Transcription of Love Maine Radio #311: Kristen Farnham and Christina McAnuff

Speaker 1: You are listening to Love Maine Radio, osted by Dr. Lisa Belisle and recorded at the studios of Maine Magazine in Portland Dr. Lisa Belisle is a writer and physician who practices family medicine and acupuncture. Show summaries are available at
Dr. Lisa Belisle: This is Dr. Lisa Belisle and you are listening to Love Maine Radio, show number 311 airing for the first time on Sunday, September 3rd, 2017. Today’s guests are Kristen Farnham, the vice president of development at Spurwink and the executive director of the Olympia Snowe Women’s Leadership Institute, Christina McAnuff. Thank you for joining us.
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Dr. Lisa Belisle: Kristen Farnham leads the fundraising, marketing ,and communication teams at Spurwink, a nonprofit statewide organization that provides behavioral health and education services for children, adults and families. Thanks for coming in today.
Kristen Farnham: Thank you for having me in.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: Spurwink’s been around for quite a while, hasn’t it?
Kristen Farnham: Yeah, we’re coming up on 60 years.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: So I’m not sure that people are as familiar with what Spurwink does. Can you give us a little background?
Kristen Farnham: Yeah of course. Spurwink for a long time sort of hid its light under a bush, and was doing great work in the community but wasn’t really talking about it as much. So I think that’s a familiar feeling that not as many people knew about Spurwink or what it did, or maybe knew something. Maybe had someone in their life who worked there or maybe knew someone who was served by Spurwink. So yeah, so a lot of what we’re doing now is trying to talk about the work more and shed some light on all the wonderful things that happen.
So Spurwink started in 1960 with a home for eight boys out on Riverside Street and we still have that building actually. So there’s kids who still live in that building and they were eight boys whose needs, developmental needs couldn’t be met in their own home or in their school. So they came to Spurwink and lived with house parents and that was the start. So really serving kids is the genesis of what Spurwink is all about and what it still does. It’s grown quite a lot since then, so now we serve about 7,500 children and adults and families every year and we have locations all around the state.
We have six different residential and school hubs, so we have six special purpose private schools around the state, and then lots of residential facilities for kids who can’t live at home. And then for kids who have graduated out of the youth system, we have residences and day treatment programs for adults who also can’t live at home, maybe can’t live independently, will live in a group setting out of Spurwink Home. Then out of that grew a lot of other ancillary but really connected programs. So a lot of outpatient clinical services for a variety of diagnoses.
We run the child abuse clinic in the state and we run a treatment foster care program. So a lot of things that are connected to that germ of a program of working with kids whose needs really weren’t met at home or in their referring school district.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: Have you seen the numbers of children and families who have need of these services increase over the years?
Kristen Farnham: Yeah, absolutely they have. The acuity of the kids that we serve is much higher now than it used to be, and there’s a number of reasons for that. We serve kids who… and I talk mostly about the kids because that’s really the heart and the bulk of what we do. The kids that we serve come with a variety of different backgrounds and diagnoses. Some have autism somewhere on the spectrum. A lot have developmental disabilities but really the common thread is kids who come with a trauma history of one form or another. As a physician you probably know about ACEs, Adverse Childhood Experiences.
The kids who are referred to us, it may be because of behavior issues but it really goes back to ACEs and some sort of trauma often in their family history. The Spurwink model is really a therapeutic model of how to work with the kids, and it’s very individualized. We often have one-on-one match-ups between a staff member and a student either in school or in the residential setting, and getting them to a place where ideally they can maybe go back to their family. Or you know a place where they can be independent after they leave Spurwink.
The opioid crisis is a huge contributor to kids in need as well. That’s obviously spiked more recently within the last couple of years in particular. But all of those are contributing factors to both high need as well as the intensity and acuity of the kids that we serve.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: This wasn’t your original path.
Kristen Farnham: Nope.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: You went to Middlebury and Boston College Law School and you actually worked as an attorney.
