In the aftermath of disaster, volunteering to listen

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhen catastrophic flooding devastated Louisiana last month, Tenants Harbor resident Maggie Rode was one of the many Red Cross volunteers from across the country who arrived in the early aftermath to provide relief for the thousands of people affected. “People don’t expect a disaster no matter where they live, so when these things happen it comes as a huge shock, a huge trauma,” explains Rode, who brings her more than 30 years of experience as a licensed clinical social worker to bear in her volunteer role. “In flooding situations, especially, people have been in very serious life-threatening situations.”

This was the 10th time in the past five years that Rode has been deployed to the scene of a disaster to provide mental health support wherever needed. She has responded to floods, fires, tornadoes and also to the mass casualty situation that occurred at Umpqua Community College near Roseburg, Oregon, in which eight students and an assistant English professor were shot at point-blank range by a 26-year-old student enrolled at the school. A number of other students were also injured.

“There’s a difference between something like Roseburg and a natural disaster,” Rode points out. “There’s much more sadness and grief.” But in both cases, she says, “It’s the listening piece that is really important. We listen to those affected and try to help them mobilize their own strength, their coping ability to move on. It all takes time so there is no timeline on how that should happen.”

Rode says the Red Cross doesn’t call her unless she’s indicated she’s available. But once she’s made herself available, she admits, “I’m excited when I get the call. In the case of a natural disaster I usually know when I’m likely to be called, because I’ve been watching the weather so I know what it might be. I get the adrenalin rush. I think of it as an opportunity and a challenge because I never know what the situation is going to be.”

When the call comes, Rode travels within 24 hours. The Red Cross arranges her flight to the airport closest to the scene of the disaster. There she meets up with any other volunteers who have arrived and drives the rest of the way.

“When I arrive there’s already a team of mental health managers and supervisors established, they do the organization. I get my team assignment from them. A team might be a mental health worker paired with a disaster assessment worker or a case worker, depending on the situation. We work 10-12 hours a day because that’s what we’re there for. We ourselves might be in a shelter depending on the damage. It’s always different, you need to be flexible and go with the flow—that’s actually a part I really enjoy.”

As a mental health worker in a disaster relief situation, Rode says, the kind of counseling she does isn’t clinical counseling. “It’s mostly listening. We are a presence, but we don’t wait for people to come to us. Often times it’s enough just to sit down and ask how a person is doing. Some people have a desire and a need to talk. Sometimes someone else, another volunteer, might encounter someone who seems distressed and refer them to me. But it never ceases to amaze me how resilient people are regardless of the circumstances. They’ll have lost their house, their clothes, their car, food, all the contents of their home, which was the case for many people in Louisiana because the flood was so fast. One day everything was fine and the next day there was nothing. So what I try to do as a mental health worker is to help people understand the process of recovery and how it’s normal to feel out of kilter in the beginning—maybe they aren’t sleeping, aren’t eating well, feel really angry, aren’t thinking clearly—and to help people kind of regain their capacity to move forward and make good plans for themselves.”

Despite the chaos, damage and sense of loss that surrounds a disaster, Rode says there is an encouraging counterbalancing force of care and concern that also emerges.

“I’ve never seen it happen that a community didn’t pull together one way or another. Neighbors will point out neighbors who need help. And then there are other groups who mobilize. The Southern Baptists cook—they bring their mobile kitchen and set up meal sites. Others specialize in doing laundry and providing showers. Some do animal care or work to reunite owners with their pets. There are child care specialists, people with therapy dogs. And there are spontaneous offerings, like music or memorial activities. Passing out candy, for example, seems like a little thing, but to be able to offer something that can help you engage with another person can be beneficial.”

Most Red Cross volunteer assignments, Rode notes, are short term, lasting 10 days to two weeks in length. “It’s invigorating to do the work,” she says. “For the majority of my working career I didn’t work directly with people receiving the service so being able to do this is so appealing to me. I’m a flexible person so I can kind of take things in stride. Not too much gets to me. I like being able to help people in the immediate aftermath.”

But, she adds, she’s always glad to come back to her home in Tenants Harbor. “When I get back I need time to unwind. I have my gardens—that’s what I do.”

