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  • Matt Moffat

Giving back a "Priority"

Another year has come and gone; one full of projects and real estate deals that Priority Real Estate Group has ended by giving $10,000 back to the community through donations to community and nonprofit organizations. The money was divvied up amongst Seeds of Independence, Brunswick Public Art and the Coastal Humane Society in Brunswick, and the Topsham Public Library. “At Priority Real Estate Group, we believe that economic development and community development go hand in hand,” a press release from the company states. “We understand that not everyone feels they benefit from economic development, so we’ve made the commitment to respond to other needs within the communities where we build our projects. After the completion of every property, we donate to area community organizations that primarily support kids, provide heating assistance and address hunger prevention.” Seeds of Independence Executive Director Tom Wright said the best thing about the $5,000 donation it received is that it was matched by the Wind Point Foundation, doubling the gift.“Secondly, we’re expanding our programs into the middle schools,” Wright said. Seeds of Independence has the Navigate mentoring program in Freeport, Brunswick and Mt. Ararat high schools, which has been very successful and has involved around 327 kids. Now, the programs will start in Freeport and Brunswick middle schools and hopefully Mt. Ararat Middle School at some point. Incorporated in 2008, the organization’s Jump Start program has been going since 1997. “Our mission is to help youth become independent, useful members of the community,” said Wright. The sooner you can instill that in young people so they get that sense of purpose the better, he said. “We really look at it like any youth who could use additional structuring; additional support in their lives to move ahead, and not just kids managed by the police department or court system,” Wright said. “The goal is to really get into the middle schools more and work with younger ages because that is what the schools and judicial system are asking for and the kids are much more challenging at young ages than they used to be.” Because the organization is entirely supported by the community, “it’s important to get that community commitment,” he said. Topsham Public Library Director Susan Preece said Priority Real Estate Group CEO and President Jim Howard was interested in the Santa Reads program and the possibility of doing something for the holiday for the kids. His interest “is, of course, making a difference in children’s lives and that’s what we do,” Preece said. For several years, the library has worked with the town’s Parks and Recreation Department to offer a story time with Santa. With the $1,000 donation the library purchased award-winning books from Scholastic Publishing Co. so children who filled the large meeting room for story time were able to pick a book of their choice to take home. “We’ve seen kids get really excited about Santa,” Preece said. But “you should have seen 100 kids milling about a table choosing a special book from Santa.” Preece said it wasn’t about buying anything. “It was about sharing a special time of year and sharing it in a positive way and encouraging kids to imagine and think and read,” she said, “and it doesn’t get any better than that.” It was the Pet-Assisted Therapy program at Coastal Humane Society that Priority Real Estate Group earmarked a donation of $1,000 for, said Jane Siviski, the marketing and development coordinator for CHS. PAT is a new program run by volunteer Mary Boutin who is a therapy dog trainer, Siviski said. Volunteers with the program who successfully complete the training will take their dogs to visit community facilities, spending time with residents in nursing homes and assisted living facilities, for example. The Coastal Humane Society was overjoyed when Howard reached out with this donation, “especially for such a young program,” Siviski said. “He had heard about the Pet-Assisted Therapy program and was particularly jazzed about it,” she said. Since starting PAT in the spring, knowing they liked the idea but not knowing where it would go, Siviski said word of the program surged within the community and volunteers signed on. “It’s really great to have a program that resonates with the community,” Siviski said. Also a recipient is Brunswick Public Art, which facilitates the placement of art in public places for the enjoyment and benefit of the whole community and visitors. Priority’s “leadership donation” was contributed to the sculpture slated for Brunswick Station, one among many generous donations. The 7.5-foot permanent abstract sculpture by artist Miles Chapin is expected to be installed in June 2015. “Jim Howard is excited about public art,” said BPA art director Susan Weems. “So to have people like him and others who have stepped up is wonderful.” Working with a Bowdoin College Public Art class, Weems said the organization completed its first two projects in 2011: a mural in the reception area of the Mid Coast Walk-In Clinic at Brunswick Station funded by the Mid Coast Hospital Auxiliary and the creation of six multi-colored vinyl banners with a fruit and vegetable theme funded by Hannaford Corp. for the Brunswick store. Weems said a group project was just completed at Brunswick Landing consisting of health and wellness murals done by Art Van students and students from Brunswick junior and high schools, St. John’s Catholic School and Bowdoin College. Bowdoin College Public Art students are currently working to locate a historic themed mural on the wall of Fort Andross facing Route 1, to be funded by Fort Andross management and private donations. Howard annually supports the pie sale at First Baptist Church in Topsham to fund mission trips to the Dominican Republic, and this year contributed $1,250 to purchase what longtime Pastor Ron McLaughlin affectionately calls the “most expensive pies bought in the history of Topsham.” McLaughlin recently retired from the church after 20 years and has a new gig at a Litchfield church. For years Howard has come by the pie sale and bought pies, helping to provide a transformative experience for the kids taking the mission trips because “they go and see kids in a Third World and it changes their lives,” McLaughlin said. “He’s been very faithful in doing that and it’s deeply appreciated.”

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