Impressions of an Outsider

My name is Sarah.  I’m an outsider in Aroostook County.  Three weeks ago I moved from Pittsburgh, PA to Presque Isle with no idea whatsoever of what I was getting myself into. When I arrived, everyone asked me the same question: Why? Why would I move here? Why would I choose to come to Aroostook County? These questions disturb me every time I hear them. If nobody had ever asked me these questions, then I would have no reason to think that there was anything odd in my choice.

I have only been in the County for three weeks, but I am already in love with it. The scenery is gorgeous, the people are friendly and helpful, the potato blossoms are cheery and the roads are wonderful to drive on. Never underestimate a well-kept road.

Also, as an outsider I find it incredible that the communities in Aroostook all throw festivals every year. I think it’s amazing that the colleges up here cost so much less than any of the schools I’ve ever visited, and yet are still able to offer most of the same programs. There is an elderly Elvis impersonator who travels around to participate in as many parades as he can. How cool is that?

I knew none of these things before I moved here, but now that I do, I count myself lucky for ending up in such a wonderful place. The one thing I would change? The questions. When people ask me why I chose Aroostook it makes me think that they think there is something wrong with it. I wish that people would realize how lucky they are for living here. So, why did I choose Aroostook? Well… why wouldn’t I?sarah

Sarah Altomari is the AmeriCorps VISTA working at the Aroostook Aspirations Initiative office.  She is working to get people more involved in their communities. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, DIY projects and loving her cat, Dexter.  


An AWESOME Weekend was had by all!

Do you ever find yourself saying or thinking, “Man, I wish I had that opportunity when I was younger!” If so, get ready to do it again.

Aroostook Aspirations Initiative recently hosted AWESOME weekend for our 2014 Gauvin Scholars.  AWESOME weekend helps our scholars Achieve: Wisdom, Experience, Success, Opportunities, Mentoring, and Energy (get it? AWESOME?) and really is….awesome…as the name leads you to believe.  The scholars met influential business leaders from all over Aroostook County; attended several learning seminars with topics such as: interview skills, financial literacy, and resume writing; got down and dirty cleaning windows with the Fort Kent Historical Society; and still had some time to catch up with each other about their experiences in the last year.

Train Station


Saturday, the Internship Hub of Aroostook hosted two of the professional learning seminars for the Scholars.  First was the “How to Write a Resume…like a Wizard” seminar.  The students learned alongside the most famous wizard in history (Harry Potter, in case you didn’t know!) about how to create a resume that will get the employer wanting to learn more about them, using Mr. Potter as an example.  They then revised their current resume, reorganizing, editing, and formatting their information to make their resumes…well, magical!

They then broke up into groups and spent the next 1 1/2 hours answering rapid fire interview questions from all types of professionals.  Once the questions were answered, the “employer” would then guide the Scholars as to how they should rephrase their answers to have the best impact possible.  It was obvious that the kids were nervous at the start, but by the end of the 90 minutes, they were all much more confident in their responses.


The entire weekend was full of learning, networking, and fun! Both the scholars and business leaders agreed that AWESOME weekend was a great opportunity for our Scholars to dip their toes in the career pool.  What’s next for AAI? As I type, the 20 incoming Scholars are traveling to their very own weekend.  Their weekend, SHANTE, is less about professional development and more about building connections and being successful in their first year of college.  Read all about it in the weeks to come!

Do you want to help create more of these opportunities for Aroostook County students?  Click ‘Donate’ above and become a sustaining donor for just $10 a month!

Aroostook’s Got Talent!

It is definitely an understatement to say that it has been busy lately at our office.  Not only are we getting ready to host AWESOME weekend, a professional development weekend for our 2014 Gauvin Scholars (that really is going to be AWESOME!), but we have added 22 (yes, I said TWENTY-TWO!!!) new bright and shining faces to the Gauvin Scholars roster.  Twenty-two Aroostook County students and their families that will now have our support when facing one of the scarier moments in their lives: college.  This means that Aroostook Aspirations directly impacts 35 Aroostook County students each and every day.   And we could not be more thrilled if we tried. I mean, look at them! They’re amazing!

State-Farm-Slides.0014If meeting these incredible kids wasn’t enough excitement, one of our 2014 Gauvin Scholars, Andrew White, has started an internship with The Aroostook Medical Center as part of our Internship Hub of Aroostook program!  He will spend his summer working in the Communications and Development office and will help organize and host events throughout the summer and will be out in the community building relationship and meeting amazing County residents!  If you want to learn more about Andrew’s experience, you can (and should!) read his blog, posted weekly on our page under “Internships”.