Kristen Farnham: I did, I did.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: You’ve made this big change although you’ve always had an interest in non-profits and educational organizations.
Kristen Farnham: Yep.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: Tell me a little bit about that.
Kristen Farnham: Yeah, it’s definitely a lesson in being patient with life and seeing where the different threads of your life will come together. I feel really so fortunate to be at Spurwink because I feel it sort of brings together lots of parts of my life. I really feel like I have the best nonprofit job in Maine and big and for me personally it’s a great organization. It has great leadership. I’m really privileged to serve with an amazing team of people on our senior leadership team. And then the work is really important, it’s really serving in my view the people who our community has kind of left behind in some ways and really addressing their needs and helping them get to a place where they can lead the best life that they can lead, and be as independent as they can. Be contributing to their community and living independently.
So for me on my professional side, it sort of weaves together a lot of things that I’ve done. I have a background in marketing and fundraising from working with a variety of non-profits. I’ve worked in some educational institutions and so… we run schools and so that plays into the work that we do and occasionally my legal background will come in handy. We obviously have very capable HR staff, but we also as a senior leadership team will sit around the table and talk about issues that impact the whole organization.
So for example, workforce development or the minimum wage issue that has just come up in Maine, we all contribute to discussions around those topics that affect the whole agency. The fundraising side of my work, I do a fair amount of tax work and estate planning working with donors. So those are all different threads of my life that professional life that sort of come together. I feel really fortunate to find this place that I love working with people who do incredible work and sort of taps into lots of different parts of my skill set, I hope.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: So most of what you just described is kind of in one area, but I’m still kind of intrigued by this going to law school and becoming an attorney. I’m just out of interest because people who listen to the show are often kind of similar where they’ve done one thing and then something switched for them and they said, “Oh, I need to go do this. This is more true to who I am.”
Kristen Farnham: Right, yeah sure that’s a fair point. I went to law school thinking I was going to do public interest law. So that was my motivation. In the summers I worked in Boston. There were great opportunities so I worked one summer in a domestic violence unit of the Norfolk County district attorney’s office that was doing really groundbreaking work. This is quite a few years ago. So kind of groundbreaking work in the domestic violence arena. Things like bringing a case forward without the victim. Things that sound sort of commonplace now and practices now in a prosecutor’s office, but it was at the time pretty groundbreaking.
Doing a lot of education with police forces and other referring entities. That was really to me important and meaningful work and another summer I worked in a child protection unit of the Department of… Massachusetts equivalent of our Department of Health and Human Services in Maine. It’s called DSS. Department of Social Services in Massachusetts. That was also really hard but meaningful work in terms of child protective work. I graduated and I clerked for a year for a federal judge which is kind of a common thing to do after law school and had some great trial experience down in Providence and then was looking for my first position and also had a bunch of loans to pay off so.
Anyway my husband I looked to… we kind of looked outside of Boston where we were living at the time, and so I got a great job at one of the firms in town, Verrill Dan, and great group of people and helped me pay off my loans and meet that commitment. And I guess I moved from that towards, kind of gravitated back more towards nonprofit work. I went to work for one ultimately after a few years of Verrill Dana working with a great team of people, were moved to Bowden College which was one of our clients. Great place as you know. So there sort of wove a little bit back and forth between private practice and nonprofit work, but being in the in the nonprofit sphere is really where my heart is.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: Well, it’s a very practical thing. There are educational loans and you have to find some way of doing it. What I think is really remarkable is the fact that some people can get caught up in going down a path because it looks a certain way financially and kind of that’s not really where they ever intended to go, but you were very clear it seems. That this is where you wanted to come back to.
Kristen Farnham: There were lots of uncertain moments along the way. I don’t want to create a false impression, but I guess that’s the be patient lesson. To sort of keep waiting and finding the threads that come together and make more sense ultimately. I mean the great thing about… I still keep up with a lot of my friends that I practice with and some of whom are still practicing law in a law firm setting. Some of whom aren’t, and I think that there’s a lot of qualities that you get from legal practice that are really valuable in other settings. No task is too boring after you’ve an associate attorney at a law firm, and you’re not afraid of long hours or hard work. You’re with hierarchy.
