As the coronavirus pandemic forced an overnight shift to remote learning, schools in western Maine suddenly faced a new challenge: How to deliver educational services to students with no home internet access. 

SAD 44 Bethel staff deliver mobile hotspots to Rumford school district crpIn response, Maine West, a coalition of local and regional groups, is providing mobile hotspots to help students in the Oxford Hills, the Bethel area, and the Rumford and River Valley areas to connect to online learning services.   

“Schools have always called this the ‘homework gap,’” said Mike Wilson, senior program director of the Northern Forest Center, and coordinator of the Maine West coalition. “Lack of home internet connection keeps too many students from connecting with teachers, conducting research, and completing assignments. For many students and families, the sudden COVID-19 school closures expanded the homework gap into a canyon.”

The Maine West partnership began working in March to secure and distribute mobile hotspot devices that turn cellular phone signals into home wireless internet connections. With leadership by the Center and Community Concepts Finance Corporation, Maine West is now providing 200 mobile hotspots to enable students in the Oxford Hills (SAD 17), Bethel area (SAD 44), and the Rumford and River Valley areas (RSU 10 and 56) to make the crucial connection to the internet and online school services. 

“The support from Maine West to provide these mobile hotspots for some of our families has greatly enhanced our ability to connect to all students during these challenging times,” said David Murphy, Superintendent of Schools in SAD 44 serving the Bethel area.  “We were thrilled to receive these devices in a such timely fashion and to be able to provide additional remote learning support for the families and students who needed it the most.” alana brackett

Within three weeks of the school shut-downs, Maine West raised more than $10,000 and built a partnership with the Maine-based National Digital Equity Center to provide area schools with mobile hotspots through the end of the school year. Project funding was provided by the Betterment Fund, the Northern Forest Center, and The River Fund Maine.

“Our hats are off to Maine West for recognizing this need and immediately putting together a program to help students during the COVID-19 shutdown,” said Jim Largess, director of The River Fund Maine. “We initially were focused on making sure internet cost was not a barrier for Bethel area students. Partnering with Maine West allowed us to expand that focus to students who simply don’t have home internet availability without a mobile hotspot.”

In addition to serving K-12 schools, the Maine West hotspot initiative is also supporting non-traditional learners such as Alana Bracket through adult education programs and the University College Centers in Rumford and South Paris. 

Bracket, recipient of the Osher New Beginnings Scholarship, is a first-time college student at the University College Center in South Paris. She said she would not have been able to complete her very first college course this spring without the mobile hotspot provided by Maine West. 

“High speed internet simply isn’t available for many people in rural communities, and others aren’t able to afford a home internet connection,” says Mia Purcell, vice president of economic development and impact at Community Concepts Finance Corporation. “No matter the reason, and particularly right now, no student should be prevented from learning because they can’t connect to the internet.”

Broadband Access and Adoption is one of three priority focal areas identified by Maine West partners as key to addressing persistent rural community challenges. The other priorities are Educational Aspirations and Active Communities. As part of the Maine West initiative, in 2019 the Northern Forest Center supported the purchase and installation of new computers, software, printers and wireless internet connections for 11 public libraries serving the Maine West region.  

Nathan Bellanceau Locke Mills ME“Universal and affordable high-speed internet connectivity is vital to the success of rural communities in western Maine and across the state,” said the Center’s Wilson.

“As happy as we are to be helping rural students get connected to school during the COVID-19 shut down,” said Wilson, “we realize this is a temporary fix. The only way to truly address the digital divide is to start treating internet connectivity more like a utility and making it accessible and affordable for everyone.” 

Maine West is a partnership of local and regional organizations dedicated to addressing systemic rural challenges and enhancing community well-being in western Maine through increased collaboration across the economic, education, health and conservation sectors. 

With program coordination by the Northern Forest Center, Maine West partners include Community Concepts Finance Corp., Appalachian Mountain Club, Androscoggin River Watershed Council, Bethel Area Chamber of Commerce, CORE, Mahoosuc Pathways, The Trust for Public Land, Oxford County Wellness Collaborative, Western Foothills Land Trust, Appalachian Trail Conservancy, The University of Maine  4-H Center at Bryant Pond, Mahoosuc Land Trust, Region 9 Adult Education, Oxford County Resiliency Project, and River Valley Healthy Communities Coalition.

