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Separated by the pandemic part 5: Temporary relocation

Rachel Morin, a resident at Schooner Estates in Auburn, shows off some of the flowers she has grown while staying at her daughter’s house in South Portland during the pandemic. (Photograph courtesy of Rachel Morin).

The following story is the fifth of several interviews being done by Nathan Tsukroff of PortraitEFX to capture the effects of this pandemic on the people of Maine. 

Rachel Morin loves being a resident at Schooner Estates, a “Senior Living Community” in Auburn, Maine.

She loves visiting with fellow residents, enjoys the activities and adult classes that are offered, and loves taking advantage of the trips offered by the facility. She thinks the meals at the facility are wonderful.

However, she is now a remote resident, staying temporarily at her daughter Elizabeth’s house in South Portland, so she can see her family on a regular basis. She spends time with her friends at the facility only over the telephone or through email.

With the need to keep residents safe during the Covid-19 pandemic, Schooner Estates had to limit family visits to scheduled appointments for “window interviews”. Residents were only able to share time with their families through a closed window, talking by telephone.

Auburn holds Backyard Campout

The City of Auburn is thrilled to join 24 communities across Maine in the first annual Maine Backyard Campout sponsored the by Maine Parks and Recreation Association on July 11. The month of July is National Parks and Recreation Month. What better way to celebrate “all things Maine” than a state-wide backyard campout? 

The mission of this event is to encourage families to get outdoors and enjoy a camping experience, right in their own backyard. “We want everyone to enjoy the outdoors while also maintaining social distancing guidelines,” said Recreation Director Sabrina Best. “This is a fun way to enjoy quality family time, while being safe during these unpresented times.” 

Participants who register with Auburn Recreation are eligible for prizes and can get ideas for campfire activities, cooking, safety tips and creating a camping space right outside their back door. Camping equipment is not needed to participate. Neither is a back yard, for that matter! Recreation staff will help participants find ways to make the experience fun without spending money on equipment or a camping site! 

Participants are encouraged to share photos on social media using the hashtag #MaineBackYardCampout. 

Auburn residents who want to participate should connect with Auburn Recreation. Free campout activity kits are available to the first 20 families to register. Contact Darcey Gardiner at Auburn Recreation dgardiner@auburnmaine.gov or 333-6611 for details.

For more information and login visit: https://www.facebook.com/events/558291514887550/

Job Corps enrollment open

Job Corps is currently enrolling youth 16-24 years old, who are interested in learning career training in areas such as Automotive, Welding, Healthcare, Electrical, Culinary Arts, among others, through free training. Virtual and online learning options available. Earn HSD/HSE and driver’s license at the same time.  Housing and meals included at no cost. Job Placement once program is complete. Call/text Amy Boclair at the Lewiston Job Corps Office today at (207) 458-5369 or email at Boclair.Amy@jobcorps.org for more information. 

Father Day’s gift at Auburn’s Grab ‘N Go program

The City of Auburn’s Grab ‘N Go grocery program added a little surprise with Wednesday’s pick-up, just in time for Father’s Day. Through the coordination of a local community member, Tizz Crowley, several volunteers stepped up to create 75 Father’s Days gifts to be passed out with the grocery boxes on Wednesday. The city extends a very special “thank you” to the five local community members who arranged this special gift: Ed and Sheila Desgrosseilliers on behalf of the Auburn Democrats, Joan Pedersen, Mary Roussel, and Tizz Crowley.

“Once again our amazing community continues to perform selfless acts of kindness,” said Auburn’s Recreation Director, Sabrina Best. “These gifts brought joy to many families that really need it right now.”

The Grab ‘N Go grocery program is scheduled to continue through the end of August and is free for any Auburn resident. If you or someone you know is in need of food, reach out to the Auburn Recreation Department at 333-6611. For more information on how to support this impactful community program, please contact Sabrina Best at sbest@auburnmaine.gov.

Separated by the pandemic part 4: Facilities still locked down

Steve Espling of New Gloucester, a chaplain with Beacon Hospice, checks in with a patient remotely. He is presently not allowed inside hospice buildings, in order to keep patients safe from infection during the Covid-19 pandemic. (Photo by Nathan Tsukroff, PortraitEFX)

The following story is the fourth of several interviews being done by Nathan Tsukroff of PortraitEFX to capture the effects of this pandemic on the people of Maine. 