Still, she admits, it is impossible to put her disaster relief experiences entirely behind her. “There are things that stick with me, some of the situations that were really intense and difficult. A child that lost their pet, people who lost family members, individual stories that I think about when I return home. But it’s a privilege to do the work, to offer some support in finding a way out of the crisis and moving forward.”—JW

The Red Cross offers many volunteer opportunities to participate in disaster relief, whether in Maine or nationally. To check these out, go to

PHOTO: Julie Wortman

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For the love of books and baseball cards

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA“I always knew I wanted to have a bookstore,” says Bob Blenk, the proprietor of the Sunshine Farm Book Exchange, a home-based business venture at 1112 River Road near the Kinney Woods Road. “For a while I tried to buy the Personal Bookstore in Thomaston, but then I decided to build something here instead—where the overhead is low.”

Blenk started the store in retirement, after a career working as a geotechnical engineer for the U.S. Highway Administration. “I had a dream job. We covered 16 states out West. The only places we worked were in national parks and forests. I was working where everyone else was vacationing—Yosemite, the Grand Canyon and all those places.”

Blenk and his wife, Mary Kinney, have lived full time in St. George since 2011. Mary grew up in this house, which she inherited from her parents. Her grandfather, Maynard Kinney, for many years ran an egg business here called Sunshine Farm.

Blenk’s bookstore combines his love of books with a longtime interest in baseball cards and other sports memorabilia. “Some days it’s all baseball and some days it’s all books,” he says. “I like both aspects of the business.”

The books Blenk has on hand—ranging from adventure, mystery and science fiction to the classics—are mostly used, acquired over the years from various sales. But he also has a table of new titles as well. “Books that are current I sell at half price,” he says. “Books that are not current cost $3. If you bring in a book to exchange you get a credit of $1.50.”

Blenk has also been writing books for the past 15 years or so, using the pen name of Ryan Andrews. “I’ve written two mystery adventures and a fantasy adventure,” he notes, and two more books are currently in the works.

The baseball card side of Blenk’s business attracts collectors who take note of the advertising brochure for the store that gets distributed to 87 motels through his wife’s brochure business.

“When I was a kid I collected baseball cards,” he says. “My oldest son got me back into it in 1986.”

Baseball cards don’t come in packs of bubble gum anymore. Manufacturers such as Topps print and sell various types of cards in random assortments. These days, Blenk says, collectors focus on cards of players who are currently “hot.” He cites the example of a card of Gleyber Torres he recently acquired. “The Cubs recently traded Torres to the Yankees—people think he is going to be another Derek Jeter. There are only five of this card, so it might be worth about $200.”

Blenk’s store also contains prints and cards of artwork by Betty Kinney, Mary’s mother, a local artist who for many years ran the art tent at the Lobster Festival.—JW

The Sunshine Farm Book Exchange is open Fridays and Saturdays 10am-5pm and on Sundays noon-5pm until the snow flies. Blenk may be contacted at 207-233-1399.

PHOTO: Julie Wortman

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October 2nd meeting to focus on High Island and Bamford Preserve

dsc02212-sm-cMaine Coast Heritage Trust (MCHT) recently conserved two parcels of land in St. George–High Island, in Tenants Harbor, and the Bamford Preserve, a 40-acre mainland property on Long Cove Road.  The Trust invites local residents to a meeting on Sunday, October 2, from 2-4pm at the St. George Town Office, to learn more about these properties and to offer input for pending management plans.  Both parcels are open to the public for low-impact recreation, including hunting and hiking, but don’t yet have many visitor amenities (such as trails).  These are now your lands to explore and enjoy–what would you like to see happen?  For more information, or to offer comments or voice concerns if you are unable to attend the meeting, please contact Amanda Devine at 607-4585 or  Cookies and cider will be served, and all comers are welcome!

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Makerspace planned for school library

3-d-printer-smallBy Audrey Leavitt and Cassi Evans
At the St. George School, we have exciting new plans for a “Makerspace” in our library. A Makerspace is a place that gives students an opportunity to create things using STEAM, science, technology, engineering, art, and math activities. These activities are “hands-on” and will enrich the curriculum in all grades and classes.

The teachers and staff have big plans for the Makerspace. Mr. Felton, our superintendent, says, “I hope the Makerspace will bring innovative technology to help enhance the creativeness of the students.”

Some tools that will be in our Makerspace are advanced technology, as well as common crafts supplies. We already have a 3-D printer that we were able to get last year as a result of the generosity of the Perloff Family’s Foundation. This year, we are looking to purchase a laser cutter, and have almost raised enough funds for that, thanks to Mr. Wick Skinner’s foundation, the K2 Family Foundation, and the Maine Community Foundation. We need to raise $4,000 more to buy the laser cutter. Mr. Felton says, “This has truly been a community effort—and we’re almost there.” In the future, we’d like to add a CNC router and a vinyl cutter. Other tools will be crafts supplies, sewing machines, hand tools, puzzles, robotics, and other great, fun stuff. Mrs. Robertson, our librarian, says she hopes to build a Lego wall for one corner. She says, “I want all the kids from St. George to want to come and create all sorts of things.”

