A region-wide project that will engage middle and high school students throughout Aroostook County in community service, while raising money for future scholarships, was announced today by area public school officials and leaders with the Aroostook Aspirations Initiative (AAI).

(Left to Right) Tim Graham, Jean Pelkey, Mandy Graham, Dustin Graham, Aroostook Aspiration’s president Sandy Gauvin, executive director April Flagg, vice president Jason Parent.

The combined community service project and fundraiser, Heidi’s Hope Serve-a-Thon, will involve middle and high school students in 16 County school districts in the fall of 2015.  The effort will be piloted this October, with six schools participating in the initial event.

“Heidi’s Hope is an event that engages our youth in their communities,” said AAI Executive Director April Flagg. “By partnering with post-secondary schools and several non-profits throughout Aroostook. Students will seek sponsorships for their participation in local projects to benefit their community during a County-wide community service day. This day will include major community service projects that are visual in nature and needed within a particular community.  It is the linchpin fundraiser of our organization and part of the program’s six-point plan.”

Participating in the pilot project this fall are students at the middle and high school level in Easton, Fort Kent, Houlton, Mars Hill, Washburn and Wisdom (St. Agatha/Frenchville).

Superintendents with the six school districts were the first to step forward to adopt the Heidi’s Hope Serve-a-Thon concept, which is designed to strengthen the bond young people in Aroostook have with their communities, with the hope of working to reverse the disturbing trend of outward migration in the region – one of the primary goals of AAI.

Tim Doak, superintendent of schools in the western St. John Valley’s AOS 95 and MSAD# 27, and president of Aroostook County Superintendents Association, and Roger Shaw, superintendent of MSAD #42 and the Easton School Department, were the first to step forward, signing up their respective schools for the pilot program.

“Today's students need to have a better connection with their respective communities,” said Doak. “Having a common experience that will promote a positive outcome for their community is great, and helping to raise valuable scholarship funds for County students is wonderful. Students are more likely to live in the area in which they graduate from college. Aroostook County needs to increase the 18-44 year old age group to provide a stable population for the future of Aroostook County.”

In announcing the serve-a-thon collaboration between AAI and County schools, Parent, who serves as vice president of the AAI Board of Directors, spoke about the importance of encouraging civic engagement and how the new effort fits perfectly with AAI’s work plan, which is centered on educational attainment, economic development and community betterment.  He also introduced members of the family of the late Heidi Graham, the project namesake, who were in attendance for the announcement in the Board Room at MMG Insurance in Presque Isle.

“We could not be more proud to name our signature community serve-a-thon in honor and memory of Heidi Graham,” said Parent. “Born in Presque Isle and a resident of Mapleton, along with her husband, Tim, and three children, Jacob, Dustin and Mandy, Heidi succumbed to cancer in 2013 after a courageous two-year battlewith stage four breast cancer. She was an inspiration to people throughout Aroostook County.  She embodied community service, and her contributions to The County business community are part of the reason the Aroostook Aspirations Initiative exists today.”

Heidi Graham was AAI Founder Ray Gauvin’s partner in Advantage Payroll Service for 26 years, and helped him build the business to be the number one payroll processor in Maine.

“She was instrumental in the company receiving national awards, and her involvement in the business is what made this private endeavor possible,” -- Ray Gauvin.

In addition to her key role building Advantage Payroll alongside Ray Gauvin and her other full-time job as wife and mother, Heidi was always willing to help out in any way she could. She volunteered countless hours with schools, church, Girl Scouts, Aroostook Teen Leadership Camp, and other community programs.

“Heidi profoundly believed in community service as an integral part of one’s life. She knew that service is paramount in making our communities a better place to live.

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The success resulting from Heidi’s and Ray’s hard work provided the seed funding for Aroostook Aspirations Initiative. Additionally, the commitment by both businesses leaders to serve their community and to ‘pay it forward’ is the very genesis of the County-wide project.  As such, it is only fitting that we recognize Heidi’s legacy and honor her with ‘Heidi’s Hope.’ Just as Heidi devoted her life to education, community, business, and family, our event aims to bring out the best in Aroostook County by bringing together all parts of our community for the greater good,” said AAI co-founder and president, Sandra Gauvin.

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During the press conference announcing the event, members of Heidi Graham’s family unveiled the Heidi’s Hope Serve-a-Thon logo, which prominently features a butterfly.  Following the reveal, they shared their thoughts about the County-wide effort being named in honor and memory of their loved one.

“It is hard to put into words our appreciation and what it means to have this event named in our mother's memory, but my family is quite humbled and honored,” said Graham’s son Dusty. “Being involved with community is something I have always been used to because together my parents raised the three of us children with the understanding of how important it is to help others and to get involved with our community. From the time each of us was young, mom volunteered with most anything we were involved with. She showed us the importance of being involved with community. This was not because she had to, it was because she wanted to, which taught us that we weren't forced to get involved, we were encouraged to. Through the support we received from our friends, family, and community while mom battled cancer, and even after she has passed, we have seen the impact she has made on so many people. Having this serve-a-thon named in her memory will not only teach our home county and community about the service our mom, Heidi Graham, gave to the community, it will always remind our family of the importance of continuing to be involved with the community.”

Aroostook County currently has the second highest outward migration in New England.  AAI and school officials hope this project will help keep more youth in the region.

Aroostook Aspirations Initiative Kicked off Today in Presque Isle