ISLESBORO, Maine — To the students at Islesboro Central School, the senior class trip is a really big deal.
In years past, teenagers who attend school on the small Maine island have gone to such exotic locales as Iceland, Norway and Panama. The class trip is something that students spend years dreaming about and working toward by holding fundraisers.
“It definitely means a lot to all of the students,” Olivia Britton, 17, a graduating senior from Belfast, said this week.
But the coronavirus pandemic threw a wrench into the travel and fundraising plans for both the classes of 2020 and 2021. So this spring, instead of packing their bags, the 13 graduating seniors did something special.
They decided to give a lot of the money they had raised before the pandemic began — $5,000 in total — to the Islesboro Community Fund, which used it to put on vaccine clinics on the island as well as help islanders in need.
The students’ donation helped pay for the administrative aspects of running the vaccine clinics, which include buying personal protective equipment, transportation costs and paying for overtime for workers. The efforts paid off. Islesboro has a 99 percent vaccination rate for COVID-19, according to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
“I think the community involvement of the Islesboro seniors is heartwarming,” Owen Howell, physician assistant at the Islesboro Health Center, which ran the clinics, said. “I think it’s selfless of them. They’re showing wonderful leadership qualities in times of COVID. I know they would have loved to have gone on their trip. But they’re making the best of it, doing something important with all the sweat that it cost them.”
The teens said they wanted to share their money with the community because it was the community that helped them raise it in the first place. They bought the concessions the graduating seniors sold at home games and purchased tickets to the spaghetti and harvest festival dinners they put on.
“The island supported us all the time,” Britton said. “They came to all of our dinners and were very nice and engaged with us a lot. They didn’t mind when we messed up.”
Liefe Temple, 18, of Lincolnville, another graduating senior, said that when the students tried to brainstorm other ideas, it didn’t feel right.
“When it became clear that we weren’t going to be able to use the money for a class trip, it felt really weird to try and use the money to do something else, or keep it for ourselves,” she said. “That’s not what the community gave it to us for.”
So, they gave a lot of it back.
Their generosity has meant a lot to islanders, not just for what the money has done, but for the impulse behind the donation.
The 70-year-old Islesboro Community Fund helps residents in need who may be struggling to pay medical, fuel or electricity bills. It also supports a scholarship program to help Islesboro youth defray the expenses of higher education or postsecondary training.
“We had a running list of organizations,” Temple said. “We thought that the community fund made sense because they’d been doing all this COVID relief, and COVID was the main reason we couldn’t go on the trip.”
The donation from the Class of 2021 specifically helped islanders facing unforeseen medical expenses and food security problems because of the pandemic, according to Fred Thomas, the president of the Islesboro Community Fund. It also helped offset the expenses of running the COVID-19 vaccination clinic on the island.
“Everybody’s very proud of them,” Thomas said. “I think it’s more than generous. Not only does it demonstrate maturity beyond their years, it also shows that these students are aware of the hardship that exists in their community, and have a willingness to do something about it.”
He and others will formally recognize the students’ gift on Sunday, June 13, just before their high school graduation ceremony.
“Adults, the 50-plus crowd, typically bemoan the youth of today,” Thomas said. “I think quite the opposite is true, at least with these guys.”
For their part, the students thought it was cool that their donation helped islanders get vaccinated, and are hoping that they will be able to do something as a class with the money they reserved, which John van Dis, a science teacher at Islesboro Central School and one of the senior class advisors, estimates is between $2,000 and $3,000.
It won’t be a trip to Italy or Greece. But for the Class of 2021, it will be a chance to do something fun with their friends before they scatter to the four winds and leave high school behind forever.
“A lot of seniors all over the place missed out on a lot of things. It was part of that sort of shared experience of missing rites of passage,” Britton said. “We were saying it’ll be fun to go bowling and play mini golf and get pizza.”