Last year, when we got the 3-D printer in the spring, lots of kids and classes tried it out. Mrs. Falla’s second-grade students had been studying lobsters, and they got to turn their lobster drawings into 3-D models. Ms. Bartke’s seventh-grade did a bridge design contest and tested bridges that they printed. One music student from band needed a new mouthpiece for his tuba and asked if he could print one. He did and it worked great after a couple of tries adjusting the dimensions.

Our technology director, Mr. Paul Meinersmann, is the one who manages the space. He sets up the equipment and figures out how to run it. Then he shares his ideas and projects with kids and teachers. He says his hope for the Makerspace, “is that it is so awesome that everyone will want to use it and we end up fighting over it.” He says that part of the plan is to eventually make the workshop available to adults in the community as well. We could offer after-school and week-end training for adults so that we are sharing our space and everyone is learning together. Students at St. George School are grateful and excited that we have opportunities that may not exist in other schools, thanks to the generosity of our local supporters.

(Leavitt and Evans are 7th grade students at the St. George School.)
PHOTO: Paul Meinersmann

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“Sal’s Birthday Bash” fundraiser for the St. George Ambulance Service on August 27 was a big success. I would like to thank the St. George Fire Dept. for the use of their tents and facilities, the Monday Night Jam musicians, and Dewayne Wight for the sound system. I also thank Walmart, Shaw’s, Lowes, Dunkin’ Donuts, Hannaford, and Tim’s Farm for their contributions. I also thank Rick Freeman, Tim Polky, Randy Elwell, Justin Long and their helpers for roasting and carving the pig and chickens. Thank you to all that made salads and desserts. Thank you to Cheryl Long, Melanie Dennison and Brandi Moores and their helpers for getting the food ready and out. A BIG THANK YOU to all who donated to the St. George Ambulance Service.

Thank You! See you next year,
Sally Long – 93 Years young

[Ed. note: Sally Long’s fundraiser raised over $3,000.]

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Dragon Eats: Late summer harvest recipes

The following recipe comes to us from a reader who wishes to remain anonymous… call her “The Okra Lover.” She notes that the name of the recipe reflects the fact that okra cut cross-wise resembles little train wheels and the tomatoes suggest the seriousness of the accident (while also cutting the “slime factor” some associate with okra).  Be sure to cut off the tough tops of the okra and discard the tips, too.

Georgia Trainwreck
okra2 T oil
1 small onion, chopped
12 okra, 3-4” long,
cut cross-wise to look like wheels
3 small juicy tomatoes,
peeled and chopped
salt and pepper to taste

Heat the oil in a sauté pan over meduim heat. Add the onions and cook until slightly softened, then add the okra and cook for 10-12 miniutes. Stir in the tomatoes and cook 3-4 minutes longer.
Tiny “baby” okra tends not to be as slippery when sauteed in a little butter and served plain with salt and pepper. Another approach is used by Chef Jacques Pepin, who removes the tips and tops of okra and quarters it lengthwise. He places the okra in a plastic bag with white distilled vinegar and leaves it for 30 minutes. After rinsing in cold water, he boils the okra for about 5 minutes and refreshes it in cold water again. The okra can then be sauteed gently in butter  until  just heated through. We have not tried this, but offer it up for your consideration.

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St. George VANITZ

img_1074-cropped-smWhose plate reflects his status as a first-time grandfather?—Betsy Welch

Who’s behind the wheel? Email your answer to The first reader to respond correctly wins a free business-size ad in the print edition of The Dragon.
David Lowell knew Betsy Welch’s  plate LIKE DUX in the September 8 issue.

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Garden success is mostly about the soil

09-sm-cHere is the one difference between successful gardens and unsuccessful ones: the soil. Plenty of water, the right combination of plants, the right plants for the location and weed control are all important. But the over-riding important factor is good soil. I certainly saw this play out in many of the gardens I visited this summer. I knew immediately that the lean, struggling ones with stunted plants were growing on poor, lean soil.

Now, soil is rather inglorious. It is much more fun to buy lovely flowering plants and create a garden than to labor to prepare good soil. And, even with poor soil, plants often do well the first weeks or months after they are planted because, if they have come from a nursery, they are feeding off the soil and fertilizer contained in the pots they came in. But long-term, a successful garden depends on decent soil.

