COMMUNITY COMMENTARY: An open letter to China residents from the town’s fire chiefs

Tim Theriault, Chief, China Village FD
Richard E. Morse, Chief, So. China FD
William Van Wickler, Chief, Weeks Mills FD

To the residents of the town of China, ME, from the volunteer fire departments.

First and foremost we thank you for your annual support both in the money allocated in our budgets, the stipend funds you have approved, and donations during our various fundraising efforts.

It is the collective opinion of the three volunteer fire departments that there are issues with the present selectboard that need to be addressed.

Recent events have brought to light, what in our opinion, appears an effort to control and dictate to the fire departments how to do business. In a recent “Special Meeting,” as it was titled on the town’s website, there was considerable discussion about the fire departments and action taken to reduce the stipend amount to be provided for firefighters in the proposed 2019/2020 budget. This move was done in one afternoon. A midday request was given to the town manager by the selectboard, he in turn provided an alternate to the existing system in place. That evening it was presented, a motion made to use the alternative, and approved unanimously by all members present. This was accomplished in less than one day. There was no discussion held or notice given to any of the fire departments. The only way we became aware of the matter was an after the fact email from the town manager, stating the selectboard approved an alternate to the stipends and the details of how it will work. This recommendation to cut the stipend of firefighters was proposed, ironically, as the selectboard has proposed to increase their own stipend.

In that same meeting, a selectboard member made the statement that a fire department has had the same budget figure for several years (this was proven to be incorrect at the next budget committee meeting). However, this brings to light the same pattern of distrust. This assumption was stated without any communication, not once did anyone reach out to that chief for clarification or an explanation, not to mention the past budgets were available for review had anyone bothered to check.

Here are some things to consider:

  1. In the Town of China, the Volunteer Fire Departments (VFDs) are independent State of Maine, nonprofit Corporations registered in good standing with the Secretary of State. This form of Fire protection is specifically allowed and provided for in Maine law. This law also allows the Town to support such VFDs with funding in order to provide the emergency services they are required to provide as a Town. VFDs consider these funds to be their operations funds, and they are used to support emergency services that they provide to the Town. The VFDs are not Municipal Fire Departments, and are not under the control and supervision of the Selectboard (Board). They are independent and they have been specifically acknowledged as such in two successive Memorandums of Understanding (MOU) agreed to by the Board and the Chiefs of the VFDs.
  2. The Board has indicated that they want to know how many fundraising dollars each VFD has so that they can reduce VFD operations budget allocations accordingly.
  3. It is not appropriate for VFD fundraising dollars be a revenue stream for the town. The funds raised do directly impact town services in the support of firefighting activities and materials. Raised funds are not projected revenue, but are instead additional efforts of volunteers to provide better services to their community. Unless there were some pattern of abuse of these funds, or complaints from the membership in regards to them, there is not a reasonable reason to request this information.
  4. The Board does have a right to see our books in reference to Town-provided tax dollars. We totally agree with that and currently provide the town with detailed quarterly financial reports showing how we spend Town provided funds.
  5. The fruits of these private donations as well as fundraising efforts directly pay for or provide matching grant funds for the VFDs to purchase fire trucks, build fire stations, support and reward membership, and for other costs consistent with our status as independent corporations.
  6. Two years ago, by the request of a former board member, an article was placed in the Town warrant asking the town to appropriate $40,000 for stipends for the VFDs and China Rescue. This was done as a good faith effort though not fully vetted. In spite of the VFD Chiefs speaking against the proposal on the grounds that we had not been consulted and that the proposal had not been fully thought through. Thankfully (in retrospect), the Townspeople voted overwhelmingly in support of it. The first year of the proforma (July 1, 2017), the Board and the VFDs signed an MOU which in addition to recognizing the independence of the VFDs, set up a process for providing the stipends to the VFDs. It called for certain amounts for Chiefs and other officers and for other amounts to reward participation by all members including the officers. The money was to be held by the Town and given to the VFDs on the basis of invoices presented to the Town. The Town would then cut a check to the VFDs and they would pay out the stipends based on the fixed amounts and participation. Financial reporting was required.
  7. In spite of our initial opposition to the stipend program, the VFDs now recognize and appreciate that it has become a positive factor and has met its intended goal of increased recruitment, retention and participation.
  8. It is ironic that what was once proposed by the board and opposed by the VFDs has turned completely around and for some reason unknown to us (because they no not consult us) the Board now seems to be in opposition to it as evidenced by their criticism and cuts to the stipend budget and the way it is managed.