 

Top photo: Bethel School District staff deliver mobile hotspots to the Rumford School District for its students. Middle photo: Alana Bracket, a student in the adult education program at the University College Center in South Paris, was able to finish her first-ever college course because she received a hotspot for home internet connection. Bottom photo: Nathan Bellanceau of Locke Mills is one of several students in the Region 9 Adult Education Program who received a mobile hotspot.

About Our Rental Properties

In 2017, the Northern Forest Center launched a new program to help Northern Forest towns regain the vibrancy that makes communities attractive places to live, work and raise a family. Our targeted approach builds on the Center’s 20 years of regional leadership and investment in the region’s forest economy to build economic and community vitality.

The Center began working with people in Millinocket, Maine, to help put key components in place that can support the town's resurgence as it repurposes the closed mill site, adapts to its role as gateway to the Katahdin Woods & Waters National Monument, and helps create new jobs in the forest economy.

The Center has helped expand internet access through WiFi hotspots on Penobscot Avenue, invested in tourism-related businesses, helped homes and businesses convert to Automated Wood Heat, and purchased and renovated homes in the downtown area to improve housing options and revitalize this key neighborhood.

Read more about our Milliinocket Housing Initiative and our broader Community Vitality program for the Northern Forest.

56 Congress Street - RENTED

56 Congress StreetA newly renovated 2 bedroom Cottage overlooking Millinocket Stream.  This home just received a complete renovation including refinished floors, new bathroom, brand new kitchen cabinets with stainless steel appliances. In addition, the apartment has a couple of sun porches, a gazebo and a single car garage. Large sliding doors open onto a second floor balcony where you will catch the sunrise over Millinocket Stream every day.  Supercute home in downtown Millinocket, convenient to the downtown, both schools, and the hospital.

  • Newly renovated cottage with a great layout
  • 2 bedrooms (on second floor)
  • Newly renovated bathroom on ground floor
  • Central location on quiet street overlooking Millinocket Stream
  • large Newly renovated Kitchen with additional small food pantry
  • Stainless steel appliances
  • Newly renovated bathroom
  • Plenty of light
  • Recessed lighting and new wiring throughout
  • Newly refinished maple floors
  • Balcony on second floor, sun porch/mudroom on first floor
  • Washer Dryer in basement
  • 1 Car Garage
  • Cute Yard
  • Pets considered on a case-by-case basis
  • Tenant pays heat and hot water, new insulation in places, new hot water heater, new wiring and energy star appliances

Rent: $790/month, with security deposit, Credit Check/Rental References
Call or Text Ailish to view this apartment: 917-783-9489

 

26 Central St, 2nd Floor—Downtown Millinocket - RENTED

26Central2 photos3Be the first tenant to enjoy this newly renovated 2-3-bedroom apartment. High ceilings, bright and sunny space. This apartment just received a complete renovation including new floors, windows, bathroom, and more. Brand new kitchen with stainless steel appliances. In addition, the apartment has its own private sun porch where you will be able to sit and watch the morning sunrise or enjoy a summer evening.

  • Large 3-bedroom, 1-bathroom apartment
  • Modern space with bright light
  • Central street location, downtown
  • Large family kitchen
  • Stainless steel appliances
  • Newly renovated bathroom
  • New windows
  • High ceilings
  • New floors
  • Exposed Brick Chimney
  • Clawfoot bathtub
  • New Automated Wood Heat boiler/heating system
  • Use of garage for bike, kayak or snowmobile storage
  • Pets considered on a case-by-case basis

Rent: $795/month, with security deposit, Credit Check/Rental References
Call or Text Ailish to view this apartment:  917-783-9489

 

26 Central St., 1st Floor—Downtown Millinocket - RENTED

26 Central Street 1st Floor

Adjacent to Michaud Walking Trail and Millinocket Stream. High ceilings, bright and sunny space.