There’s lots of things that you get from that setting that make other settings pretty appealing after that. There’s also an intellectual rigor to it that’s really engaging and interesting and working at a place like Verrill Dana. One of the things I loved about being there, I was there in I guess like the late ‘90s, was they are a state-wide firm. I was new to Maine. I hadn’t lived here before, but working with that firm, doing good work for lots of Maine companies, primarily businesses, but all over the state. So I just learned all about Maine and sort of dove in that way.
So that for me was like just a wonderful introduction to Maine and what’s going on in the Maine economy and how Maine operates. So I feel really lucky that I landed in that place.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: I’m thinking as you’re talking about the number of attorneys that I have interviewed that have gone back into the nonprofit world. I was thinking about the Casco Bay Keeper from friends of Casco Bay.
Kristen Farnham: Ivy.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: Ivy Frignoca and that’s just one example. I believe the head of Good Shepherd Food Bank may have been an attorney. I could be wrong about this so if you’re listening and I’m wrong, then I apologize. Then there was another person who was a Maine live speaker who now does conservation work. So it seems as if having this sort of background really can be very useful ultimately. Tell me about your ability to work with a population that can be very… I don’t want to say challenging, it’s more that there is a very emotional component to some of these family stories. I mean I have some of these families as my patients and they will come in, and I am so struck by the fact that there’s a significant amount of misfortune.
Being born into a bad situation. There’s stuff that happens that you just you can’t believe actually happens in this day and age. That people can be walking around and still living these lives. These traumatic circumstances. Abuse, neglect or even just being born to an opioid-addicted mother. What is that like on a day to day basis to be working with that population?
Kristen Farnham: Yeah, I think it’s incredibly important work. I think a lot of people who come from a background of poverty, who’ve had really hard things happen in their life, who have mental health challenges. We used to not talk about it or at best and lock them up at worst. I think the fact that they can be respected and given opportunities to move beyond their history, I think is huge. Both in Maine and nationally that we have a different dialogue around mental health issues and what that means. I want to be clear, I don’t do the hard work, it’s Spurwink.
We have clinicians who are trained and they work with the clients and the people, legions of people who work day to day with the clients. I do the easy part which is talk about their work, promote their work, try to build brand awareness around Spurwink and bring in more supporters. Whether that’s new clients, donors, referrals, foundation support. Those are all… that’s the easy part. The people who work with the clients, that can be the daily hard part, but they also are so dedicated to it and they’re really inspiring to be around because they’re so committed to the person and to helping each person address their history and move forward in a positive way.
We use a model that’s based out of Cornell University called the CARE Model. I’m not going to even pretend that I know what the acronym care stands for, but it’s a therapeutic model that is really about valuing each person and finding a path for them and giving them unconditional positive regard. So that’s the work that’s really done on a daily basis with the clients and each therapeutic plan for each client is different. Because each one comes with a different past. They work with families when it’s appropriate, sort of bring that family forward.
So they just do incredible work. One example is we have a client named Samantha and I can share her name because she gave us… she and her foster parents gave us permission to make a video about her that’s on our website. Samantha had been in… she was 13 and she had been in 13 different homes. You can just let your mind go about how is that possible. You think about your own family, your own children, and she finally found a place at Spurwink where she grew to trust her teachers who did an incredible job in our Lewiston School with her, and then she was living with a couple in a therapeutic couple model that we had been working with in a home. It’s kind of like a foster family.
She was going to have to move out of that placement and her foster parents who had worked at Spurwink changed their jobs and changed their whole career trajectory so that they could officially foster her and she could become a part of their family. So that’s just the above and beyond story of people’s dedication and how her life has really taken a different trajectory. She’s doing well in school, she goes to after school activities and gymnastics and things, that Boys and Girls Club in Lewiston. It was really a different path for her now than there was before. So that kind of work is to me just so incredible and really inspiring.
