HOULTON, Maine — On July 3, the town of Houlton and Maine National Guard representatives joined with the Houlton Higher Education Center (HHEC) and the Maine Military and Community Network (MM&CN) and signed a Community Covenant.
According to Tracy Rockwell, director of HHEC, the thought behind the event began with an open house at the education center. The open house served as an introduction to the newly housed MM&CN office and the resources it could offer to service members, veterans and their families in the local area.
Sergeant First Class Nathaniel Grace spoke to Jane Torres, executive director of the Greater Houlton Chamber of Commerce, about the Community Covenant program, which is designed to foster and sustain effective state and community partnerships. Grace asked Torres if the town would be interested in a formal pledge of support to the military community.
The town has always been reverent to military members and their families over the years and has shown its support throughout history.
Town Manager Butch Asselin, along with the town council members, were “extremely supportive of the idea,” said Rockwell. “From that point, a group of us, including the HHEC’s — Jean Henderson, student services coordinator; two student interns Patrick Blanchette and Kimberly McGillicuddy; and myself — along with SFC Grace, Butch Asselin, Jane Torres, Kevin Mania of McGill’s Community Band and Linda Faucher of Cary Library met over the course of six months to plan the event.”
The significance behind such a Community Covenant — signed July 3 during a ceremony at Monument Park — is that military personnel are respected and regarded within the town limits by town officials and businesses.
“As a service member and a veteran, this means that I am welcomed with open arms in Houlton,” said Grace. “My family will choose to do more business with the businesses that were designated as military friendly. I guess the best way to sum it all up is that I feel at home in Houlton even though my family is not from here, as a part of the military family, I am welcomed, appreciated and greatly valued.”
Part of the organizing of the signing of the covenant included notifying Houlton-area business to see what they would like to do to show their support for the military community and their families, Rockwell noted.
“In many cases, organizations were already doing something, which is another reason why we want to formally recognize the support,” Rockwell added. “It may be a discount; it could be that they have employees who are National Guard members or reservists and they support them when they have to be gone; it could be they send “care packages” to deployed units; it could be donations to fundraising or special events; or it could be special prayers to protect those who protect us, in addition to many others.”
There were 50 organizations that pledged a privilege, benefit or preference to service members, veterans and their families, which designates Houlton as a “Military Friendly Community.”
Rockwell said from the beginning HHEC was involved with this event.
“Jean wanted to make sure that the center was doing all it could to help our service members and veterans with educational and other resources,” Rockwell said. “She was instrumental in bringing a local Maine Military and Community Network office to Aroostook County. She then worked through the University College connections, namely University of Maine at Augusta, to have it staffed by two student interns, specifically looking for other veterans.
“The two students did a great deal of leg work for the Community Covenant event,” she added. “We also had one of our other UMA students use her artistic abilities to draft several choices of the ‘Military Friendly Community’ sign.”
One of five signs was unveiled during the Community Covenant signing and now is attached to the “Welcome to Houlton” sign in Union Square entering Market Square.
An UMPI student drafted the program for the event and another custom-built the frame for the signed Covenant document that will hang in the town office. Finally, the center hosted a pre-ceremony gathering prior to the event and handed out complimentary fair passes.
“The American Legion color guard began the march from the HHEC parking lot to Monument Park, and those who so desired, marched behind as part of the community support.
“All involved worked very hard to pull it together, but really, it was a pleasure,” said Rockwell. “To see our community be the first in Aroostook County and the second in the state of Maine, be formally recognized for support they have provided for many years, is absolutely rewarding. Personally, as someone who grew up here and returned, and who is a spouse of a 20-year veteran, I am very proud of everything and everyone who put this event together.”
“As a veteran looking for a place to settle after a career in the military, one of the key considerations is the safety of my family and how well we fit here,” said Grace. “Houlton has intentionally spoken and put their money where their mouth is, they have put up signs on the road and in local businesses for all to see. There is no mistaking it, Houlton loves their military families.”
Editor’s note: The Masonic Lodge purchased the five signs through its Community Betterment Project grant of $1,500.