We can’t wait to share more of our scholar experiences with you as we take on this new summer with our new Scholars! Stay tuned!

Want to get involved and help grow our number of 35 Gauvin Scholars to 50 (or more)?!  Click “Donate” on our page or visit our website at to become a sustaining donor.  Only $10 a month! We support Aroostook, do you?

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#IchooseAroostook, #youchoosearoostook, #weallchoosearoostook!

One of the most eye-roll worthy phrases I hear is, “According to a nationwide survey…”.  Nationwide surveys, as a general rule, don’t exactly parallel with Aroostook County.  Degree attainment here is much lower, gas prices are much higher, and it seems that regardless of the topic we are not truly represented by the survey findings.  There is, however, a new nationwide study that bears great news for Aroostook natives.  The study shows that Aroostook County kids are more likely to make more money in their lifetime than kids in an average county.  County kids growing up in a poor families can make $1,460 more a year by age 26, compared with an average American county.  In a community with a poverty level of almost 17%, that’s incredible news and shows there is great opportunity here in Aroostook County.  

You can find the full article and study here:

While we at Aroostook Aspirations are excited by this article and what it means in regards to slowing the outward migration of our youth and keeping our students local, we wanted to know why our current scholars chose to stay here in The County.  Their answers prove that kids love Aroostook and want to stay here, but we, as a community, need to show them they can stay and be successful.

scholars choose aroostook

Gauvin Scholars, why do you #chooseAroostook?

“The people and the environment are familiar and friendly.  I’ve always lived here and want to stay and help support the community.  This is where my family is!” -Katelynn Perkins, Presque Isle’s 2014 Gauvin Scholar

“Aroostook is my home and this is where my family is.  This place has made me into a caring and helpful person.  I always want to be here.  It is just a great place to live.”-Nicholas Belanger, Ashland’s 2014 Gauvin Scholar

“This is my home.  My roots started here, so they’ll end here too.”-Stephanie Hammond, Easton’s 2014 Gauvin Scholar

“I choose Aroostook because of how close the people are and how nice and friendly everyone is.  Everyone is always willing to help you.  This is the place for me because this is where I’ve grown up…it’s my home and I couldn’t imagine being anywhere else.”-Brittany Drost, Mars Hill’s 2014 Gauvin Scholar

“Aroostook is my home, there is no place that I would rather be.  I simply love everything about The County!”-Shyanna Smith, Fort Fairfield’s 2014 Gauvin Scholar

“I’ve lived here my whole life and I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. This is where I’m from, and this is where I belong.”-Meghan Hebert, Hodgdon’s 2014 Gauvin Scholar  

“Aroostook County is a rural area with a modest population.  I chose Aroostook because of the people and the sense of community.  The people are incredible, generous, hard-working and kind.  Aroostook County is a very safe place to live and I can’t think of another place that I’d rather raise a family.”-Andrew White, Washburn’s 2014 Gauvin Scholar

Where you grow up matters and according to a nationwide survey, Aroostook County is a great place to do it. Showing our kids that you can succeed (and can make more money!) in Aroostook County is important.  Share with us, your kids, cousins, students, neighbors, babysitters, and fast food service clerks why you #choosearoostook. 

Want to help more students like our Gauvin Scholars choose Aroostook?  Donate today! Your $10 a month can help dozens of Aroostook students achieve their dreams right here in the County.  Go to our “Donate!” page above, or go to to find out more information about what we at Aroostook Aspirations Initiative do.  You are part of the solution!

Yesterday you said, “Tomorrow”

For our college readers, finals week is fast approaching.  This means study groups are forming, books are being opened (likely for the first time), and research papers assigned 14 weeks ago are now being frantically typed in order to meet … Continue reading

Overcoming Challenges

Lately, I have noticed more people, myself included, expressing their frustrations about various challenges in their lives.  These challenges range from mud-filled driveways to lack of wi-fi to annoying team members and while they seem incredibly important at the time, looking back its hard to see what the big deal was.  This week I asked Stephanie Hammond, our Gauvin Scholar from Easton, to share an obstacle she was faced with and how it has affected her.  Her story is not a rant about #firstworldproblems.  It’s an inspirational story and provides insight that can be easily translated to everyone’s life, regardless of the challenge they face. Read her story below:

10426322_388666684644102_3924498661630048767_n“Walking into my freshman year of college, I was as nervous as anyone could ever be. I knew I had to make new friends, I would have much more difficult classes and homework, and there was a constant fear of failure. Walking into my freshman year, I was ready to face these expectations head on, but I was also faced with the unexpected and unexplainable.