So my job is just to talk about it and to help to share that work and support it and tell the story. Our goal overall is to crack open people’s view of people with mental health challenges or with a difficult past and really help to redefine what success looks like. For everyone it’s not Ivy League, being a lawyer, being a doctor. Sometimes it’s go into your job and showing up or having your own apartment and can we help people to understand that and to help create that opportunity for people.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: Tell me about the work that Spurwink is doing with new Mainers, with people who have come to our state from other places and might be having similar challenges to people who have lived in our state for many years. This has become an increasingly important issue that all of us are working with.
Kristen Farnham: We have a ton of intersection with new Mainers right now on a couple of different fronts, which is really pretty cool and exciting. On the client side, we’re working more and more with new Mainers. I mean they often come with a lot of mental health challenges and a lot of trauma history that we don’t have to go into detail about how that could be. Lots of relocation, family loss, violence. So we work more and more on the client side. We have school groups, we have public school counselors embedded in a huge variety of schools throughout the state, so they do school groups.
And then we just got a really significant federal grant to fund a program called Shifa, which we work in consultation with the Boston Children’s Hospital, and that program is implementing a therapy called Trauma Systems Therapy for refugees. And so it’s really exciting, it’s Spurwink’s first federal grant and it’s over a five year-period. So what we’re doing there is rolling out a program first in Lewiston, Auburn where there’s a big refugee population. Then in Biddeford, Saco, and then in Portland and Westbrook. It’s in three stages, and it works with kids and with families using cultural brokers.
There’s a lot of stigma against mental health counseling in the refugee community, and so this program really works with people in the community to open those doors, and to work with families and in particular with kids and their families. So that’s really exciting work. That specifically and there’s a woman named Sarah Patton who’s leading that program and she has a PhD, and she’s just doing phenomenal work in that area with her team.
Then on the employer side, we’re finding that we’re employing more and more recent immigrants. We have more than 900 employees throughout the state. So we’re a pretty sizable employer. We estimate that about 10% of our workforce now are recent immigrants and then in our adult program, there’s about 30%. So that’s all friends and family. Refer your friends and family to come and so that is a great opportunity for Spurwink. Because as you know probably from talking to lots of folks, workforce development and recruitment and retention of employees is a huge issue across the state and Spurwink is no exception to that. That’s a huge issue that we focus on as leadership and focus on throughout the agency all the time.
So to find a population where people are referring their friends to come because it’s a positive work experience is really great, and it does present different challenges though, that we’re conscious of and that we’re working on as an employer. So a recent immigrant might come with language barriers. There’s some cultural norms that they might not be familiar with. They have some different needs in terms of wanting to take different holidays. When they go on vacation they might go back to their country of origin for either a holiday or a wedding celebration.
So those are some different needs than the typical main employee you might have. We also are really conscious of… some of our jobs have certain educational requirements and so their degrees, if they have them from their country of origin might not translate very well to American standard. So we work with them to sort of help manage that and figure that out. Then we’re also really conscious of making sure that those employees have opportunities for growth and development. That they’re able to move through a supervisory system and sort of move to positions of more responsibility in the agency.
So there’s a lot of layers to that, but we feel really lucky to be part of that dialogue and be able to participate that because they’re great employees. They’re really hard working as a group, empathetic. They’re sort of unfazed by some of the things that our clients come with because they’ve seen a lot in their own lives. So they’re in a lot of ways really ideal employees for a lot of the work that we do. So yeah, so it’s pretty… both of those fronts it’s pretty exciting to be a part of that because it’s obviously a huge discussion point in the state. So we’re looking for more and more ways to be a part of that dialogue about supporting that community in all the ways and integrating them in a really positive and effective way.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: You reference the stigma around counseling therapy for mental illness within the refugee and immigrant population. This is a stigma that has existed within arguably I don’t know the traditional Mainers population for really as long as I can remember. I’m sure beyond that. How does Spurwink work with that stigma? How are you working to change the way that we view mental and emotional issues that people might have, that are holding them back?
