Gateway to Opportunity: Opening More Doors for Youth in Maine

It’s no secret that the employees of the John T. Gorman Foundation are passionate about their work. We feel a deep urgency in our work, and we’re excited about the outcomes created by our community partners. Spend a few minutes in senior program associate Sara Gagné-Holmes’ office, and you’ll walk out feeling inspired about the outcomes around the Gateway to Opportunity (G2O) project. Her enthusiasm is contagious.

“We’re seeing real change,” she notes. “Change in the kids as they learn new skills and start thinking about using these skills in a future job, but also a change in how our community and businesses view Maine’s young people. Businesses struggle to find skilled workers, and young people struggle to find meaningful employment. G2O bridges that divide. Maine’s employers are seeing that first-hand.”

What exactly is the Gateway to Opportunity Project and why is Sara so excited about it? It’s a summer program that launched in 2016, connecting low-income, young people – traditionally rising juniors and seniors in local high schools – with paid, work-based learning opportunities where they hone and develop the skills they need to find a job after they graduate from high school. The high school students are matched with students at USM who serve as team leaders and role models.

Funded by the John T. Gorman Foundation and Maine Economic Improvement Fund (MEIF), the program operates through a partnership between the Cutler Institute at the University of Southern Maine (USM) and Goodwill Northern New England. During the summers of 2016 and 2017, G2O supported 12 project teams at 10 different host sites serving more than 60 youth. In 2017, funding expanded to include the Elmina B. Sewall and Sam L. Cohen Foundations, Norway Savings and Bank of America.

Participants earn a wage for work done and can connect with banking staff on how to set goals for the money they’ve made. Participants also can earn Extended Learning Opportunity (ELO) credit toward their high school degrees. They’re learning how problem-solving and critical thinking skills can come into play in the daily workforce and how STEM courses they take in school translate to STEM careers after graduation. They’re imagining their futures while gaining real skills to achieve that future.

This summer, IDEXX and Bangor Savings Bank joined as host sites and financial sponsors. Both companies are entirely funding the wages for the youth participants and the USM team leaders working on their projects. Additional partners, including Unum and Norway Savings Bank, are supporting the program.

“At the end of this summer, we’ll have 45 additional young people with training benefiting Maine’s talent pipeline, bringing the project total to 105. In a state of Maine’s size, those 105 kids can make a real impact on Maine businesses – on the future of Maine itself,” noted Sara.