, child development, music, play, quilting, cooking and nutrition. These workshops allow students to develop increased academic, parenting and life skills, while also fostering community connections and alleviating the isolation that often accompanies teen parenthood.

After several weeks, the daily logistics of transporting students in a series of small second hand vehicles became overwhelming. Managing a house full of teenagers without adequate transportation was proving challenging. Fortunately, after hearing about the school’s dilemma, the Cascade Foundation generously answered the school’s wish for a new multi-passenger van with a $35,000 grant.

Staff and students were thrilled. The day the new van arrived, they piled in and drove through downtown Camden, stopping at student work sites to show off the new vehicle. Then, they decided to do what they’d been waiting a long time to do. They went to a Friday night movie, together. As students debated which movie to see on their way to the theatre, and discussed the merits of their selection on the ride home, staff was reminded just how important this informal bonding time is for students as staff alike.

In recent months, the van has taken students on tours of several colleges, including the Maine College of Art. It has helped them meet their requirements for community service, allowed them to go winter camping, and transported them to work each day. Later this month, it will take students to New York City, where they will visit sites of historical and cultural significance, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Natural History Museum, Chinatown, the Brooklyn Bridge, Little Italy, and Ground Zero.

Most of Wayfinder Schools’s students have never been to a large urban area and many have never travelled outside of Maine. The Cascade Foundation’s investment in these young people is providing life changing opportunities, and helping students reach their personal and academic goals, while preparing them for post-graduation success.

Most importantly, the commitment and generosity of the Cascade Foundation has reminded students that their goals, aspirations and success are worth investing in. Head of School Dr. Dorothy Foote said of the grant, “The support of The Cascade Foundation has been life changing for all of us here at the school, most importantly our students. These kids have overcome significant challenges and adversity on their road toward high school completion. This investment in their daily lives and future goals reminds them how important and valued they are in our community. The Cascade Foundation realizes the importance of investing in youth, especially underserved populations, and we can’t thank them enough for this extraordinary gift.”