Kristen Farnham: Well I think the most important work is done with the clients. Every day helping people not feel shame about their history, but to really work through it and get to a more positive place in their life. So that I think is definitely the most important work that happens. Then in our efforts on sort of the marketing and communication side, we view it as a responsibility to talk about it. To talk about hard things and to make it seem like it’s not the other, how people relate to it and tell people story. We just had a stewardship lunch where we brought in a bunch of donors and funders and people who had been supportive of Spurwink.
So we had some of our leadership speak and there were program directors but really it was the two kids, you know, the teenagers that we… They were so brave and they told their story to this group of people that they didn’t know and the, our donors and supporters were so moved by that. And so it’s, you know, those are kids trying to make their way in the world and do the best that they can with the tools that they were given and the supports that Spurwink is able to offer.
I think when people can see person-to-person, it breaks down a lot of the barriers and stereotypes. So we just try to find ways, it’s hard, we try to find ways to connect people with the clients and the work that’s done. It’s not always easy because we can’t accept a lot of volunteers and some of our programs aren’t really suited to that, but try to find ways, we’re always looking at … We have pretty active social media presence, trying to tell stories through that, through video, newsletters, some events, trying to connect people with, people with people, because that’s where people are understood more and barriers are broken down.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: I’ve been speaking with Kristen Farnham who leads the fund raising marketing and communication teams at Spurwink nonprofit statewide organization that provides behavioral health and education services for children, adults, and families. Thank you for the important work that you’re doing and for taking the time to talk to me today.
Kristen Farnham: Thanks so much for the opportunity.
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Dr. Lisa Belisle: My next guest is Christina McAnuff, the Executive Director of the Olympia Snowe Women’s Leadership Institute, a nonprofit organization providing a three-year program that builds the confidence, aspirations, and leadership skills of girls across Maine. Thanks for coming in today.
Christina McAnuff: Thanks for having me, Lisa.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: So tell me about this organization. It’s a relatively new entity, is it not?
Christina McAnuff: It is. So the Institute was founded in 2014, and we welcomed our first class of sophomores in the fall of 2015, so they are now our first class of rising seniors this fall. And then in 2016, we welcomed our second class of sophomores and we expanded from seven schools in Androscoggin County to an additional one school in every other county. So now we had 21 schools, and this year we expanded once again and we will welcome students from 36 schools in all 16 Maine Counties in September.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: What does the program look like? What do the sophomores do?
Christina McAnuff: So the program follows a three-year progression. The sophomore track is called My Values, and during that year, students identify their values; they learn what a value is. They also explore their strengths and their passions, so it’s really about self-knowledge. The junior year is called My Voice, and believe it or not, it starts with how do you listen to other people? And then it reconnects with their values and what the young women want to say and how to get heard appropriately. And finally in the senior year, the track is My Vision; so now that I know what’s important to me, what I’m really good at and what I’m excited about, I know how to engage with other people and get things done. Where do I go from here? What does my future look like? And that’s when we talk about resilience, reframing failure, empathy, and gratitude.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: How did you become involved with this organization?
Christina McAnuff: You know we all have these twisty paths ,and mine is no different. I was working as the director of the High School Abroad Program at CIEE which is the Council on International Educational Exchange. And so I was super happy helping facilitate meaningful exchanges for high school students in the US abroad. And a friend and mentor sent me the job description for the executive director and I just couldn’t stop thinking about it; I couldn’t get it out of my head. So one weekend, I sent the family out of the house and after five years overhauled my resume and wrote a cover letter and I threw my hat in the ring. That was the beginning of the transition from a job I loved to a job that I love and really fits well with my values and my strengths and passions.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: You’re originally from, well you and I share a hometown I should say.
Christina McAnuff: We do.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: And you and I went to school together in the Yarmouth Systems up until, I believe, you went in seventh grade to North Yarmouth Academy.
Christina McAnuff: Yes, I did.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: What was it about your own upbringing that caused you to be interested in this type of work?