About half-way through my first semester of college, my mother passed away due to cancer. Being only eighteen years-old, you don’t ever expect anything like this to happen to you. I was torn completely apart because I just didn’t understand. I became so lost and confused. I had just lost my best friend and felt like the world was caving in on me. I contemplated whether I should go back to college or take the rest of the semester off. All I could think about, and all I still think about, is my mom, and how she would want me to keep pursuing a degree.

I decided to just take a week off from school, and I went back the week after everything had happened. It was really hard for me to go back. Make-up can only cover up so much. People at college were overwhelming me with their sympathies and condolences. I just didn’t want to be there. I helped my family grieve without giving myself a chance to and now it’s finally starting to hit me through my second semester.

I have had so many people reach out to me and talk to me since my mom had passed away. People I don’t even know tell me that I’m an inspiration to them. They tell me that I’m one of the strongest eighteen year-olds that they have ever met. I was told once that I have gone through the same amount of life struggles as a forty year-old. Rikki Rogers once said, “Strength doesn’t come from what you can do. It comes from overcoming the things you once thought you couldn’t”. I do my best to get by, I mean, I’m still alive and breathing.

I keep pushing myself to keep going and that it will make my mom proud. The past cannot be changed, forgotten, edited, or erased; it can only be accepted. I know that it will do me a lot of good in the long run too. I don’t know what I want to do, or know where I need to be, but I thank God I’m not where I used to be.”

What AAI does work…remember: $10 monthly from 1000 people would help us help more kids like Stephanie.

Introducing our new intern!

This week, I thought I would take a moment to introduce you to a remarkable young student named Andrew White.
 10533753_1439848906297386_4025518501080788546_nAndrew, a recent Washburn High School graduate and current student at the Northern Maine Community College is also one of our 2014 Gauvin Scholars.  In his short time with our organization, he has done amazing things.  He’s spoken in front of over 100 influential members of Maine at our Night With the Stars Gala, participated at our Heidi’s Hope community service event, been involved in several community events and even went to the Aroostook Day at the legislature earlier this year.  Andrew is now embarking on another experience: an internship.

To get a feel for Andrew where hopes to go, I asked him what he felt was the best advice he had gotten about college or his future.  He said this:

The person who gave me the best and most helpful advice about college wasn’t placed in my path until the semester had already started.  The instructor for my major seemed to know exactly what to say when it came to surviving life in the the real world.  On day one, he began telling me what my best choice of action would be in every step I’ve taken so far.  Many times, he’s helped me explore other majors and has given me great insight as to what decisions would benefit me most regarding my future.  His advice goes far beyond the realm of college, into buying and owning a home, surviving life’s hardest moments, and making the best of my blessings.  He is beyond amazing at his job and his ability to establish personal, yet professional connections with his students is uncanny.  Without him, college would make a lot less sense than it does today.

10407649_339288282915276_7442575514446234187_nAndrew will be our first Internship Hub of Aroostook intern and will begin his placement with one of our partners in May.  As part of his placement, he will be writing an “Intern Blog”,posted here each week, and will document his thoughts and experiences throughout his journey.  Stay tuned to learn more about Andrew’s experiences and our other Gauvin Scholars!  

To find out how you can help even more County kids, like Andrew, by donating only $10 a month, please email or visit our website:

April showers bring new opportunities

April is the time for many things: April showers (in Aroostook County’s case, they’re snow showers), last minute tax stress, warmer weather, and the beginning promises of amazing summer experiences.  April is also the time most people have completely given up on their New Years resolutions.  The running shoes have been traded in for slippers, the fridge has been restocked with yummy treats, the savings jar has been cashed in to buy the newest toys and the yoga pants…well, let’s just say there isn’t any yoga being done in them.  

And that’s okay.  With failure comes opportunity.  Now we know what isn’t going to work for us and we can use those experiences to find a more attainable goal.  This week, I’m challenging you to make a Spring Resolution, but instead of choosing something unattainable, make your resolution something you can actually do.  Resolve to go for a walk outside once or twice a week, climb a mountain, go on a road trip and stop at all the Maine attractions, or just resolve to get off the couch 1 hour a day.  My resolution: to get more involved in my community.  

I asked our Gauvin Scholar Elizabeth Guimond what she hasn’t yet this year done but wishes she could do.  This is what she said:

Elizabeth GuimondOne thing that I haven’t done yet this year is run along the road. There has been so much snow and only a few reasonably warm days to run, and I am worried about slipping on the ice! I am really excited to get out there and run along the road. Running along the road is so much easier than running on the treadmill! I love looking at my surroundings while I run, it is much more entertaining.