China’s firefighters have a history of long-term commitment to the town. Some members serve as much as 50 years in one capacity or another. That type of dedication deserves to be commended, not shunned, at the very least a chance to participate in the decision-making process.

Additionally, there have been comments made by some selectmen stating we need to have only one department and a centralized fire station, again no discussion with the department heads as to why. This will not best serve the town. The geographic location of the existing stations works well and all departments respond seamlessly. It is our opinion that what we have now works well and effectively, so we are at a loss as to why so much effort has been given to fixing something that is, in our opinion, not broken.

Here are our questions: Do they have problems with the way we prevent, manage and control emergencies in this town? Do they think we are not doing our jobs? Do they question our motives? Do they think they can run the VFDs better than the current Chiefs? Do they think they have the knowledge, training and experience to do so? Do they think that change to a municipal, paid fire department would be better? If so, in what ways? Do they have personal problems with any of the Chiefs or members?

One thing we do know. The current situation is not sustainable and should not continue. Beyond the obvious need for communication, we feel the solution is to trust us with what we’re trained to do, take comfort that we know what we are doing, and let us continue the excellent emergency services we have provided to China since 1947.

We hope this information sheds some light on our situation and we hope to hear from you at the public hearings for the proposed budget and the town meeting.

P.S. For more information about how the selectboard and budget committee conduct their business, we recommend that you visit the Town’s website and look at the live stream of their recent meetings.

Kathleen McCowan performed in Muhlenberg College’s fall dance showcase “Moving Stories”

A spectacular evening of ballet, contemporary dance, tap, and jazz, “Moving Stories” showcased exciting new dance works November 8-10, 2018 at Muhlenberg College’s Trexler Pavilion for Theatre & Dance, in Allentown, Pennsylvania.

The works featured more than 60 students from the department’s dance program, among the most highly regarded programs of its kind. Kathleen McCowan, of Winslow, was one of the dancers in the program.

Two Lions cited for service

Whitefield Lions David Hayden, center, and Charlotte Hayes, right, were honored on February 28 for 10 years of service in the Whitefield Lions Club. At left is Whitefield Lions club president, Kim Haskell. (Contributed photo)

Families enjoy China’s free Fun Day

Contestants prepare for the duct tape sled competition. (Photo by Bob Bennett)

by Rick Hansen

We don’t often have the option or opportunity of opening our property to neighbors, and sometimes that feels un-neighborly. It is a consequence of the litigious world in which we live, and sometimes it can’t be avoided. We feel that there need to be times set aside for intentionally welcoming and visiting with our community… as family, as friends, and as neighbors.

Living in the northeast, we usually think of summer as the best time for community gatherings like block parties, backyard picnics, parades, and outdoor celebrations. Some of our neighbors realized that there was a need for winter community also, and that is why they approached us four years ago about being the host site for a China Community family sledding party.

We had some reservations, but decided to pray about the opportunity and then accepted the challenge. What began as a small, localized sledding event has steadily grown into an event that attracts hundreds of people looking for a day to celebrate winter fun in Maine with family and friends and neighbors. This year, February 16 was the day for the Family Fun Day… and what a day it turned out to be! Despite concerns due to lack of snow, icy conditions, unpredictable weather, etc., prayers were answered and all the pieces landed in place for a memorable outdoor event on a pleasantly mild winter day.

After months of reviewing last year’s event, brainstorming and planning for this year’s event, and reaching out to sponsors new and old, it was time for the 2019 Family Fun Day to begin. Volunteers arrived throughout the morning, ready to serve their neighbors in the kitchen, dining hall, and sledding areas. That included some Jobs for Maine Graduates and other students from China Middle School as well as several adults. Final adjustments were made to the sledding hill and the delicious food that was very generously provided by Big G’s, in Winslow, was warmed.

