PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — More than 30 volunteers invaded the WAGM-TV studios Thursday to help with a telethon to raise funds to establish a homeless shelter for veterans in Aroostook County. When the fundraiser wrapped up for the night with the evening newscast, the initial goal of $30,000 was eclipsed.
According to Bill Flagg, community relations and development director at Cary Medical Center, $45,668 was raised as of 10:30 a.m. Friday, and donations were still coming in.
Project 16, a group whose name comes from the number of homeless veterans unable to find local services in 2015, spearheaded the telethon fundraiser. Several organizations fall under the Project 16 umbrella, including the Presque Isle television station, Cary Medical Center in Caribou and local chapters of the United Veterans of Maine, the Marine Corps League, Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion.
With the objective of helping homeless veterans in Aroostook County, money raised from the telethon will support the United Veterans of Maine’s effort to establish a homeless veterans shelter and farm in Caribou. UVM has acquired the farm property and is looking to build five cabins and an administrative building on the site.
John DeVeau, president of UVM, said the shelter will accept veterans with alcohol, drug or mental health challenges who otherwise are turned away from conventional shelters. The facility’s self-sustaining nature will allow residents to earn money through farm work that also will go toward maintaining and growing the operations.
The farm, located on the Washburn Road in Caribou, where Phil’s Florist formerly stood, will be named the Dahlgren-Skidgel Farm of Hope, in honor of two late Aroostook County veterans who received the Congressional Medal of Honor.
Formed on Jan. 5, Project 16 started when Bernard Lagasse of WAGM’s local sales team heard about the effort to build a shelter in Caribou.
He spoke with Kelly Landeen, WAGM general manager, about the effort to build a shelter to help several homeless veterans in The County and suggested a telethon.
“We both talked about it and thought it would be a great idea,” Lagasse said.
Landeen said the Project 16 crew was at the WAGM building in Presque Isle helping with the telethon from about 5 a.m. to 7 p.m. Thursday.
“It’s been a long day, but it’s well worth it,” DeVeau said Thursday.
Cary’s Flagg, a founding member of the group, said he was thankful for the station’s participation.
“It’s one thing to raise the money, but with WAGM’s reach, nearly everyone in Aroostook County will know about the project,” Flagg said. “Even if they can’t give, they might know a homeless veteran and could contact one of us to get them help. Homeless shelters do a great job, but they’re not prepared to deal with people who have drug, alcohol or mental health issues. There’s a high barrier for many homeless veterans.”
“This is a countywide effort,” DeVeau said, “not just Caribou or Presque Isle. Without this partnership, we wouldn’t have been so successful. The shelter and farm was just a scatterbrained idea, but so many people joined me and they’re the ones making it happen. It’s truly a team effort.”
Flagg added that all work and other support on the project so far has been given freely.
All work on the main building was done through volunteer labor, Flagg said, “and a lot of us have even put our own personal money into the project.”
Landeen said that in honor of the recently formed Project 16, her station has challenged community members to do 16 jumping jacks to raise awareness.
“People have been posting videos of themselves doing jumping jacks to Facebook,” Landeen said, “and it’s already gone viral.”
DeVeau says WAGM donated a conference table while Job Corps already has a third of the floor installed in the main building.
“These guys are the champs,” DeVeau said regarding all who have helped. “It wouldn’t be happening without their help and support.”
The Dahlgren-Skidgel Farm of Hope is planning to hold a grand opening ceremony April 15.
For more information or to donate, visit wagmtv.com and click Project 16 on the upper toolbar. Checks also can be mailed to United Veterans of Maine, 358 Washburn St., Caribou ME 04736.