Will you accept my challenge and make a Spring Resolution?  Let us know what you’ve resolved to do this year by commenting below!

Did you know that for only $10 a month (that’s 3 coffees, 1 trip for fast food, or 2 impulse purchases at the grocery store) you can help grow Aroostook Aspirations and help dozens more Aroostook County students? If you want to find out how you can help scholars just like Elizabeth by donating $10 a month, email us at today!

Life’s a Cliche

Have you ever looked back on an experience or event in your life and thought to yourself, “What was I thinking?”  Of course you have.  We all have.  And while clichés like “Hindsight is 20/20” and “I wish I would’ve known then what I know now” ring true many times throughout our lives, they don’t make it any easier to get things right the first time around. 

What the clichés can do, however, is provide us the opportunity to give advice to others who are about to experience an event similar to one you’ve gone through yourself.  You can steer them away from dying their hair purple, travelling the country following a rock band in a crowded van, and marrying the drummer. Your past experiences not only shape who you become as a person, but also have the ability to influence those around you.   

At Aroostook Aspirations Initiative, we use our experiences to help guide our scholars and prepare them for the professional world.  As our scholars move towards their last few months of their first year in college, I asked them to look back on their experiences and give one piece of advice to incoming freshmen.  Brittany Drost, our Mars Hill Gauvin Scholar said this:

1240583_508758222534049_966365546_n“Advice I have for incoming freshmen is to start your college career off with an open mind. Everything is going to be different in college: the people, the classes, your everyday routine….it will all change. Start your college career off by setting long and short time goals for yourself and stick to them. You may find that the decisions you made in high school about your career choices are going to be completely different after your first year.  Don’t be afraid to change your major, it’s about what makes you happy, not what everyone else wants you to do. It’s all for you in long run.”

My advice for new/current college students: Get Involved.  Join a club, volunteer, play on a team, attend events, and get out into your community and DO something.  You never know who you will meet or what experience you will have that will impact your life in the best way.

What advice do you have for students about to enter college?  Let us (and them) know by commenting below!  

Did you know that if 1000 people donated $10 per month we could greatly increase the number of students we help each year?  To find out how you can help us help students like Brittany and our other scholars visit our website at or email us at  Donate today!

The most meaningful lesson I learned in school

I can distinctly remember the feeling I got the day I received my first paper back in my English class during my sophomore year in high school.  Until that point, I didn’t feel as though school was particularly difficult.  I learned new information quickly and I didn’t need to study to do well on tests.   Sitting in the 2nd seat of the third row in CP English II changed all of that.  My teacher was, at first, terrifying (later she became one of my favorite and most respected educators that I’ve ever met).  She expected us to be able to do things I had never even heard of.  She assigned our writing topic and for the first time I worked hard.  I researched, drafted, edited, revised….and though I wasn’t used to putting in that much effort, I was sure I had done well.

I turned over the upside down paper on the desk, ready for my A (or maybe A-). I got a 54.  Ouch.

I was horrified and immediately went to her and asked what I had done wrong.  Her answer: I didn’t do anything wrong.  I just hadn’t yet learned the skills I would need to be a successful writer.  I continued working on my papers for months, seeing slow, but consistent improvement, and by the end of the year, the grades at the top of my papers no longer made me want to cry.  Instead, I was so proud of the progress I had made.  

Reflecting on this experience, I decided that as part of Aroostook Aspirations’ blog project I would ask our scholars to look back on their most meaningful experiences or assignments in their scholastic careers.  Mariah Hebert, from Madawaska, said this:

mariahThe most meaningful assignment that I ever had to do was during my high school Computer Applications course.  Students were required to choose a career and make a realistic budget.  I chose nursing, which is what I want to do after college.  I had to research the average salary of a nurse, select a car and make payments, figure rent and utilities costs, education bills, food, leisure and other bills that I would have as an adult working in the field. I found that this was a very meaningful and insightful assignment because it provided a window in the reality of what I will be experiencing during and after college.  It taught us to be smart about our money if we are going to be able to support ourselves with the career we have chosen.

It is important to let our students know that yes, school can be way more difficult than you had imagined and yes, sometimes you will fail a test, but education means more than just learning math and history.  School gives us the opportunity to learn about ourselves, about perseverance, about inevitable failures and invigorating triumphs.  In Mariah’s case, it gave her the opportunity to look ahead to her future and learn essential life skills long before she has to implement them first hand.

Sharing our meaningful schooling experiences is a great way to engage our youth and encourage them to continue on the path to higher education, even if they stumble sometimes.  Share your experiences in a comment below.  We’d love to hear from you!