Congratulations to Doris Bourret from Rumford, the winner of Pine Tree Society’s 2022 Christmas Sweeps drawing at Pine Tree Society. Pine Tree Society Sweepstakes raise money to help Pine Tree Society transform lives. For information about the sweepstakes, call us at 207-443-3341.
Pine Tree Society Blog
Auburn’s Community Support program constructs holiday gingerbread houses
In celebration of the holiday season, Auburn’s Community Support program spent the morning of December 20th getting into the holiday spirit by building their very own gingerbread houses from scratch.
The group used graham crackers, sticky frosting, and lots of holiday-themed candies to design their masterpieces.
These edible pieces of art were sent home with the group members today to decorate their personal spaces with some holiday cheer.
Happy holidays from all of us at Pine Tree Society!
Seasonal celebrations shine through at our Early Learning Center
At Pine Tree Society’s Early Learning Center in Auburn, this holiday season was filled with new experiences and opportunities to learn about traditions like Hanukkah, Christmas, gift giving and helping others. As the students tried new things, they had so much fun they didn’t even realize how much they were learning.
“Spinning a dreidel is not just exciting, it requires fine motor skills to make it happen,” said Karen McClure-Richard, director of the Early Learning Center. “Listening to a children’s book about Hanukkah being read aloud requires practicing skills like sitting still, paying attention and listening.”
When kids are learning through play, unexpected things can happen that take the opportunity even further.
“One of our kiddos doesn’t talk,” recalled Karen. “She sings a little, but we can’t always make out the words. She lit the last candle on the menorah and her face lit up and she spontaneously started singing ‘Happy Birthday’ for all of us to hear. It was wonderful. For her, candles meant ‘birthday’ and she was able to express that clearly with her words.”
The holiday season is also a time for the kids to try new foods with different textures and practice sitting at the table using utensils. Something as simple as removing the foil wrapper from a piece of candy requires patience and determination to see it through.
“Bringing in special activities like holiday celebrations also requires students to experience a change in their usual routine,” Karen concluded. “That’s how they can learn to go with the flow, adapt and participate. Change can cause many different types of emotions, and this is an opportunity for the kiddos to learn how to be resilient in the moment.”
In the spirit of the season, each child was given a book and a pair of homemade mittens to take home. From sharing, to helping others, to learning about different traditions, the experiences gained this holiday season will carry over into many aspects of the children’s lives as they develop and grow.
Community Support completes Santa Shuffle 5K
You can do it.
You got this.
Yes you can!
Those are just some of the encouraging words the half-dozen runners on Pine Tree Society’s Community Support Program team heard from the sidelines at the Santa Shuffle 5K Run/Walk for the Children in Bridgton.
“This was our second 5K of the season,” said Pine Tree Society direct support professional Deb Cote. “We were all at different paces and had a lot of fun supporting each other. After the race we went out for pizza wearing our finisher medals and t-shirts and everyone congratulated our success. It was such a good feeling. It was just delightful.”
Deb is a certified Special Olympics trainer and the head of Pine Tree Society’s Special Olympics delegation in Androscoggin County.
“A lot of our clients take part in Special Olympics,” she continued. “There are so many different sports now. From bowling to tennis to swimming to skiing, there’s something for everyone. We get outside as much as we can. It’s important to stay active in the colder months so you don’t lose your conditioning.”
For Deb, staying active is as much about being together out in the community as it is about staying in shape. Taking part in events like 5Ks and Special Olympics gives people the chance to explore, try new things, learn about each other and make friends that last a lifetime.
Next up, Pine Tree Society’s community support participants are planning a trip to Old Orchard Beach on New Year’s Day for the annual Lobster Dip to raise money for Special Olympics. And, after the winter Special Olympics conclude, this spring they’ll take part in the Bath Savings Paddle for Pine Tree Camp.
“It’s become an annual tradition for us. The Paddle is a particularly good event for people in our group who don’t have a lot of stamina because they can try paddling in a tandem kayak,” Deb said. “It’s the perfect fit for someone to experience something new outdoors for the first time. Once they try it, they love it and want to paddle more.”
The Dirigo Experience: Looking back at 2022’s successes
This summer, 15 Maine Deaf and hard of hearing youth from 11 different towns began a year-long journey together at Pine Tree Camp. Joshua Seal, director of Interpreting Services at Pine Tree Society, collaborated with Pine Tree Camp to develop and launch the unique Dirigo Experience, designed to empower Deaf and hard of hearing students.
Joshua is Deaf and knows first-hand how isolating it is to grow up not knowing anyone your own age with the same experience.
