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Pennies From Heaven

When the Great Northern Paper mill, a major employer in Millinocket, Maine, suddenly closed its doors last December, unemployment spelled heartache for the parents and students of Stearns and Schenck high schools.

Shrinking finances meant that the two schools would not be able to host their yearly proms.

But help from more fortunate neighbors in a tony vacation spot four hours to the south was about to turn the tide.

Students from Kennebunk High School learned of the situation and quickly began discussing how they could help the schools put on their annual rite of passage.

"Ideas were batted around as to what to do," said John Daley, a U.S. history teacher at the 800-student Kennebunk High who heads one of several student forums supported by the school's advisory program.

Mr. Daley said 16-year-old junior Sara Towne, a member of his forum group, suggested that students raise money to help pay for a prom for the Millinocket students.

The school's 32- member student council agreed, and established a quarter drive to raise the prom funds.

Mr. Daley's forum group put four large jugs that had contained spring water outside the cafeteria during the school's annual Spirit Week and encouraged students and faculty members to donate their spare change.

They raised nearly $2,000, of which only $710 was actually in quarters. Students painstakingly counted out dimes, nickels, and pennies for several hours before announcing the final total.

"The kids were amazed," Mr. Daley said. "We put the change into four big piles, and they got together and counted it. I've never seen $2,000 worth of change on the floor before. It was awesome."

But the drive raised more than prom money, he said. Community businesses and school organizations became aware of the plight of the mill town's residents and offered Millinocket students discount dresses, hair styling, and accessories for the big night.

Their prom is scheduled for this spring.

"I think the one thing kids here realized is that what they did really added up to something," Mr. Daley said.

"They learned that they can do positive things to effect change."

—Marianne D. Hurst

Vol. 22, Issue 29, Page 3

Published in Print: April 2, 2003, as Take Note

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