June 14, 2019

Spirit of America Award given to Raymond's Sam Gifford

By Lorraine Glowczak

Approximately 150 Raymond residents filled the gym at Jordan-Small Middle School at last Tuesday evening’s Raymond Town Hall meeting (6/4). The purpose of a town hall meeting, which primarily takes place in New England townships, is “a form of direct democratic rule established in the 17th century where members of a community come together to legislate policy and budgets for local government.”

Rep. Jessica Fay presents the Spirit of America
Award to Sam Gifford
However, it is also a time to honor those who have volunteered their time and efforts, instigating a
collaborative and successful community. It is for this reason Sam Gifford of Raymond, who is the brainchild of the Raymond Vitalization Committee, received this year’s Spirit of America Award. Gifford is also a member of the Raymond Select Board.

Briefly, the Spirit of America Foundation was the concept of Maine Governor, John McKernan and became incorporated on October 16, 1990 to promote volunteerism in Maine. According to the foundation’s website, the Spirit of America Foundation Tribute is presented to and in honor of those who have volunteered extensively – and is announced at annual town meetings. 

Gifford’s idea for revitalizing Raymond’s economic, business and residential community occurred in 2007 while a member of the Raymond Planning Board. “I was having a conversation with an active community member, Wayne Holmquist,” began Gifford. “I told him that we should have a committee to look at revitalization to refocus efforts on Raymond’s future and expanding business options.”

Within weeks, Gifford and Holmquist worked together to establish a proposal that was presented to members of the Raymond Select Board. Approved unanimously, the Raymond Revitalization Committee was born. Soon, the committee began meeting with many nonprofits and volunteer organizations to explore what the needs were and how the committee could be of assistance.

By identifying the community’s strengths and assets which included one of Maine’s busiest highways, Route 302, as well as the cooperative community spirit  – the committee considered the 2002 comprehensive plan results as their baseline for their revitalization endeavors. “We felt there were no organizational efforts to address issues such as sewage and Wi-Fi, which are both important to business success and cultivating Raymond’s economic development,” Gifford said.

As the committee progressed, it was renamed and established as the Raymond Vitalization Committee in 2015.

Marshall Bullock, also a member of the Select Board, along with Sharon Dodson began working with the vitalization efforts in 2015. He concurred with Gifford’s statement adding that the business vacancies along the Route 302 corridor became a major impetus for the committee’s work. “In 2015, there was a 25 percent vacancy rate along Raymond’s portion of 302,” Bullock said. “But due to the work of the committee, the 302 corridor is now filled with many businesses that include Chipman Farms, Beacon Pizza, Dunkin’ Donuts, Raymond Car Wash and Storage and Paris Farmer’s Union. It is now down to a five percent vacancy rate.”

Besides increasing business opportunities for Raymond, other accomplishments of the Raymond Vitalization Committee include printing a Raymond brochure for locals and visitors alike that include a list of campgrounds, beaches and businesses as well as educational, family-oriented and cultural organizations. They also sponsor a “Candidates Night” forum at major elections cycles. But that’s not all.

 “The committee also helped to develop the ‘Everybody Loves Raymond’ event,” explained Bullock. “We handed it off to the Raymond Village Library in hopes that it would entice local support, but due to the lack of volunteerism, the event was difficult to move forward and has been discontinued.”

The committee previously met once a month but currently are meeting on an as needed basis. “We are now monitoring high-speed broad band internet, sewage issues and assessing the transportation needs of the community - especially those who are aging in place,” stated Gifford.

The Raymond Vitalization Committee is working closely with the Town of Raymond and other communities to bring in high-speed broadband internet to the area in order encourage home-based and small business entrepreneurship. At the present time, internet access for those in the greater Lakes Region area is slow at best and often difficult to access. “I am aware of an individual who is trying to grow her home-based business but has difficulty with the internet that is available to Raymond residents,” Bullock said. “It’s extremely slow and cannot keep up with the demands of website development and marketing opportunities. We want to change that, and we encourage bringing in high-speed internet.”

Economic development and community growth to the town are the highest priorities of the committee. “Our goal is to encourage diverse businesses to relocate to Raymond but to not compete with already established businesses,” Gifford said. “Bringing in new and unique businesses brings with it, affordable housing and superior educational opportunities for our students.”

And – it’s for this reason Gifford was honored for his commendable community service and was the recipient of this year’s Spirit of America Award.

For information regarding the articles discussed and passed at last Tuesday’s town hall meeting, please visit the town’s website at www.raymondmaine.org/content/town-meeting-june-4-2019 or reach out to the Town Clerk for written documentation at 207-655-4742, ext. 121.

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