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Wintergreen raises nearly $50,000, declares organization debt free

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — After beginning a capital fundraising campaign in August, the folks at Wintergreen Arts Center in Presque Isle have obtained enough funds to declare the organization debt free, a move that puts them on track toward achieving major long-term goals such as seeking out a larger space. 

Within six weeks Wintergreen raised $48,002 to pay off the remaining $25,500 balance of a loan they received in 2009 from Northern Maine Development Commission and to set aside funds to pay their monthly rent bill of $1,500 for the next 16 months.

All the funds came from community and business donations and grants, including a $2,000 donation from Bob and Donna Umphrey, $500 from Thompson-Hamel, LLC., $250 from Columbia Forest Products and $5,000 grants from the Maine-based Libra Foundation and the Margaret E. Burnham Charitable Trust.

A large portion of the funds came from a special performance put on by Presque Isle native, playwright and actor John Cariani. On Monday, Oct. 1, “The Band Visits John Cariani” featured Cariani’s co-stars from the Broadway musical “The Band Visits” performing scenes from several of his plays and raised more than $18,000 for Wintergreen. About $10,000 was raised from ticket sales while a Go Fund Me page attached to Cariani’s show brought in another $8,661. Although the Go Fund Me page was attached to Cariani’s show, the online fundraising has remained active and since raised over $11,000 more.

The campaign began when Wintergreen Executive Director Dottie Hutchins met with Rodney McCrum, former CEO of Pineland Farms and a Wintergreen volunteer, to discuss how the organization could become more fiscally responsible. McCrum suggested that eliminating Wintergreen’s debt would be the best way to align the organization’s finances with long-term goals.

Since 2008, Wintergreen had been receiving free rent coverage at its current 149 State Street location thanks to the building’s previous owners, who had won the lottery and covered the monthly $1,500, including heat and electricity. Dr. Curt Young now owns the building and continued to honor the free lease agreement through this October, said Hutchins.

But with the last day of rent coverage set for Oct. 31, 2018, Hutchins and McCrum actively went “door to door” to area businesses to ask if they would consider making donations toward the art center’s $50,000 goal.

“It’s amazing how everything seemed to come together in six weeks between the community and John’s show and everyone who has stepped up to donate on the Go Fund Me page, even the folks who donated and wish to remain anonymous,” Hutchins said.

Hutchins expects that Wintergreen will raise the nearly $2,000 left in its $50,000 goal through more grant funding or Go Fund Me donations.

With that done, the staff and board of directors at Wintergreen will focus more of its efforts within the next several years on finding a larger location to expand programming.

Having a larger space, Hutchins noted, would allow the organization to expand its popular preschool program. Though the center attempted to hold two sessions this past fall, organizers had to stick with only the morning session due to parents’ afternoon work schedules and not having the space to accommodate additional students.

Wintergreen board members also have expressed interest in a building that has enough outdoor space for a larger parking lot and a playground. Their current space sits at the end of a building complex on State Street and only has room in the back for a small amount of parking spaces.

“Dr. Young has been very gracious in honoring our rent agreement and I know that whatever space we move into we’ll want to replicate the unique feeling people have when they walk into our current building,” Hutchins said. “But we’ve just outgrown the space.”

Hutchins does not expect that Wintergreen will move to another location for at least three years or more, as she and board members need time to research and pursue grant opportunities that would provide them the funding to make the transition. In the meantime she would like to thank everyone who has supported Wintergreen and helped make their newest chapter possible.

“Every person that we met, whether they donated or not, has told us that what we’re doing is worth it and that Wintergreen should be a part of the community,” Hutchins said. “All that has happened has given us even more confidence that what we do is important.”

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