Maine is starting to open up again.

Well, most of Maine is starting to open. But not hospitals, and not nursing homes, and not assisted living homes like The Sarah Frye Home on Washington Street North in Auburn. 

Not this week. And maybe not next week. In fact, MaryAnn Guenette, Activities Director, said last week she isn’t sure when The Sarah Frye Home will be allowing family members and guests to enter the facility. They plan to maintain social-distancing protocols for a little while after the State of Maine lifts restrictions, to ensure patients will not have a chance of infection from the Covid-19 coronavirus.

Seniors Not Acting Their Age: Sea kayaking begins at Mere Point

By Ron Chase

Like my Native American ancestors, when the blackflies arrive, I gravitate to the coast.  Consequently, for me, sea kayaking normally begins in late May or early June when the nasty blood suckers begin to proliferate in the mountains and on the rivers.  The pandemic has added another incentive as sea kayaking doesn’t require a shuttle and social distancing is more easily accomplished where there is an abundance of space such as the ocean.

For outings in northern Casco Bay, I frequently use Mere Point Boat Launch in Brunswick.  Boat access along the coast of Maine is a challenge as there is a significant shortage of options.  About fifteen years ago, I was part of a boat access committee organized by the Maine Department of Conservation.  Interested groups from all over the state participated and I represented recreational canoeists and kayakers on behalf of my outdoor club.  We met several times over a two-year period.  During my tenure, I advocated for the state to partner with existing marinas and campgrounds to increase access rather than build costly controversial boat landings like Mere Point.  For reasons I never understood, my recommendation seemed to be considered heresy by ranking state officials on the committee.  Eventually, they stopped scheduling committee meetings.  Call me cynical but I don’t believe they were interested in the advice proffered by members but rather had an unstated agenda.  From my admittedly biased viewpoint, the contentious nature of the birth of Mere Point Boat Launch seemed to validate my proposal.  

That said, Mere Point is an exceptional facility and now that it exists, I take full advantage.  There is substantial paved parking, two concrete launches, a dock, a well-organized system for loading and unloading boats, and two toilets, closed at present due to Covid-19.   I understand the concerns about spreading the coronavirus but don’t get the logic behind opening the facility but keeping the toilets closed.  I suspect people still need to use a toilet during the pandemic.  If you’re an old man like me, the call occurs more often than I care to relate.  I’m not a scientist, just thinking…

Spring and summer programming at The Root Cellar

In step with the Governor’s reopening plan for Maine, The Root Cellar in Lewiston set in motion their first stage of programming post pandemic shut-down on June 1. Dubbed Sensational Spring, neighborhood teens and young adults are volunteering in a mentor/tutor capacity with very small groups of children in a two-session, day camp style program. The mentors, some returning from previous summer programming, are trained to work with children, meeting them where they’re at and working to cultivate relationships. These teens and young adults will continue to develop their leadership skills throughout the summer as they mentor groups for Sensational Spring and for Super Summer (beginning July 6).

The children and mentors are put into small, S.U.P.E.R. Groups (which stands for Supporting, Uniting, Preserving, Empowering, Relationship Group). Each day is split into two sessions. The morning session, called Brain Food is from 9 to 11 a.m. During this session, the groups eat breakfast and work on writing, math, health science, and tutoring. The afternoon session, from 12 to 3 p.m., is extra-curricular activities focusing on sports, games, art and character development. 

Although Sensational Spring has been going well for over two weeks, it has not been without some challenges. 

The Root Cellar staff carefully prepared a COVID-19 Policy for their Spring/Summer programming, with over 50 policies following CDC guidelines for day camps and recreation. Among these guidelines are the requirements that the groups are small and all children, mentors and staff are required to wear masks during any interaction. 

“The kids have adjusted pretty well,” says Mentorship Program Coordinator Alyssa Morgosh, but it has definitely been a transition for everyone, especially compared to last Summer’s activities at The Root Cellar. This difference in operations due to the pandemic is part of the reason Morgosh started Sensational Spring as a stepping-stone for this summer’s Super Summer. It gives the kids time to “adjust to something different than they’re used to at the Root Cellar,” said Morgosh. 