Christina McAnuff: So I think looking back on my teenage years, I was really fortunate to be in a caring and supportive environment. And supported by lots of women, even outside of my home; women and men actually, and so I knew that was part of how I learned about myself. I saw my traits in others and I looked at how they saw the world and I wanted to give back to young women the way so many people in my community had given to me. Also, through my travels over the years and I’ve been fortunate to visit more than 30 countries, I have seen that not everyone grows up with privilege.
I do feel now that I come from privilege, and with that comes responsibility. And so to be able to give back and to connect young women with caring and trained mentors, to make a difference in their lives and to help them really on the path to being their best selves, that that fills my cup. That is really meaningful work and so that’s I think my upbringing has informed how I want to show up for the next generation.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: What are your observations about the women of Maine, having worked now with, I guess you said your first graduating class is going to be this year. So, you’ve had a couple of years of experience under your belt?
Christina McAnuff: So I have been with the institute a little more than a year. I joined in May of 2016, so I do feel like I know several of the seniors well. And I’ve also been so fortunate as we’ve expanded the program to travel across Maine; I’ve been up to Madawaska and all points in between and I have noticed an incredible resilience. There are a lot of economic challenges across our state, there certainly is poverty, there is food insecurity, and yet with that is incredible resilience, credible pride in our communities, and young women with incredible gifts that are making their way every day. And I believe that so many of them are going to succeed and that another layer of them will now succeed because of an additional level of support from our communities.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: What are some of the concerns that people are sharing with you about the experience of being a young woman in this day and age in Maine?
Christina McAnuff: Well, when I was learning about the institute and reading the research the board shared with me, I, just like they were was very concerned by what we were reading about how young women are losing confidence at such incredible rates compared to male peers and that’s not to suggest that boys don’t need support as well. And yet they were no longer raising their hand when they transition to high school. And so that’s the first concern, is that there is a really big challenge being a young woman. I’m learning now too about gender bias that is everywhere, and even people who are cognizant of it still fall prey to gender bias.
And I also think the media plays into it, young women have a certain idea of what they should be or they think they should be based on what they see. And so that’s impacting how they show up in school. Social media of course I think it plays a huge role in how we communicate and it’s not always positive. And so teaching young women how to engage with other people appropriately feels like a really good place to start on getting them on track to showing up for themselves so they can be their best self, but also being a support for peers.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: This organization is named for Olympia Snowe who spent a lot of years as a woman in really male-dominated field. When you’ve had conversations with her, what has she told you about her background, her history and why she thought that this was so important to bring back to her home state?
Christina McAnuff: Well one story that stands out is how when she arrived in the US Senate, there actually weren’t bathrooms for women. That they had to leave the Senate floor unlike their male counterparts and that’s that stuck with me and yet she shared so many other stories about how it was difficult to get heard as a woman. And even today we read articles about how some women politicians are interrupted. She certainly faced that. She’s also shared too growing up and even in her career, having moments where she had a crisis of confidence.
And I think that’s why she prepares so well for everything she does and why she makes so much time when she was in the Senate for constituents and now even as really the figurehead of the Institute, makes so much time for friends and supporters of the institute, not to mention the young women. And so when I see her connect with other people, it is so genuine and authentic and that’s because that’s how she showed up when she was in the Senate and she sees the value in everyone, showing up listening to others and building consensus. And so, those parts of her experience and how and what led to several of her successes are built into the program for our young women.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: Your experience growing up, I mean, you and I are roughly contemporary. Being a female in the 80s was for me, it was kind of this time where we were told we could do anything; there was a whole free-to-be-you-and-me error, and boys and girls and we all were going to grow up to be doctors and teachers and….
Christina McAnuff: And you did.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: And actually, yeah, I guess that worked so good job for you and me. But there have been some, I’m imagining in your life, there probably has been… There have been some moments where all of a sudden what we were told didn’t necessarily bear out. Can you think of any that you might be willing to share?