Banners, provided by Central Church of China, were hung around to direct families to the festivities while Fletcher’s Lawn and Yard Care spread sand on the icy areas. Bar Harbor Bank and Trust set up a table from which they offered Gatorade, cocoa, and sunglasses near where Bob’s Glass and More set up a S’more station so that people could warm by the fire and make their own S’mores with ingredients donated by Gene at Lakeview Lumber. Delta Ambulance and China Village Fire and Rescue were both represented, making sure that any sledding injuries were quickly and skillfully handled.

The China Four Seasons Club brought their new trail groomer and sleigh to offer rides through the field by the lake. The cardboard (and duct tape) sled race capped off the day as imaginatively designed, homemade sleds sped down the hill, racing for gift card prizes purchased with donations by LaVerdiere’s General Store, Branch Mills Heating Solutions, Lakeview Lumber and others.

Other ingredients for the day were donated by local churches and individuals, and everyone was so blessed by them! Because of such generous donations of time and resources, there was absolutely no charge to enter, participate, eat, and enjoy the fellowship with neighbors. Family is foundational in this community, and the local definitions of neighbor and family are often one and the same.

We appreciate the generosity of our sponsors, those who brought gifts of food which were donated to the China Food Pantry to help keep our neighbors fed this winter, and those who donated their time to come serve their community and neighbors.

Planning for a 2020 Family Fun Day has already begun and we expect to make a few improvements for next year. We hope to see you then!

The Hansens are Camp Directors at China Lake Camp.

KHS to present story of family’s life in a lighthouse

Marshall Point Lighthouse, located near the fishing village of Port Clyde, Maine (photo: marshallpoint.org)

Imagine living in a century-old lightkeeper’s house on the coast of Maine. It sounds like a fantasy, but for Tom and Lee Ann Szelog, dream became reality when they settled into the keeper’s quarters at the Marshall Point Lighthouse, in Port Clyde.

Join the Szelog’s to experience what it’s like to live in an authentic and operating lighthouse on the Maine coast on Wednesday, March 20, at 6:30 p.m., at the Maine State Library.

The Szelog’s home was remote by most people’s standards, yet relatively accessible for a lighthouse station. Sometimes they had only wildlife and passing boats for company, but not for long, because the spell of the lighthouse drew pilgrims in all seasons. People came to rest, to play, to marry, to meditate and to celebrate – all within view of the keeper’s house and the lenses of Tom’s camera.

In a narrated photography presentation based on the Szelog’s book, Our Point of View – Fourteen Years at a Maine Lighthouse, witness the ever changing tide of emotion and drama through compelling stories and extraordinary photographs.

Published by Down East magazine, the book has been honored as one of the best photo books by Shutterbug magazine and was the winner of Best Maine-Themed Book in the Maine Literary Awards from the Maine Writers and Publishers Association. The book is also a Gold Medal winner from the Independent Publishers Association.

The presentation is co-sponsored by the Maine State Library and free to the public (donations are accepted). For more information, contact Scott Wood, KHS administrative director, at kennhis1891@gmail.com or call 207-622-7718

The Maine State Library is located at 230 State Street, in Augusta.

China’s Lydia Gilman wins Maine’s Got Talent competition

Lydia Gilman, 16, of China, performs at the Maine’s Got Talent competition, in Lewiston, on March 9. Lydia won the competition. (Photo by EM. Images, photographer, Erik Peterson)

Lydia Gilman, 16, an Erskine Academy junior, from China, took home first prize at the 2019 Maine’s Got Talent competition. Maine’s Got Talent is a dynamic musical competition featuring the selected top 10 performing artists in Maine for the show. The top three winners of Maine’s Got Talent receive cash prizes of: $750 for first place, $500 for second place and $250 for third place. The event was held at the Gendro Franco Center, in Lewiston, on March 9, 2019.

Lydia sang, If I Ain’t Got You Babe, in the styles of Alicia Keys and brought the house down. The second place award went to Jaycen Daigle, of Eliot, performing an original composition (both singing and playing guitar). The third place award went to Tessa Walker, of Portland, who sang You Make Me Feel A Natural Woman, in the style of Aretha Franklin.

There was a panel of celebrity judges for the event. The judges were: Tom Doucette, (a former Maine’s Got Talent participant), Celeste from WBLM, and Joe Phillipon, of the Lewiston Police Department. The final results included the judges’ voting along with audience participation. Molly McGill was the emcee for the competition.

