Service as a family legacy
Rockland — In 1976, Perry Gates, of Camden, founded Projects Inc., which helped develop an after-school program that aims to connect students to volunteer and educational opportunities. The program later became known as Youthlinks.
His daughter, Josie Gates, is now involved as an AmeriCorps volunteer, coordinating the organization's programs and carrying on her father's legacy.
"We all have this capacity for healing others, we just need to access it," Perry Gates said.
The program was designed to connect the needs of area youth and the elderly in the community, said Perry. Students looking for something to participate in after school were sent to mow lawns, bake cookies and provide company for older generations in need of assistance. Students also embarked on trips to the wilderness or to "ride the subways in Boston — stuff you can't do in Maine," said Gates, laughing.
Under the auspices of Projects, Inc.,19 different projects have been created. Youthlinks began as a community service corps in Camden and eventually evolved to the Rockland community center in 1996. Gates said the objective of Projects Inc. is to set up programs and have those organizations eventually become autonomous and sustainable.
Projects Inc. has founded programs spanning the state.
Gates was presented with a Point of Light award from President George H. W. Bush in 1991 for his career in volunteerism. "That award was for everybody who came before and those who will come afterward," he said.
Gates said the philosophy on which Projects Inc. was founded is that significant experiences happen as a by-product of something else. He said it's important children are involved in some capacity in a myriad of projects and interests. "You can't teach the light bulb moment," he said.
Josie began the program this year as an AmeriCorps volunteer and coordinates after-school programs at Rockland District Middle School and Oceanside High School. She searched for opportunities in New England and when the position opened up at Youthlinks, she accepted it.
"It was very serendipitous, my dad's legacy within Youthlinks and Projects Inc. is important to me, and it was very natural for me and what I wanted to do," she said.
The support of home and the reputation of Youthlinks has created a positive experience for her. "I run into people all the time who either know a kid or were a kid who was affected by Youthlinks or Projects, Inc.," she said.
Perry said he takes great pride in Josie and her interest in education. Josie graduated with a degree in cultural anthropology and has been a mentor since she was 15 years old, working as a camp counselor.
"My way of giving back was returning as a counselor — which was wonderful," she said.
Her most formative experiences occurred while traveling in high school and college and she said a career goal is to be part of that same experience for youth, perhaps working for a study abroad program.
"Even though my formal education was never in education, I think the qualities a person needs to be a mentor are not lessons taught in a classroom. Those are natural, inherent gifts and everybody has the chance to be a mentor," she said.
Josie said she especially enjoys working with middle school and high school students and said that's the age she was when most affected by a mentor in her own life.
"They're sort of on the brink of life, figuring out the next step and coming into their own," she said.
There are more than 65 students enrolled in the program at the middle school. The high school programs have been in a lull due to staff transitions, but are expected to be jump-started in the coming weeks, Josie said.
Youthlinks partners with community organizations to provide classes and hands-on instruction to students such as dance, art, homework help and field trip sessions. Six to seven clubs can be offered in a day because of the strong collaboration between the school, Youthlinks and community partners.
Youthlinks works with 10 volunteers and is hoping to partner with the University of Maine at Rockland to expand educational outreach.
One club, Run a Hound, is for high school students interested in taking shelter dogs for a walk or run after school, another is to be a jeer leader for the Rock City rollers. "There are tons of creative ways to volunteer," she said.
All programs are free and operate on a first come, first serve basis. "We are very aware of the wide diaspora of students and families in the area, and we are not exclusive in any way," she said.
Youthlinks also provides a summer camp when school is not in session.
Josie is planning a weekly session to take seventh-graders to Aldemere Farm in Rockport this winter to volunteer training calves and other agricultural activities. Josie said she's excited to get students off the school campus and into the community, and added the more exposure children get to adults of different communities, ages and backgrounds the better their perspective.
"A strong part of the human experience is to engage with others," Perry said, adding that programs encourage people in their later years to continue involvement in service, through church, the military, and other organizations.
"It's all about being a part of someone's life," he said.
For more information visit youthlinksonline.org.
Courier Publications reporter Juliette Laaka can be reached at 594-4401 ext. 118 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.