Christina McAnuff: I think it’s a great question and one that requires thought. I mean I was raised by two teachers who like your parents I imagine, did told me that I could be anything. Although that said, I think the first time I, when I was preparing to graduate from college, I went to a college in Pennsylvania; I really wanted to join the Peace Corps. And I think that was the first time that decision to apply or not apply was… I was faced with my first conflict and that was that I was graduating with a great deal of student debt and that the Peace Corps wouldn’t necessarily position me to start paying off that debt.
And so that was the first time that I thought, I can’t be what I want; I want to give back while I’m young and while I have this energy and this desire to engage with the world. So I made the decision to take a job instead. So it wasn’t necessarily a message I received from anybody, it was the reality of the financial aid that I had been so fortunate to receive and needing to turn around and feel a responsibility to start to pay that off.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: So that wasn’t specific to being a woman, it was just specific to living in a time of student debt? Was there ever a conflict that you encountered as a female? I mean, I’ll give you an example in my own life. I was a doctor in training and I my first child, I was pregnant with him my first year of medical school. And there wasn’t really… I mean it was very biologic; I have a child inside my uterus who is gestating. But there was not really a way to kind of reconcile the two worlds; I needed to keep moving forward with an educational process and he needed to keep moving forward with his living process and there wasn’t really a, there was no in between. I mean there wasn’t a way to pull back and not be able to do both at the same time. Does this make sense?
Christina McAnuff: It does, and although what you shared reminds me of a time, my experience is a little bit different when I was newly married. My husband and I wanted to continue building our family and I remember an employer saying after I got married, “Now that you’re married, do you want to work part time? Because you have new children…” My husband has two children from a previous marriage and I remember thinking, “Would you ask this of me if I were a man?” And it’s funny I think I’ve repressed that memory until you started talking about it. I remember thinking this is not, it’s not only not appropriate, but it’s potentially not legal. And that was the first time that I thought, “Gosh, how I’m viewed is represented in part by my gender.”
So it was within the next year that I did transition from that organization. And I would say as a mother, I’ve been very fortunate to have a supportive partner, because my next role which was at CIEE required a great deal of international travel. And so to have someone that said, “Go for it, take that job and I’ve got you covered on the home front,” it was empowering; it was empowering as a woman and as a mother and so for that I’m very, very grateful. And other than that, I really don’t have too many times thankfully where my gender has influenced my path.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: Your daughter just turned seven which is a fun age, she’s a beautiful child.
Christina McAnuff: Thank you.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: I met her the other day. What do you think that her life is going to look like given that she’s female?
Christina McAnuff: Gosh, I hope and I see it already; I hope first and foremost that she loves herself. While we grow up, we know we just talked about how we grew up in this age of empowerment and we both received those positive messages from our parents, and of course I deliver those as well as my husband. I do worry about the messages she receives when she’s not with us, either through social media, through magazines, pop culture, and so we try and first limit that. But I do worry about what’s outside of my control. So I can still control a great deal because of her age and yet by the time she gets to middle school, high school, I wonder what the world will look like. And yet with programs like the institutes with other programs around the state and also a movement to support women in general around the world.
I have a great deal of hope that the challenges I faced whether it was personal, struggling with my perception of myself and my abilities or how I thought the world perceived me, I hope that it would be a different world for her. So it’s hard for me to envision and yet every day I’m going to try and build her up so that she has every confidence that she can be her best self whatever that is.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: Are you encouraged by this groundswell of support for women?
Christina McAnuff: It is every day I am thankful not only for the individuals and corporations and foundations that support the Institute, but also the number of women that have come forward to say, “I want to get involved”. They raise their hands, they go through an extensive training, they give their personal time, they take time outside of their careers to deliver the program and engage with our young women. And it’s gratifying and also it’s so incredible to see the connections that are being made; because the young women benefit, but also our volunteers, our advisors benefit and that’s what feels so good is that so many come back and say, “This is the most rewarding work I’ve done and I’ve been volunteering for 25 years”.