While this year has and will look a lot different than any other year, it has been filled with opportunities to bring God’s kingdom to the neighborhood. Many needs have arisen due to the pandemic, a primary one being food security. For many children, school was the primary way they received nutritious meals for breakfast and lunch. 

Along with expanded food pantry resources for the neighborhood, The Root Cellar became a primary location for breakfast and lunch distribution, in partnership with the Lewistion Public School System. Through distributing lunches, staff and volunteers at the Root Cellar have been able to connect with a significant number of families and children. 

Accompanying the meals distributed everyday were Brain Food worksheets for all levels of grade-school, prepared and distributed every morning by Morgosh, and staff members Emily Bollinge, and Victoria Derosier. 

And despite having limited capacity amid the pandemic, the small groups have been a blessing in disguise. The required structure allows for “a phenomenal staff ratio of two to one. Because of keeping the groups small, we’ve made a tremendous impact in these kid’s lives.” Morgosh explains. These small SUPER Groups allow for relationship development and opportunity among friends and neighbors to cultivate social, economic and spiritual wholeness. 

“We’ve had to get creative for field trip opportunities because of COVID-19 and social distancing,” Morgosh says. However, because of this, the kids have gotten to experience new things. One example Morgosh shared was that two children learned how to ride bikes during the programming so far, when they had never been on a bike before. 

The staff and volunteers are working hard to be a part of the neighborhood this summer despite necessary restrictions due to the pandemic and they look forward to a COVID-aware Super Summer beginning soon. 

Stay tuned for more information on summer programming for The Root Cellar in Lewiston and The Root Cellar in Portland. You can also visithttps://therootcellar.org for more information. 

Separated by the pandemic part 3: Caring for the Caregivers

Mary Graziano Richard stands in the lobby of her Grazi To Go take-out restaurant in Lisbon. Behind her are two of the original doors and other items from the famous Graziano’s Casa Mia Restaurant found by her father in 1969. (Photo by Nathan Tsukroff, PortraitEFX)

The following story is the third of several interviews being done by Nathan Tsukroff of PortraitEFX to capture the effects of this pandemic on the people of Maine. 

Healthcare workers do everything they can to care for their patients. But who is caring for the caregivers?

Mary Graziano Richard, owner of Grazi To Go, which opened in the basement of an old church in Lisbon in January 2019, brings 70 to 80 meals each week to caregivers at the Central Maine Medical Center and St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center in Lewiston.

“We try to do day and evening shifts, so each shift can get some,” she said. Meals are delivered either Wednesdays or Thursdays. 

Richard said that Jessica Strelitz, a Brunswick native now living in Virginia, reached out to her and asked if she would be willing to collaborate on a project raising money and feeding the workers at local hospitals. “We are raising money from any local people and even folks from out of state.” 

Richard is the daughter of Joe Graziano, who created Graziano’s Casa Mia Restaurant that served Italian fare from its location on Route 196 in Lisbon for 43 years. Graziano opened the restaurant in 1969. He had moved to Maine from Utica, NY, in the mid-1960’s to manage a McDonald’s restaurant in Lewiston. He died in 2000, and the restaurant was closed in 2012.

The restaurant was known for its boxing theme, with rooms in the restaurant named by round. Graziano was Chairman of the Maine Athletic Commission in the early 1990s.

Richard started working at the restaurant at 10-years-old, “doing dishes and helping clean. And then around 12, I started cooking,” Richard said. “I like making the sauce, and for meals, I like doing veal and chicken parm.” 

In a nod to the family’s restaurant, Richard installed two original doors from Graziano’s Casa Mia in the Grazi To Go lobby, along with paintings and other wall art.  

The menu is very similar to the Graziano’s Casa Mia menu, Richard said. One of the most popular items is the specially-made Italian dressing that customers call, “Liquid Gold”. Joe Graziano came up with the recipe for the thick dressing, which “makes the best marinated chicken or Portobello mushrooms,” Richard said. 

