September 29, 2023

In the public eye: Physical Education teacher imparts value of physical activity and healthy lifestyles to students

Editor’s note: This is another in an ongoing series of Windham and Raymond town employee profiles.

By Ed Pierce

The best teachers are often described as having very giving and selfless personalities, ensuring student learning is placed above their own needs. Mention that to any student at Jordan-Small Middle School and they’ll tell you you’re talking about Joni Merrill.

Joni Merrill has taught Physical Education
at Jordan-Small Middle School in Raymond
for the past 21 years and shares with students
the value of physical activity and living
a healthy lifestyle.
For the past 21 years Merrill has served as a Physical Education specialist at Jordan-Small and is certified to teach in both physical education and health.

Her role involves teaching young people about the value and importance of maintaining a healthy lifestyle through physical activity and proper nutrition.

“I do not teach gym,” Merrill said. “I teach young people through the means of physical education.”

Like her teaching counterparts in the classroom, Merrill develops meaningful lesson plans and teaches classes related to exercise and health covering subjects such as first aid and organized sports. Through structured games and lessons, Merrill instructs and encourages her students to be physically active and accomplishes this though teaching young people how to play a wide range of specific sports or to introduce them to various activities such as gymnastics, running and swimming and encouraging them to try out for Jordan-Small Middle School sports teams or to help them find a physical activity or a sport that they are good at or can excel in.

She says the best thing about her work is the opportunity to interact with her students but cites the increasing volume of paperwork required to teach these days, ever-changing state expectations and administrative expectations as the most challenging part of her occupation.

Merrill graduated from Lake Region High School in Naples in 1973 and went on to earn a Bachelor of Science degree in Physical Education from Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virgina and obtained a master’s degree in physical education from George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia.

Her teaching career has been diverse and memorable. She spent three years as a Kindergarten and First Grade teacher in American Samoa, two years teaching at Lynchburg Christian Academy in Virginia, a year as a preschool teacher in Lynchburg, Virginia and three years teaching at All Saints Episcopalian School in Mississippi.

Returning to New England, Merrill spent two years teaching at Gray New Gloucester High School, two years at Poland Regional High School, and was a part-time teacher as Saint Jospeh’s College in Standish for two years.

“After moving back to Maine from Mississippi, I was a substitute teacher for several school districts,” she said. “I fell in love with Jordan-Small Middle School and set my mind and plans on not only working at JSMS but retiring from JSMS as well.”

Her dream came true when she was hired to teach physical education at Jordan-Small Middle School in 2002 and for more than two decades now, Merrill has been instrumental in developing motor skills for JSMS students as well as social skills and cultivating their interest in being active.

According to Merrill, the public may not be aware of the importance of effective time management to her work.

“The paperwork, assessing, grading and planning, these are aspects of teaching that take a lot of time and effort,” she said. “If I could just have my kids in the gym and do no scoring, we would all be happier. But I also tell the students that life often requires us to do things we don’t want to do.”

To Merrill, she says that her most memorable moment came at Jordan-Small Middle School when students chose her for a special tribute.

“Having the school yearbook dedicated to me by the 8th grade class was special,” she said. “It was an honor.”

Her family takes great pride in her work at the school, and she says that they enjoy her availability during the summer months and school vacations.

Merrill said that the most important thing that she’s learned while working at Jordan-Small Middle School is self-care.

“I choose what my attitude is going to be. I choose to be happy,” she said. “Even through the difficult challenges, something good can come out of it.” <

Special event gives residents close-up glimpse of Windham’s first responders

By Ed Pierce

If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to work as a firefighter, EMT or police officer for the community, Windham’s upcoming Public Safety Day will provide residents a close-up look at the people, equipment, vehicles, and duties of first responders in the town.

Children and families will be able to meet Windham
firefighters and Windham police officers, explore their 
equipment and vehicles and learn more about their work
during Windham Public Safety Day from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Saturday, Oct. 14 at the Windham Public Safety Building,
375 Gray Road in Windham. The event is free.
The free event will be held from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 14 at the Windham Public Safety Building, 375 Gray Road in Windham, and it promises to be educational, informative, and most of all, fun for all ages.