And I know that their experiences are just the tip of iceberg. Each year we will welcome more than 70 advisors for incoming classes of sophomores. And I know the experiences will continue to be transformative for the girls, for the advisors, and that that will have a ripple effect across the state.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: What does the application process look like if you are a young woman in high school who is seeking to become part of this program?
Christina McAnuff: That’s a great question. There actually is no application process, because we know that young women are losing confidence at great rates and by the time they arrive in high school, in their freshman year, that they’ve stopped raising their hand, we actually work with guidance counselors and freshman teaching teams to identify young women who while on solid academic and social footing could benefit from an additional layer of support outside of school. And so these young women have talents and passions and yet with the support to really connect with those strengths and passions and to find their way, find their voice working with a mentor, it could make the difference. And so, we schools, nominate the young women; they’re invited to join and then they can make the decision if it’s the right program for them after learning more about what it looks like.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: Over the course of the three years of high school, how often do the women get together with each other and with their mentors?
Christina McAnuff: So the program is once a month, during the school year; so from September through May. There are meetings and twice a year, all the girls from across the state come together once in November. It’s an event we call the fall four minutes with Senator Snowe. We generally host it in a central location, this year we’re in Bangor and over the course of an entire day, the young women engage not only with their mentors and with young women from across the state, but also have opportunities to network. And that’s a big outcome that we’re shooting for.
It’s at the end of three years; each girl has a network of support she can turn to when she’s in college, after college. And so that’s a really important day in November and then at the end of the year, we bring groups together regionally, not only to network, but also to celebrate the year of discovery and it’s another chance for them to interact with Senator Snowe and caring women and men from across the state. So there are eight meetings, so eight or nine meetings with their advisors and their cohort and then these two additional meetings, either regional or state wide.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: It’s early yet because you have your first class going into their senior year, but is there a particular story you could share that you consider evidence of a success, an early success of this program?
Christina McAnuff: There are several. I think of one young woman and I get choked up. Her name is Julia and she had always wanted to be a swimmer. And she lacked the confidence to join the swim team. And last November after having joined this group and met her advisors, she decided to try out for the swim team as a sophomore. She made the swim team and she swam all last year and she shared with me this spring that she’s the captain for her senior year. And you know, I know a little bit more about Julia’s story and it’s just it’s incredible. It’s incredible what she’s achieved and how she’s so willing to share her story with others.
And then I think of another young woman who later this week will job shadow at CIEE who raised her hand and through the women she’s met, has started to explore a career in facilitating programs for high school students. And to be able to voice that, something she had never thought of before and to be able to connect with women at CIEE who are doing great and exciting work and for her to say, “Will you welcome me for a day?” And then I turn to the outcomes at the end of our first year we’re still waiting on outcomes for this past year, but the increases in the young women who would raise their hand and ask for help from someone they’ve not met before.
The number of young women, the increase in the number of young women who believe they can make a difference in their community and, you know, the more than 20% jump in the number of girls who now believe that they are confident person and that they are leaders. And so I can’t wait to see what those outcomes look like after year two and then after year three; because that’s what’s so nice is we get to see them over the course of their high school career, that’s very meaningful.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: It’s been a pleasure to have you in today. It’s always good to see you.
Christina McAnuff: Likewise.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: I guess we should thank our teachers in the Yarmouth school system because they have obviously provided a lot of wonderful background for both of us. I’ve been speaking with Christina McAnuff, who is the executive director of the Olympia Snowe Women’s Leadership Institute, a nonprofit organization providing a three-year program that builds the confidence, aspirations, and leadership skills of girls across Maine. Thank you so much for coming in on the work you’re doing.
Christina McAnuff: Thank you for having me Lisa.
Dr. Lisa Belisle: You’ve been listening to Love Maine Radio show number 311. Our guests have been Kristen Farnham and Christina McAnuff. For more information on our guests and extended interviews, visit Love Maine radio is downloadable for free on iTunes. For a preview of each week show, signup for our e-newsletter and like our Love Maine Radio Facebook page. Follow me on Twitter as Dr. Lisa and see our Love Maine radio photos on Instagram.
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