“I only knew a few people I could communicate with until I turned 18 and went to college,” he recalled. Growing up hard of hearing is equally isolating. “People who are hard of hearing often can only make out the voices of a few people they are close with.”
After months of planning Dirigo Experience, as the campers arrived, Joshua felt an overwhelming sense of pride and excitement.
“It brought tears to my eyes to see the campers connect,” he said.
Many of the campers were fluent in American Sign Language (ASL) but a handful of campers knew just a few signs.
“One young lady arrived not knowing any ASL at all,” Joshua said. “On the first day, she borrowed a book about American Sign Language and, by end of week, was communicating and interacting fluently in ASL.
Learning how to communicate in ASL has changed the course of her future. This visual language opens her world to a broader and greater community filled with more friends and opportunities.”
Pine Tree Camp’s director Dawn Willard-Robinson couldn’t agree more.
“It was amazing to see the transformation she underwent from not using ASL to being fully immersed in the experience. I think that the four kids who came who didn’t use ASL overcame a lot of barriers by learning how to communicate in this new language.”
Pine Tree Society is proud to invest in the future by stepping up to help these young people develop a sense of connection and community now. And Pine Tree Camp was the perfect venue for that to happen.
“We were able to provide them with an intensive outdoor immersion and team-building challenge,” Dawn said. “You can’t go wrong with experiential learning. You learn so much about yourself and what you can do.”
Participants spent time outdoors paddling on North Pond, taking aim in the archery pavilion and navigating the challenge course. They also planned an overnight camping trip, actively taking part in packing, setting up camp and cooking together.
Programming was primarily led by Deaf staff and consisted of a mixture of outdoor leadership activities, team building and facilitated discussions led by experts from Disability Rights Maine Deaf Services, Maine Vocational Rehabilitation, Maine Division for the Deaf, Hard of Hearing and Late Deafened as well as Teachers of the Deaf.
Students learned about resources such as fl ashing lights for doorbells and fi re alarms and took part in interactive games to develop work skills. Program leaders covered college planning, drivers ed, how to request accommodations and empowered the kids to think about their future and build a foundation for success beyond school.
What makes this program so unique is that the participants in the pilot program have an active voice in shaping the design.
“This program fills a real need,” Dawn said. “So many camps across the country that provide programs for Deaf children have closed and there are only a handful left . To have this group of kids be a part of the process of building and growing the Dirigo Experience is an amazing opportunity for us all.”
Pine Tree Camp expands, innovates to transform more lives
After two long years apart, campers were thrilled to be back for Pine Tree Camp’s week-long overnight summer camp.
“Campers were ready to come back,” said Pine Tree Camp director, Dawn Willard-Robinson. “They really missed camp and it’s what they were all waiting for.”
Pine Tree Society president and CEO, Noel Sullivan, couldn’t agree more.
“We relaunched overnight camp safely and successfully and made it even more accessible and more exciting than ever for our campers,” he said. “While so much has changed over the past few years, the essence of Pine Tree Camp is stronger than ever. You see it in the faces of our campers, and you hear it from their families.”
Parents appreciated how accepted their children felt and that they were empowered to come out of their shell and try new things.
One parent shared: “To be in a place that is completely accessible where you don’t have to think about your chair or whether you can go here or there, that’s the magic of Pine Tree Camp – you can do everything.”
With safety as a top priority, sessions operated at a reduced capacity with fewer campers in each cabin and full Covid protocols in place. Pine Tree Camp’s food allergy and sensitivity initiative was also enhanced through an updated database of allergy and food sensitivities, master level training and color-coded menu boards.
“Eighteen percent of campers have a known food allergy, sensitivity or specialized diet and we had a success rate of zero allergic reactions,” Dawn said. “Our goal is to provide a seamless dining experience for every camper, no matter what their dietary needs are so they can sit back, relax and have fun.”
As the season turns to fall, campers and their families can continue to come to camp for the day or overnight through Pine Tree Camp Adventure Day Pass and Family Camp. Providing year-round access for families is transformational, allowing fully accessible time together outdoors in every season. Pine Tree Camp is now more accessible than ever with the significant improvements that have been completed to the access road, ensuring it can stay open year-round. All roadways and pathways on campus have been freshly
paved, making them even easier to navigate in all four seasons.
For families who couldn’t make it to Pine Tree Camp, the camp experience came to them through Pine Tree Camp on the Road.
“We know how hard it can be for families to travel to Pine Tree Camp, so we removed that barrier by bringing the Pine Tree Camp experience to them for a summer camp day program,” said Nate Podgajny, assistant director of Pine Tree Camp. “We’re always looking for ways to be more accessible and taking Pine Tree Camp on the Road brings programming to people for whom it’s harder to come to us.”