According to Windham Police Officer Justin Hudnor, Windham Public Safety Day is an excellent way for local residents and visitors to learn more about what it takes to keep the community safe and to thank the dedicated firefighters, EMTs, police officers and other community staff members and volunteers who put their lives on the line every single day in the line of duty.

“This will be a great event for the community and filled with plenty of free family activities,” Hudnor said.

Among a wide range of family activities, events will include Touch-a-Truck as participants will be able to sit in the cab of a Windham fire truck or a Windham police cruiser or experience a Crime Scene Drone Demonstration as investigators explain how a drone can aid in aerial search operations. There will also be fire extinguisher demonstrations by members of Windham Fire/Rescue teaching how to operate a fire extinguisher effectively and safely and a Smoke Trailer, which will offer the public some interactive and highly realistic fire prevention training featuring different scenarios about what to do and how to react during a fire when every second counts.

“There will also be a blow-up bouncy house for the kids, and we’ll have hotdogs and chips available at the open house for a fundraiser for the DARE program,” Hudnor said.

Participants will also find helpful information about the D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) Program offered in Windham schools, and TRIAD, a cooperative partnership between law enforcement agencies, elder service providers, and seniors in our community. The primary mission of TRIAD is to reduce the criminal victimization of older citizens, enhance the delivery of law enforcement services, and improve the quality of life for seniors.

There will be presentations about the dangers of distracted driving and Hands-only CPR and Windham’s Animal Control Program.

Hudnor said that parents should take note of another important activity at the event where a representative will be on hand to perform child fingerprints for identification purposes.

“This is different from the National Night Out event in August because this is just about Windham Public Safety,” Hudnor said. “At Windham’s Public Safety Day, you’ll be able to meet and talk with police officers and firefighters and EMTs who serve the town and this community around the clock every day. You’ll be able to review the capabilities of the equipment and the vehicles that we use every day and to see how the departments are operating at the recently remodeled Public Safety Building in Windham.”

Hudnor said that the event will be a wonderful time to take photographs, tour the Public Safety Building grounds and experience what it’s like to serve the community as a firefighter, EMT or police officer.

“We believe this event will give everyone who attends and participates a much greater sense and understanding about who we are and what we do to keep this community safe each and every day,” he said. “Windham Public Safety Day is definitely an event not to be missed and will be a memorable time for all members of the family.” <

Author to launch new paperback edition of 'Hester' at Nathaniel Hawthorne’s boyhood home

Award-winning Book-of-the-Month Club author Laurie Lico Albanese will launch the new paperback edition of her acclaimed novel "Hester" at the most perfect of all locations, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Boyhood Home at 40 Hawthorne Road in Raymond on Saturday, Oct. 7 starting at 4 p.m.

Author Laurie Lico Albanese
will launch a new paperback
version of her novel 'Hester'
on Saturday, Oct. 7 at the
Hawthorne House in
Raymond. The event is
free to attend.
"Hester," which Publishers Weekly hails as “a standout,” is an award-winning reimagining of the world-famous lead character in Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter. Admission to the event is free, with RSVP’s (by emailing greatly appreciated. Walk-ins are also welcome.

In addition to a reading by Lico Albanese, there will be a question-and-answer session, along with the opportunity to purchase a personally signed copy of her "Hester" book.

The public is invited to come to Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Boyhood Home, enjoy wine and cheese, and savor meeting this accomplished author.

Zoom Option

Those who would like to attend the book-reading but who may not be able to do so in person are invited to participate via ZOOM. Please email and you will receive the ZOOM participation link the day before the gathering.

How to Donate to Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Boyhood Home

Those who would like to donate to the ongoing restoration of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Boyhood Home in Raymond may do so by sending a much-appreciated check payable to “Hawthorne Community Association” to: Hawthorne Community Association, P.O. Box 185, South Casco, ME 04077. Secure credit card, debit card, and PayPal donations may be made online at:

For more information, please contact Margaret Silvers Myatt at <

Windham’s American Legion Post welcomes new members in October

 By David Tanguay

Special to The Windham Eagle

October is the American Legion’ New Membership Month drive and as in previous years, Field-Allen Post 148 offers a free membership to the post here in Windham.

