The John T. Gorman Foundation is providing a periodic roundup of news articles chronicling the emerging challenges of vulnerable Mainers during the pandemic, and highlight new resources and innovative practices that may be helpful to organizations, individuals, and communities working to address those challenges. NOTE: the resource items referenced below, and others, can be found on the Foundation’s COVID-19 Resources page. Our April 29 update is available here.
Teaching & Feeding from Afar
Two months after schools closed, Maine teachers continue to find new ways to engage their students, like this teacher from Auburn giving science lessons from his kitchen and an Oxford Elementary gym teacher inspiring students to take to the trails. But challenges persist for both families and their teachers. The Sun Journal spoke with five parents in Western Maine about their experiences facilitating remote learning for their children, and a Portland elementary school teacher and her students shared their ups and downs with the Press Herald.
Besides academics, Maine schools have also been working hard to ensure that low-income students continue to get the meals they normally would have gotten during the school day. New data from the Maine Department of Education seem to show that their efforts are paying off, as the number of meals distributed in April was only slightly less than what was served over the same month last year. Still, districts continue to strive to reach more students, such as Portland, which is looking at expanding the number of drop off sites and starting home delivery. News also came this month that the families of about 82,000 Maine students who qualify for free or reduced lunch will now see increases in their federal SNAP benefits through the Pandemic-EBT program.
|Further reading: Education
Older Youth Face Transitions at a Time of Uncertainty
As graduation time nears for Maine’s high school seniors, several articles have focused on how these students are coping with important transitions while schools are closed, proms are canceled and graduations go online. In its Deep Dive: Coronavirus series, Maine Public spoke with several high-school seniors about what their year has been like. Pine Tree Watch has also launched a series – 2020: A Class Dismissed – to profile high-school students across the state.
With the end of the academic year for Maine colleges, a new report shows that – despite the sudden shift to remote learning – most UMaine students have stayed on course in their academics. Several students interviewed cited the support and flexibility of their professors as positive factors.
The COVID-19 pandemic has led to another kind of transition for some of Maine’s most vulnerable youth – a release from secure detention. Since March, Maine has seen a significant drop in the population of the Long Creek Development Center and new efforts are underway to support these youth in their home communities. (Foundation Program Associate Lisa Margulies has provided an analysis of these juvenile justice developments and the years of collaboration that led up to it.)
|Further Reading: Older Youth
Pressures Mount for Families
As the pandemic stretches on, pressure continues to mount on Maine families. As many as 150,000 Mainers have filed for unemployment benefits in the last two months and the number of Maine people applying for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and SNAP doubled in April. With businesses reopening, many parents returning to work are now worried about finding childcare.
|Further Reading: Families
Efforts Seek to Support Seniors
The coronavirus outbreak has been especially hard on Maine seniors who are at an increased risk of severe illness. As many seniors are trying to stay at home as much as possible, communities are working to get them what they need. In Portland, the Office of Elder Affairs has organized a volunteer program to shop for and deliver essentials, and the Eastern Area Agency on Aging has reported a significant increase in demand and support for it Meals on Wheels program. Local organizations are working to support seniors in other ways as well, as this article chronicles efforts to help them stay fit and healthy during the pandemic.
|Further Reading: Seniors
Housing & Safe Shelter Remain Critical
Efforts to provide safe shelter to homeless individuals have proven especially important – and challenging – as an outbreak at Bangor’s Hope House sickened more than 20.. There was also one positive case for a former visitor to Lewiston’s temporary wellness shelter, but additional tests at the shelter turned up negative. In Midcoast Maine, hotels are being used to house the homeless.
In other news, Maine’s renters have been receiving new assistance to help pay their rent and keep their housing. In its first two weeks, about 5,000 applied for the program, which is administered by Maine Housing with help from regional Community Action Programs.
|Further reading: Housing
Other Important News
The racial disparities seen in coronavirus cases across the country has not escaped Maine, as new data shows that African-Americans account for 1.7% of the state’s population but nearly 4% of COVID cases.
As the pandemic increases people’s stress and anxiety, while cutting off the usual paths to supports, mental health providers and stakeholders are trying to create new ways for people to get help. (This includes John T. Gorman Fellow and Nami Maine Executive Director Jenna Mehnert, whose organization has launched a new text line for teens w/ support of a grant from the Foundation.)
Though slowed by the pandemic, stakeholders in Lewiston continue their work to confront and address poverty in the city’s Tree Streets Neighborhood. More on their efforts here.
–From the John T. Gorman Foundation, stay safe and keep in touch!