This event is a fundraiser for Sandcastle Clinical & Educational Services, a private, nonprofit agency established in 1996, that provides quality services for children with special needs and those at risk for developmental issues. This is the 8th Annual Maine’s Got Talent competition for Sandcastle and its largest fundraiser for the year.

Lydia is the daughter of Lance and April Gilman, and granddaughter of Judi Gilman, of China.

Winslow girl receives national award from HGHW

Mikayla Reynolds, a senior at Winslow High School, is one of six Maine girls who will receive an award at Hardy Girls Healthy Women’s 12th annual Girls Rock! Awards on March 22. The girls were nominated by their communities to be honored for their outstanding achievements in one of the following categories: STEM, athletics, entrepreneurship, health advocacy, community organizing, and defying the odds for success. Mikayla was chosen for her outstanding achievements in community organizing. Here is what was written about Mikayla for her nomination:

Mikayla Reynolds

“Mikayla is making change all over her community. She is the assistant director of the Out and Allied Youth Theater, a volunteer with the REM community group, the creator of the Clothing Exchange Closet, an active member of the ‘Save the Mill’ Fundraising Committee, in North Vassalboro, and working on organizing a child care center within the mill. She has been involved in the Olympia Snowe Women’s Leadership institute for three years, a member on the Service Unit for the Girl Scouts, the youth representative of the Poverty Action Coalition and active member at the South End Teen Center, and is spearheading the creation of a needs-closet in this facility as well. Mikayla is on the Lawrence Civil Rights team and has a mind for increasing justice and equality in the world around her. Mikayla has overcome tremendous challenges in her personal life to get where she is now and to propel herself into a brighter future. She is eager to continue changing the world by providing support to those who need it. She strives to make her community become a healthier, safer, and tolerant place.”

Tickets to the event can be purchased here as well as all info about the event: http://hghw.org/programs/girls-rock/girls-rock-awards/.

Henry Sainio celebrates 90th birthday

Henry Sainio (contributed photo)

Henry Sainio, of Washington, was honored at a party for his 90th birthday on March 2. At his place large digits were displayed along with his cake. In an example of his good-natured wit, Henry turned the 9 into a 6 before taking the first bite of his cake. Neighbors, relatives and friends crowded the room to bring birthday greetings and share memories.

VCS JMG members pages for a day 2019

Members of the Vassalboro Community School Jobs for Maine Graduates served as pages for the day on February 19, in the Maine State Legislature. They later visited with Gov. Janet Mills, center. (Photo courtesy Victor Esposito)

Debunking the myths about donating bone marrow

The National Marrow Donor Program has published information on the BeTheMatch.org website to dispel the misinformation concerning marrow donation. The following information are excerpts from their site to correct the myths that may be holding back potential donors from registering.

Chance Cunningham, a young boy from the town of China,  who was recently the recipient of a bone marrow transplant.

Myth #1: Bone Marrow Donation Requires Surgery.

Three out of four donations are made through a nonsurgical technique called PBSC, peripheral blood stem cell donation. This technique removes the blood-forming cells from the donor’s blood through a needle in the donor’s arm much like a regular blood donation procedure.

Myth #2: Pieces of Bone are Removed.

This is never the case. Donors only provide the liquid marrow which is taken from the pelvic bone.

Myth #3: Donating Bone Marrow is Painful.

In the 25 percent of cases for which surgery is required, the donor is put under general anesthesia and feels no pain. Donors generally return home the same day and go back to their usual routine within a week.

Myth #4: Donating Bone Marrow is Bad for the Donor’s Heath.

Less than five percent of the donor’s marrow is removed, which is not enough to cause any health problems. These cells replace themselves in four to six weeks.

Myth #5: Donating is Costly to the Donor.

Bone Marrow donors do not pay to donate. The National Marrow Donor Program pays for the donor’s travel cost.

Myth #6: The Need for Bone Marrow Donors is Declining

Annually, more than 10,000 Americans are diagnosed with life-threatening diseases, such as leukemia or lymphoma, for which the only cure is a bone marrow transplant. Their lives literally depend on finding suitable donor matches before it is too late.