Grazi To Go is open Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, and only provides meals for take-out or delivery.

Out & About with Rachel Morin: Hot air balloon ride celebrates Sam Campbell’s 10th birthday

Adam and Emma are overwhelmed!

Story and photo by Rachel Morin

As we all know, The Great Falls Balloon Festival, attracting hundreds of thousands of people and tourists from all over Maine and nearby states, is sadly not happening this August in Lewiston-Auburn, another casualty of the Corona Virus. It would have been the 28th Annual and it is the first time it missed a year. 

The Festival organizers met in early May and came to this decision after realizing they could not guarantee social distancing restrictions and the mandate that out of state visitors quarantine for two weeks.  They released a statement saying, “In times like these, the Great Falls Balloon Festival, must consider the health and safety of our Festival goers and their families as our top priority.” 

The Balloon Festival promotes tourism to Central Maine and the Festival’s mission is to help raise money for area charities.  The three-day August Festival attracts 100,000 annually and is one of the top money-raisers. The crowds enjoy visiting the many food booths and craft/trade shopping booths set up throughout the park.  

Several fun activities for children and adults in the other booths draw the crowds in as well.  Hundreds of volunteers work these booths and live entertainment is plentiful both days and evenings.  

It is a special time for seeing old friends and relatives, catching up on families’ news, seeing how much the children have grown since the last time we saw them, and seeing the newest babies that were born the past year is very exciting. It is a happy time and a rewarding time.  It is fun to see so many out-of-towners from all over Maine attend, and the growing number of out-of-state tourists add to the gaiety.    

My family and I have been to every Balloon Festival since its beginning in 1992 when it was an instant hit.  As each grandchild was born, my husband Gerry and I would take each by the hand and show them the wonders of the colorful hot air balloons rising majestically in the air and the breeze taking them over the Androscoggin River.  Sometimes the pilots would dip for a splash in the river much to the delight of the spectators on the North Bridge (James B. Longley Bridge) and South Bridge (Bernard Lown Peace Bridge).

I have so many vivid memories of each year’s Balloon Festival, but the tenth birthday of Sam Campbell, my first grandson, was stellar.  This was the year his paternal Grandmother, Betty Campbell of Auburn, now of Minot, decided they would celebrate his milestone 10th birthday early, (October 6) with a first-time hot air balloon ride together! Grammie and Sam talked of nothing else as the summer progressed to the big August 2001 date at Simard-Payne Memorial Park.

The entire Morin and Campbell Families, including aunts, uncles, cousins, friends and the rest of the balloon riders arrived early that day and waited patiently as they watched many balloons being inflated.  

Our balloon, The Jackie Balloon, piloted by Andre Boucher was one of the many balloons being inflated first. Each family had its assignment: each driver of the family cars would follow our balloon as best he could with the help of his passengers monitoring the sky overhead as the breeze carried the balloon along.        

We wanted to be on hand when The Jackie Balloon landed!  We had no idea of where the overhead breeze would take it or where it would land.  We followed by car, pretty good, I must say, though I was glad I was not the driver!

We even managed to take several photos, of which some are posted here for you to see.  We watched The Jackie Balloon fly over Cleveland Field in Auburn, then later over No Name Pond in Lewiston with many sightings in between.   

It really was the thrill of a lifetime for Sam and his Grandmother.  And even for the rest of us, especially for Sam’s younger siblings, Emma and Adam, who were really pumped up and overwhelmed.

After many sightings according to the whims of the breeze, our Jackie Balloon landed in Greene.  We were right there, helping to deflate the balloon and moving the basket where the pilot designated. 

There is ceremony and tradition for these balloon rides.  Pilot Andre Boucher related the history of the balloon landing and how the bottle of champagne is presented to the pilot, who pops the cork, giving the crowd a sense of the history, tradition and ceremony.

As it turned out, my son Gerry Morin caught the cork and so, received the first glass of champagne.   I was surprised to be offered the second glass. 

And so now in 2020, the Friends and Fans of The Great Falls Balloon Festival look forward hopefully to 2021, when once again they will look to the sky and see the bright, colorful balloons carried by a gentle breeze over the Androscoggin River.


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