This year, I would like to first focus on a more pressing issue, BE THE ONE. The veterans suicide rate continues at about 22 vets a day in the United States. One vet suicide is unacceptable but 22 a day is a national disgrace. Today the greatest threat to our service members and veterans is suicide and other mental health related issues. These topics are not always easy to discuss, but the need to bring these issues to the forefront is needed. BE THE ONE does that.

Working with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and other veterans’ organizations, the American Legion has sponsored the BE THE ONE program, a grass roots program, designed to drastically reduce these veteran suicide numbers over the next five years. BE THE ONE is coupled with a national hotline where a vet in distress gets to talk directly to a mental health specialist who is another vet. The number 988 plus ONE has received over a million and a half calls in just the last year and has helped tens of thousands of veterans with a wide range of issues. New info will be out shortly for those vets with hearing and sight issues as well to contact the 988 system.

The Legion’s BE THE ONE program is also sponsored by the National Legion Commander to have every Post in the United States as well as the communities be open to supporting our veterans at the local level. The program includes an emphasis on destigmatizing veterans’ mental illness issues and provides an open atmosphere of listening to our vets and then provide them with needed support.

Additionally, since its inception in 1919, the American Legion has been the largest veterans advocate organization in the country. It authored the GI Bill of Rights and has been at the vanguard of all significant veterans’ legislation from the more recent Blue Water Navy Bill and Burn Pits legislation (PACT ACT) to encouraging all vets from recent conflicts to get screened for exposure to toxins and providing needed service and support to member and veterans who have exposures to a wide range of toxins.

Each Year, the American Legion Field-Allen Post in Windham offers a one-year free membership to the American Legion for new members who join in the month of October. Eligibility is based on the Legion Act of 2019. Any veteran who served at least one day of Active Duty and has an Honorable Discharge is eligible to become an American Legion Member.

The American Legion Field-Allen Post 148 Post provides a Veterans Coffee every Wednesday at the Windham Veterans Center from 9 to 11 a.m. and it is an opportunity to meet local vets and receive information about Legion programs and the support they provide for our youth and the local community. The free membership offer provides new post members with an opportunity to check out what resources are available and to see where they may be of service.

For additional Information please contact the Post Adjutant at 207-892-1306 or by email at <

Commit to be fit this fall

The Southern Maine Agency on Aging is keeping the heat up as the weather gets cooler with its virtual exercise and yoga classes. These classes are drop-in, making them flexible to your schedule and desired regimen.

Gentle Exercise classes meet once a week on Thursdays from 10 to 11 a.m. starting Sept. 28. This class includes a full body routine of movements to gently warm-up your joints, stretch and strengthen your muscles, and practice your balance.

Yoga for Healthy Aging classes meet once a week on Wednesdays from 11 a.m. to noon starting Oct. 4. This class includes a modified series of traditional poses, which can be done by almost anyone—of any age or ability. Special emphasis is placed on strength, balance, fall prevention, and “bone-safe” practice.

Both classes have a combination of seated and standing poses, but all of the poses may be done seated. Pre-registration for all classes is required. Register once but come as often as able.

Please visit our events page at or call 207-396-6578 to pre-register and check out our other Agewell class offerings. For more information, contact our Agewell team with any questions by calling 207-396-6578 or by e-mailing

The Southern Maine Agency on Aging is the focal point in Cumberland and York counties for resources, services, and information to empower older adults and adults with disabilities. <

September 22, 2023

Daily Point of Light Award recognizes RTT volunteer for therapeutic horseback riding work

Janis Childs, a volunteer at the Riding To The Top Therapeutic Riding Center in Windham, has been honored with a Daily Point of Light Award by Points of Light, a nonpartisan, global nonprofit organization that inspires, equips and mobilizes millions of people to take action that changes the world.