Sometimes people are lucky enough, right from the beginning, to have beautifully fertile soil, full of organic matter, ready to support all sorts of plant and animal life. And then there are those of us who have yards of exposed ledge or layers of marine clay or construction fill. But with a bit of work on the soil, even less-than-perfect growing sites can be amended. I know of one beautifully lush perennial garden in particular that was built on sandy gravel fill around a house. The gardener started her beds by adding compost to the soil (such as it was), and then every year continues to add a top dressing of compost. Now, after 25 years or so, this is the nicest, deepest, easily workable, lushest soil one can dream of. And the garden is lovely and abundant.

What is it about compost that makes it so good to add to the soil? Compost contributes organic matter to the soil. There are some nutrients that come with compost, but its main attribute is that it adds organic matter that helps soil hold water, support the organisms such as earthworms that aerate and also enrich the soil and keeps the growing medium lofty and loose, easy for roots to push through. We need to add this organic matter because the gardens we create are unnaturally imposed on the environment. In the wild, plants die, decompose, and contribute organic matter where they fall, building great soil in the process. But in artificial environments where we cut back perennials each year and remove fallen branches and trees, we remove the source of organic matter, thereby interrupting this process. (It is important to note that bark mulch is not compost and doesn’t function in the same beneficial way so I tend not to use it in perennial beds where the plants depend on abundant organic matter.)

Fall is a good time to work on enriching soil in garden beds. When I cut back my perennials in the fall I like to weed through the beds, edge them and then add a top dressing of a couple of inches of well-aged compost. I tend to do this in the fall for the perennial beds, mainly because I have more time than in the spring. But if I miss doing this in the fall I do make sure they get that top dressing each spring. For my raised vegetable beds I tend to wait until the spring to add about an inch of compost to each bed, and then gently fork it in as I prepare the beds for planting. —Anne Cox (Cox is co-owner of Hedgerow in Martinsville).

PHOTO: Anne Cox

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Fundraising for a Challenge that brings hope and healing

Tom Armitage SMcSix years ago, one of Tom Armitage’s cycling friends, John Bly of Turkey Cove Auto Repair, returned so full of enthusiasm from a cycling fundraiser called the Dempsey Challenge that he couldn’t wait to share his experience.

“John knew I had been diagnosed with metastatic prostate cancer the year before and said, ‘This is a ride you really ought to try,’” recalls Armitage, who is an owner of Harbor Builders in Tenants Harbor. The money raised, Bly told him, went to support the work of the Lewiston-based Patrick Dempsey Center for Cancer Hope and Healing, a place which provides care for cancer patients outside the realm of standard medical care—things like massage, reiki, nutritional education, personal counseling, support groups, yoga classes.

“So when the time came for the Dempsey Challenge again a year later I did the proper amount of fundraising to be able to do the ride and John did it again, too. Two weeks later my wife Laura and I made an appointment to get a tour. We were so welcomed and immediately had such a warm feeling about the place that we felt a load was just lifted off our shoulders.”

Now frequent visitors to the center, whether for specific appointments with the center’s staff specialists or for the more general purpose of finding supportive companionship, Armitage attributes the calming and nurturing feeling he and Laura experience there to the fact that the center’s staff deal with cancer patients and their loved ones on a daily basis. “So they have genuine compassion for what you might be going through and that gives you the ability to talk about it freely. It’s not easy to talk about mortality, death, cancer. But they look at it daily so it’s easy to talk to them.”

Armitage is now one of a handful of Dempsey Challenge supporters who raises over $10,000 each year. The event, which is completely run by volunteers and funded by donations, raises somewhere between $1.2 and $1.3 million. Every dollar goes to the work of the Dempsey Center, which provides its services and programs to people affected by cancer at no charge.
“I typically ask up to 150 people for contributions to the Challenge,” Armitage says. “Most people give between $100 and $250, but there are some who give more and some who give less. Any amount is great.”

There is a “perk” that goes with raising such a significant amount of money, Armitage admits. “One of the incentives I enjoy by being a major fundraiser is that I get to hobnob with the celebrities who come to the Challenge—mainly cycling pros. That’s a major advantage to doing the 50-mile ride because most of them go on that. I’ll lag behind them on the ride but there are ‘photo ops’ for them along the way and I’ll catch up. It’s a sort of tortoise-and-hare kind of thing. Two years ago I found myself riding alongside Alison Patrick, the fastest female cyclist in the whole world at that time.”

Another celebrity with whom Armitage has rubbed shoulders through the Dempsey Center is actor and race car driver Patrick Dempsey, for whom the center is named and who is best known as neurosurgeon Dr. Derek “McDreamy” Shepherd on Grey’s Anatomy.

