Aroostook Aspirations Initiative grant will help young students in workforce

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — Earlier this month, Bangor Savings Bank announced it had donated nearly $180,000 in grants to nonprofits across Maine, including the Presque Isle-based Aroostook Aspirations Initiative.

Aroostook Aspirations Initiative, which strives to prevent outward migration of young people from Aroostook County, received $2,500 from the Bangor Savings Bank Foundation. It appears to be the first time Bangor Savings has provided a grant to the organization.

The money will go toward the nonprofit’s annual Scholar Success Program, which in partnership with the University of Maine at Presque Isle, provides support to students from UMPI, University of Maine at Fort Kent and Northern Maine Community College as they perform coursework and graduate into the workforce. 

The first year of the program assists students with success in college, helping with time management skills and tuition finance. The second involves career success: networking, resume-building and how to handle the job interview process that many students dread. 

Sandy Gauvin, co-founder and board president of Aroostook Aspirations Initiative said that many students within the program are first-generation college students and need help with many of these skills when they enroll.

The program also allows students to connect with professionals from across The County by inviting a series of guest speakers. Past speakers have included educators, law enforcement officers and businesspeople.

“Skills like that go a long way,” Gauvin said. “And again, they get to network with these people.” 

The nonprofit’s Project Director Sarah Bushey, drawing on her own experience in college, said many students have difficulty navigating the high stakes and time commitments that come with college life. 

“Everybody wants to go to college because they think ‘Oh, great, no parents, and I get to live my own life and party,’” Bushey said. “A lot of these kids are taking 18-19 credits a semester, and they don’t realize what the workload is.”

Bushey and Gauvin also said that the Scholar Success Program aligns with the initiative’s main mission by encouraging students to find jobs within Aroostook County. 

Gauvin said the perception many hold that there are few high-paying jobs in The County is incorrect, and that many fields, including education, nursing and trades, have a variety of openings available to those with applicable skills. 

She said that though outward migration issues continue, she is seeing more County natives return to their hometowns, especially young professionals coming back with new families.

“Things are changing, and I think kids, if they can stay here, want to stay here to be near their families,” Gauvin said.

Chris Nickerson, senior relationship manager at Bangor Savings Bank, said that the bank had provided the grant because they believe in Aroostook Aspirations Initiative’s goal of educating young adults and driving them toward local careers.

“We just feel it’s really important to give back to the communities that we serve,” Nickerson said. 

Gauvin said the nonprofit’s scholarships for high school seniors across Aroostook County would be available on its website in February. 

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