Janis Childs, a volunteer at Riding
To The Top Therapeutic Riding
Center in Windham, has been
honored with a Daily Point of
Light Award by the Points of
Light organization. From left are
Neil Bush, Points of Light
Chairman of the Board, Janis
Childs, and Jennifer Sirangelo,
Points of Light President and
Childs received this recognition for her volunteer work at Riding To The Top. Her ability to relate to people of all ages, her dedication and her caring personality are traits that have served her well professionally and in her many volunteer roles over the years. As a retired USM faculty member (School of Nursing), Janis is no stranger to service, whether it was working with her patients as a young nurse, educating future nurses in her role at USM or giving of her time and talent as a volunteer. In addition to her countless hours at RTT, she formerly served as a volunteer with the Coast Guard Auxiliary for many years.

Many kids dream about having a pony at some point or another, and Childs was no different. She loved horses and often begged her parents to get one. With her father in the military, her family wasn’t in a position to bring along livestock every time they moved to a different base or duty station. But that didn’t stop her from putting a saddle on her bicycle with a tail off the back and a rubber horse head on the handlebars.

“When I was looking at retirement, I knew that I wanted to do something to be involved with my community,” she said. “And there happened to be an article in the newspaper about Riding To The Top.”

Riding to the Top (RTT) owns a 50-acre farm and provides equine assisted services to children and adults. The interaction between horse and rider is designed to improve health and well-being but, as Janis would soon find out, also provides unbridled joy to clients and volunteers alike. The idea of working with horses and young riders seemed perfect, and after an initial visit, she was hooked. Janis has been volunteering at RTT for the last 12 years. During this time, she has assisted with nearly every aspect of the organization--from barn chores, to leading horses and sidewalking in lessons, to helping with RTT’s carriage driving program, to assisting with special events and projects and serving as a member of RTT’s Board of Directors for nine years.

“We almost get more out of it than the riders. They’re such an inspiration, and the horses are just magnificent. It’s really an honor to be there,” Childs said.

The Daily Point of Light Award uplifts individuals who lead, lend support, and take action for causes they care about on their path to leading a fully engaged civic life. The award is given five days a week as Points of Light honors individuals creating meaningful change to meet community needs, efforts that often lead to long-term solutions and impact social problems in their local communities.

President George H.W. Bush was the first president in American history to institute a daily presidential recognition program from the White House, conferring 1,020 Daily Point of Light Awards on citizens and organizations making a difference in other people’s lives and solving community problems. Points of Light continues this recognition and now has more than 7,500 honorees to date.

“The Daily Point of Light Award recognizes those who saw something they wanted to improve in the world, then through their time, talent and efforts, began making those improvements,” said Diane Quest, Interim President and CEO at Points of Light. “We’re pleased to honor Janis for her amazing work.”

Janis continues to inspire others with her work and hopes to show others they can make a difference in their communities too.

To learn more about Janis’s work, visit

About Riding to the Top

Riding To The Top Therapeutic Riding Center (RTT) was founded in 1993. Its mission is to enhance health and wellness through equine-assisted services. RTT is the state’s only PATH International accredited center (Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International) solely dedicated to Equine Assisted Services. More than 250 participants are impacted annually, assisted by certified instructors, a herd of 17 horses and close to 100 volunteers, all specially trained to assist with therapeutic riding, carriage driving, equine assisted learning and PT/OT services utilizing equine movement. Riding To The Top is a community-based nonprofit, receives no federal or state funding and provides scholarships to over 60 percent of its clients. For more information about client services, volunteering, or making a gift, please visit us at or call 207-892-2813.