Tom and Patrick Dempsey

Tom and Patrick Dempsey

“Patrick and his two sisters started the center,” Armitage explains. “Lewiston is their hometown. Their mom suffered from ovarian cancer for a long time. They were at a loss where to find some kind of personal and emotional care for her. Patrick’s sister Mary is a nurse, so she had the medical background. But the rest of what their mother needed was more difficult to find. Patrick had the resources to start a center that could bring people together who were affected by cancer. So they took over the fifth floor of an old shoe factory and started offering education and counseling and that grew into massages, reiki and things like that.”

Making the center’s offerings free was because of the Dempsey siblings’ concern for the needs of people of limited means who are affected by cancer, Armitage adds, “if it is only to have a shoulder to cry on. And many of the services the center provides are not covered by insurance.”

The Armitages travel two hours to Lewiston to take advantage of the Dempsey Center’s offerings even though they acknowledge that in this part of Maine there are also highly competent nutritionists, counselors, massage therapists and other practitioners who can provide beneficial support and services to people affected by cancer, if at a cost. The supportive atmosphere at the center is the big draw for the Armitages. But it is also the fact that a person doesn’t always know what might be helpful unless they get a chance to be exposed to new possibilities, something that happens frequently at the center.

Armitage believes his Dempsey Center experience could make him a resource for people affected by cancer here in this area, which he’d like to be. “A massage is a massage,” he reflects, “but it is important to be aware that when you are having chemo it is a particular kind of massage that you need—a gentle, soothing massage—and you need to find somebody who has been trained to do that.”

This year the Dempsey Challenge event will be October 1-2, with the cycling rides occurring on October 2. Armitage plans on taking a break from his ongoing chemotherapy treatments—“My cancer is incurable but manageable,” he notes—in time to be ready for the 50-mile ride.

“I believe I’ll be a bit of an anomaly this year as one who is going through chemo and trying to do a distance ride,” he says. “I’m going to a physical trainer right now just to help me get all the proper muscles in shape. And he’s on board with a goal of 50 miles as long as I pay attention to the signs. I can hop into a van if I need to. My ego would hate that, but I could.”

At this point, too, Armitage is focused on that $10,000 fundraising goal. “I put all of my fundraising efforts into this one thing because I believe so strongly in it—one, because I’m personally affected, but also because I think it is so pure.”—JW

The link to Tom Armitage’s personal site where those interested in supporting the Dempsey Challenge can make a donation and also follow links to the Center to learn more about what is offered there is:

People who would rather donate by check can make one out to “Dempsey Challenge” and send it to: Tom Armitage, Harbor Builders, PO Box 450, Tenants Harbor ME 04860.

PHOTOS: Laura Armitage

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Blueberry Cove half marathon ‘always a favorite’

Keith Johnson, left, looked happy just past the first mile marker and ultimately finished in first place. Ben Allen stayed right with him and finished in second place 22 seconds after Johnson.

Keith Johnson, left, looked happy just past the first mile marker and ultimately finished in first place. Ben Allen stayed right with him and finished in second place 22 seconds after Johnson.

Annelise Donahue of South Portland, a two-time winner, says “This will always be my favorite 13.1!”

Annelise Donahue of South Portland, a two-time winner, says “This will always be my favorite 13.1!”

The sixth annual running of the Blueberry Cove half marathon took place on Sunday morning, August 28th. 184 runners from 26 states and 3 countries participated, ages 16 to 65. The overall male winner was Keith Johnson of Wilmington, Delaware, turning in a time of 1:20:30 over the 13.1-mile course. Kendra Emery of Rockport was the overall female winner with a time of 1:34:05.

All proceeds from the race benefit the nonprofit Tanglewood and Blueberry Cove 4-H Camps & Learning Centers, programs of the University of Maine Cooperative Extension. Children from Maine and elsewhere have life-changing and life-affirming experiences at these camps, learning about the natural environment, leadership, cooperation and creativity in a beautiful and nurturing setting. Fundraising events such as the Blueberry Cove 13.1 allow children to attend camp regardless of their ability to pay. For more information on Tanglewood in Lincolnville, and Blueberry Cove, visit

Race volunteer Ann Goldsmith, left, cheers runners in as Ann Welch crosses the finish line.

Race volunteer Ann Goldsmith, left, cheers runners in as Ann Welch crosses the finish line.

PHOTOS: Top, Betsy Welch; middle, Steve Cartwright; bottom, TJ Poole

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