2022 also saw the addition of Pine Tree Camp’s Dirigo Experience, an immersive camp experience for Deaf youth and the first class of Pine Tree Camp’s new Leadership in Training program, which provides employment training and hands-on learning opportunities for Maine youth.
The vision for 2023 is to expand, innovate and transform more lives than ever. The goal is to return to 100% capacity for overnight summer camp, and expand Adventure Day Pass, Family Camp and Pine Tree Camp on the Road. Dirigo Experience and Leadership in Training are also on track to increase capacity.
“We’re always striving to provide the highest level of quality, care and safety,” Dawn said. “We’re Maine’s only American Camping Association-Accredited camp for people with disabilities and I’m proud to say that, once again, we passed their rigorous accreditation process with flying colors.”
A conversation with artist Sandy Crabtree
Artist Sandy Crabtree is a noted children’s book illustrator and longtime Bath resident who taught at Morse High School for nearly 30 years.
“Pine Tree Society has such a beautiful collection of Maine art that captures the history of this area.”
That’s how Sandy Crabtree describes the paintings Pine Tree Society has featured on more than 50 years of holiday cards.
Sandy’s artwork has been selected many times and it means a lot to her to be part of this tradition.
“I have a deep love for the state of Maine and Pine Tree Society’s holiday cards make me aware of how many different winter landscapes and settings artists discover and are struck by,” she said.
She considers it an honor to have her artwork included.
“It’s very prestigious and means something to be selected,” she continued. “I’ve always felt lucky to be a part of it. Richard Hasenfus was the very first artist featured, and he always encouraged other artists to participate.”
As a young artist, it was a way for her to gain large exposure for her work.
“Pine Tree Society’s holiday card tradition encourages and helps Maine’s artistic community and it’s all for a good cause.”
Sandy taught at Morse High School and had many students over the years who attended Pine Tree Camp.
“I first learned about Pine Tree Camp from my students and it made me aware of how much they do for kids and adults with disabilities. I had one student who absolutely loved the treehouse. For Pine Tree Camp to make something so special accessible to everyone has always been meaningful to me. They truly have a vision to help people with disabilities.”
Send a card that counts! Your purchase of Pine Tree Society holiday cards benefits Maine people with disabilities. Show your support and order your cards today.
A conversation with artist Marieluise Hutchinson
Artist Marieluise Hutchinson lives in Cushing and is a Copley Master at the Copley Society in Boston and an Artist Master at the Cape Cod Art Center. Her work is shown at Bayview Gallery in Brunswick.
“Art is not what you see but what you make others see.” – Edgar Degas
That’s Marieluise Hutchinson’s favorite quotation. As an artist, she knows that when people purchase a Pine Tree Society holiday card featuring one of her paintings, it’s because the scene she created hits a nostalgic chord that they can relate to.
“People can relate to the old house sitting in the snow-covered field with the warm glow of lights in the windows, something in the oven and the wood stove going. They look at that scene and feel the importance of family and Christmas and warmth. They can relate to what it feels like being in a house like that,” she said. “Oftentimes in galleries I see people looking really closely at what’s in the windows of the houses I paint. It stops people in their tracks because they get lost in it.”
She is proud to share her work to support causes she believes in.
“When I know it helps someone, it’s a good thing. I’m always happy to give back and every year there is more and more need. I’m proud to paint what I love to benefit worthy causes.”
When you send a Pine Tree Society holiday card, you help Maine people with disabilities stay connected all year-long. One hundred percent of proceeds from card sales support Pine Tree Society’s programs.
A message from Noel
I recently heard from a former Pine Tree camper. Now an adult, he attended Pine Tree Camp as a child into his late teens. He shared a bit about the friends he made and the barrier-free recreation he experienced…and then he said:
“At Pine Tree Camp I felt valued for the first time in my life.”
That feedback has stuck with me over the past few weeks as I have visited our program sites. I’ve seen our adult clients work together to navigate the bus system, our Early Learning Center students learning through play on their playground, and Pine Tree campers gathered around a picnic table creating their own masterpieces – I realized there is more to it than that.
These smiling faces are a result of feeling connected, building independence and feeling valued. These are the building blocks to discovering a life of passion and purpose.
You as our donor, our partner, make this possible. We cannot do it without you. The funding Pine Tree Society receives through reimbursement for services only covers a fraction of our expenses. Families caring for loved ones with disabilities have fewer and fewer resources to turn to for help. We need your help to fulfill our promise of our mission – a mission that has been in place since 1936.
Your donation will be put right to work to immediately impact the lives of Maine children and adults with disabilities and their families. We cannot do it without you. Together, we transform lives.
President and CEO