About Points of Ligh

Points of Light is a nonpartisan, global nonprofit organization that inspires, equips and mobilizes millions of people to take action that changes the world. We envision a world in which every individual discovers the power to make a difference, creating healthy communities in vibrant, participatory societies. Through 177 affiliates across 38 countries, and in partnership with thousands of nonprofits and corporations, Points of Light engages 5 million volunteers in 16 million hours of service each year. We bring the power of people to bear where it’s needed most. For more information, visit <

Transition begins for Presumpscot Regional Land Trust after nearly a decade and more than 1,000 acres conserved

By Ed Pierce

After nearly a decade of leading the Presumpscot Regional Land Trust, Rachelle Curran Apse will be leaving the organization’s Executive Director role this winter to move with her family to Cape Town, South Africa.

Presumpscot Regional Land Trust Executive Director
Rachelle Curran Apse, right, and PRLT Program Manager
Toby Jacobs walk through a trail at the new East Windham
Conservation Project in Windham, which will be opening
soon. Curran Apse is moving with her family to South
Africa and will be leaving the land trust at the end of the
Curran Apse said that she is proud of what has been accomplished during her time with the Land Trust.

“It has been such an honor to serve in the leadership of the Land Trust, expanding conservation and trails while connecting people with nature close to home,” she said. “Our Land Trust has grown exponentially in the last decade, and it is only possible due to the hundreds of volunteers, members, supporters, and community partners.”

The Presumpscot Regional Land Trust primarily serves Windham, Gorham, Gray, Standish, and Westbrook and in the last decade, it has grown to more than 500 supporting families, accumulating soon to be nearly 3,000 acres of conserved lands, and more than 30 miles of trails that are free and open to the public. In addition to land stewardship, the Presumpscot Regional Land Trust also monitors the water quality of the Presumpscot River watershed, coordinates the 28-mile Sebago to the Sea Trail, and provides educational programming to hundreds of children, students, and families in the area each year.

Presumpscot Regional Land Trust was founded in 1986 and has conserved land in Gorham, Gray, Sebago, Standish, Windham, and Westbrook. The Windham Land Trust was founded in 2000 and had conserved lands in Gorham, Gray, and Windham. Gorham Trails Inc, a town land trust in Gorham, had conserved lands in Gorham, Windham, and Westbrook. The three land trusts shared much of the same coverage area, along with many members and values, making the three organizations a natural fit to merge. In October 2016, members of the Presumpscot Regional Land Trust, Windham Land Trust, and Presumpscot River Watch voted to merge as one organization with the name Presumpscot Regional Land Trust. In September of 2017, members of the Presumpscot Regional Land Trust and Gorham Trails Inc voted to incorporate all Gorham Trails Inc.-conserved lands within the auspices of the Presumpscot Regional Land Trust.

In the last decade, the Presumpscot Regional Land Trust has acted to protect Lowell Preserve in collaboration with the Town of Windham so it will forever stay undeveloped with five-plus miles of trails. The Land Trust is also about to conserve the East Windham Conservation Project in collaboration with the Town of Windham. The organization is currently in the process of building 10 new miles of trails for the East Windham Conservation Project. In total, the Land Trust will have conserved over 1,000 acres of land in Windham with 15-plus miles of trails added in the last three years.

The leadership exhibited by Curran Apse during her time with the PRLT in undeniable.

“Rachelle has led the land trust through the transformational change from an all-volunteer to a professionally led organization,” said Matt Streeter, Co-President of the PRLT Board of Directors. “She built and cultivated the processes that have made us more effective and earned national accreditation with the Land Trust Alliance. She built an extraordinary staff who, with her leadership, did the hard work of adding over 1,000 acres of conserved land to our portfolio. We wish Rachelle and her family a fulfilling future as they embark on the next phase of their lives, and we look forward to hiring a new Executive Director who will continue the good work that Rachelle has done.”

Curran Apse has worked for the Land Trust since 2015 and will continue to serve in her position as Executive Director through the end of this calendar year and then support the training for the newly chosen Executive Director so that the transition will be smooth.

According to Curran Apse, the Land Trust’s three-person staff leadership team will continue with Toby Jacobs as Program Manager and Brenna Crothers as Community Engagement Manager.

The Land Trust is now actively seeking a new Executive Director who will continue to expand conservation, trails, and education through community partnerships. To see the job announcement, go to <