This apartment just received a complete renovation including new floors, windows, bathroom, and more. Brand new kitchen with stainless steel appliances.

In addition, the apartment has its own private porch where you will be able to sit and enjoy a morning coffee or evening breeze.

 

  • Large 3-bedroom, 1-bathroom apartment
  • Modern space with bright light
  • Central street location, downtown
  • Large family kitchen
  • Stainless steel appliances
  • Newly renovated bathroom
  • New windows
  • High ceilings
  • New floors
  • Exposed Brick Chimney
  • Large, walk-in shower
  • New Automated Wood Heat boiler/heating system
  • Use of garage for bike, kayak or snowmobile storage
  • Pets considered on a case-by-case basis

Rent: $795/month, with security deposit, Credit Check/Rental References

This Apartment is Rented.

100 KatahdinThe Northern Forest Center has successfully reached its initial goal of raising $1 million in investments for its Millinocket Housing Initiative Fund and has put the money to work directly in the community. The Center created the Millinocket Housing Initiative Fund, its first social and economic impact investment fund, to create quality homes for people who want to make a future in Millinocket.

Only two years after the launch of the fund, the Center has purchased six buildings and renovated five, turning dilapidated downtown properties into comfortable, high quality homes. 

26Central2 photos3

“We owe our success to the generous investors who stand with us in supporting the future of Millinocket,” said Center President Rob Riley. “We’re seeing great enthusiasm by individuals and foundations who want to make impact investments to advance the revitalization of our rural communities.” 

Three of the completed renovations were extensive, reconfiguring the living spaces, replacing all windows and insulation, and replacing a roof. In February, the Center began a top-to-bottom renovation on the sixth property at 100 Katahdin Avenue, a grand but long-abandoned home on Veteran’s Park within an easy walk to downtown stores, the elementary school and the library. 

The Center’s most ambitious Millinocket renovation project to date, the 100 Katahdin Avenue project will reconfigure the building from five apartments to three. McLaughlin Builders of Medway, Maine, is heading up reconstruction of the building and expects to complete work by August.

Housing is one piece of the Center’s broader strategy to support a strong and diversified economic future.  The Center is also helping to bring tax credit financing to the Millinocket Memorial Library and working with the local group Our Katahdin to do the same for the mill site; supporting development and improvement of recreational trails; managing building renovations; and helping convert buildings to wood pellet heat.

“The Fund has enabled the Center to fill a critical need in Millinocket, but we’re nowhere near done,” said Riley, who announced that the Center is raising additional capital to focus on commercial real estate redevelopment. The Center is also raising funds for community investment in Lancaster, N.H. The Center is paying interest to investors in the funds and will repay the capital at the end of the investment term. 

The Center welcomes inquiries from people who would like to support Millinocket’s revitalization efforts. Please contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for more information, or make a donation via the Center’s website or by mail to 18 N. Main Street, Concord, NH 03301.

Top photo: renovations underway at 100 Katahdin. Bottom photo: Completed renovations at 26 Central Street. 

Background

Millinocket's economy declined steadily after Great Northern paper mill closed in 2008, eliminating the source of jobs that had created the town and which drove the local economy. Over the years, the town's population declined and home values plummeted, leaving blighted neighborhoods and discouraging investment in residential improvements.

Recent initiatives, including the designation of the national monument, are stimulating Millinocket's economy, yet employers and others in the community have told us there is a real need to improve the quality and condition of in-town homes available for people who want to be part of the town's renaissance.

The Center may acquire and renovate up to 10 homes in Millinocket, and as of January 2018 had purchased six properties. To inquire about selling properties or rental opportunities, email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

MHI google map with key 1.15.18

We believe good quality housing is crucial to attract professionals to new job opportunities, to provide seasonal rentals for workers in the recreational industry as it grows, and to complement revitalization activities downtown and at the former mill site. Our program will also ensure that at least some of Millinocket's vacant housing will be quickly renovated and available, rather than caught up in any rise in real estate speculation.

Read the latest updates about $1 million in capital investments successfully raised for the Millinocket Housing Initiative.