Monday, March 10, 2014
WATERVILLE — On a frigid Wednesday night, a man dressed as Santa stood inside the downtown storefront window of The Center, waving at passing children, bundled up from the cold.
KRINGLEVILLE COMMUNITY: Thomas Turbovsky, 3, has an in-depth discussion with Santa Claus about his wish list during a visit to Kringleville at REM in downtown Waterville recently.
Staff photo by Michael G. Seamans
DREAM MAKER: Surrounded by a wall of dream catchers, REM Executive Director Faye Nicholson speaks about her 18 years at the organization in Waterville.
Staff photo by David Leaming
In years past, the children and their parents waited outside to see St. Nick in a hut in the center of nearby Castonguay Square.
The change to an indoor location, a welcome addition to the holiday season for the visiting families and volunteers alike, was made possible by Revitalizing the Energy in Maine, known as REM. The nonprofit volunteer organization has aimed to make central Maine a more connected and collaborative community for the last 18 years.
During that time, REM has worked to develop the greater Waterville community by beautifying the downtown area, helping with the city’s annual events such as the Santa visits, transforming the former department store into a multi-use community building and helping support new nonprofit organizations.
One organization that has flourished with the help of REM is Kennebec Messalonskee Trails.
What started as an idea at an REM meeting turned into its own nonprofit organization, according to Peter Garrett, founder and president of the trail group. It builds and maintains walking, running, cycling and cross-country ski trails along the waterways of Waterville, Winslow, Benton, Fairfield and Oakland.
“We got the trails project up and going at REM in 2000, and in 2003 it occurred to us that we needed to set up a nonprofit with the mission of building trails,” Garrett said.
While the organization was taking the necessary steps to get its federally tax exempt status, REM helped nurture it and grow.
“REM was already designated as a nonprofit, so they helped us raise funds,” Garrett said. “It was an interim measure, and when we became tax-exempt certified in 2004, we remained a partner with REM.”
The partnerships REM has with other start-up nonprofit groups in the area is familial, according to Garrett.
“If REM is the mother and father, and Kennebec Messalonskee Trails is a child, they would want us to be independent, which is what we did,” Garrett said. “But we’re still a part of the family.”
Through the years, REM has helped local organizations, including Colby College and Inland Hospital, by publicizing upcoming events and providing space if needed.
“Because REM has a wide network of partners, they have been very helpful in promoting Inland Hospital community wellness events to many audiences,” said Sara Dyer, director of community relations for Inland Hospital. “They help us reach people interested in community activities in the greater Waterville area.”
REM helped the former Colby Craft Fair find a series of new homes in town as the REM Craft Fair in 2009, after the college’s parents weekend grew too crowded to host the fair.
REM gets no funding and none of its volunteers are paid, which is a unique setup, according to Scott Schnapp, executive director of Maine Association of Nonprofits, which works to strengthen the leadership and organization of Maine nonprofit groups.
“It’s pretty unusual, quite honestly. I can’t say there aren’t other groups like this, but it’s rare,” Schnapp said, adding that the association has worked with REM in the past to help promote regional events. “It’s always great to identify groups locally that get together so we can work with them on what they need and use them as hubs for marketing vehicles.”
A nonprofit incubator
REM works closely with more than 50 organizations, including the Waterville Opera House, Waterville Main Street, Habitat for Humanity and Maine Children’s Home, bringing people together to make changes to the surrounding communities through organized events, fundraising, nonprofit startups and other outreach programs.
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