Two young Mainers making a difference

7 years ago

One of the greatest privileges I have serving Maine in the United States Senate is the opportunity to know outstanding people from our state who have devoted part of their busy lives to community service. Whether we meet in Washington or back home, I always come away inspired by their commitment and encouraged for the future of our state and our nation.

I recently had the opportunity to meet two such remarkable young people – Bella Rossborough of Kennebunk and Kathleen Waeldner of Yarmouth – when they were in Washington to receive 2017 Prudential Spirit of Community awards, which recognize students for exemplary community service. From nearly 31,000 nominees nationwide, only two students from each state and the District of Columbia are selected for this recognition, so it was a particular honor to meet these two young women from Maine.

Although they have dedicated themselves to different types of civic involvement, they are united by a desire to make their communities better, to encourage others to get involved, and to grow personally from their experiences.

Bella is a 12-year-old sixth-grader at the Middle School of the Kennebunks. When she read about how plastic bags harm the environment and wildlife, she took action to reduce their use in her town.

After writing to the town manager, Bella followed up by meeting with the Board of Selectmen. Then she began working with the Kennebunk Energy Efficiency Committee to explore ways to reduce the use of plastic bags. Joined by members of the committee, a friend, her mother, and a teacher, Bella distributed information and reusable bags at town events. She raised awareness of the issue in radio and newspaper interviews, personally visited local merchants to inform them of the benefits of reusable bags, and raised the issue with the town’s council. Bella’s research, determination, and thoughtful approach truly made a difference.

Kathleen is an 18-year-old senior at Yarmouth High School. A documentary film about hungry children left her with tears in her eyes and determination in her heart.

She started by working with a local community services agency and a nonprofit organization to develop and then expand a summer meal program for at-risk children in her town, and soon was packing weekend food bags for students from low-income families for days when they do not receive school lunches.

Then she wondered how those students managed during the summer, and learned that a summer lunch program was about to start in Yarmouth. She not only stepped forward to help launch the new program, but also recruited other teens to volunteer. The program was scheduled to end three weeks before the end of summer, but Kathleen and another student worked to extend it. The next year, Kathleen became co-coordinator of the program and helped expand it to include both breakfast and lunch, as well as activities such as playing games, going on field trips, and making friendship bracelets.

The commitment demonstrated by both girls benefits their communities today and will for years to come as the at-risk children Kathleen cares for grow into healthy adolescents and as Bella continues her efforts to improve the environment. And both benefit as well from learning the self-reliance and sense of accomplishment that come from taking on responsibilities and meeting them. As Kathleen said when she first learned about hungry children in America, her thoughts quickly turned from “How can this happen?” to “I am going to help solve this.”

Bella and Kathleen both possess great compassion and integrity, and their desire to serve others is admirable. But they are not alone. These two young Mainers exemplify the tremendous capabilities of our youth. Communities across Maine and all of America are brimming with young people making a positive difference. I see it everywhere, and it continues to reaffirm my faith in our next generation of leaders.