2017-04-04 / Opinion

Keep your chin up Sanford

By JONATHAN STIMMELL
Guest Columnist

Here’s a message to folks from other parts Maine and beyond: I’m from Sanford and I’m not a drug dealer, drug user or walking glassy-eyed through the streets. And despite what the Portland Press Herald would have you believe, I am not “beaten down,” nor am I “in crisis.”

And I go to work every day. Yup. Every day.

And there’s lots of people like me in Sanford and Springvale.  We’re a growing city of some 25,000 strong. Hard working folks,  raising families, coaching, volunteering, going to church.  Just trying to do the best we can. But you won’t read about us in the Portland Press Herald. Maybe it’s because that doesn’t sell newspapers…but you’ll have to ask them about that.

All I know is that I am sick and tired of the PPH and other media outlets unfairly painting a negative narrative of Sanford as a failing community full of criminals, drug users, and undesirables. Because most Sanford  people I know don’t fall into any of these categories. Not even close.

I know this because I’ve lived here for the last 10 years. I’m a Maine transplant from New Hampshire, but Sanford is my home and it is the home of my wife and two children. This media strategy of targeting communities like Sanford to sell papers is hurtful and damaging to the hard working and good folks who call Sanford home. I take it personally and I bet a lot of others do too. 

We are a working class community – and I would dare say we are proud of that. Since when did it become so bad to be a working community full of people who aren’t rich?  Wasn’t this country built by communities and people like us?  To be clear, we have a drug problem, a housing problem and an infrastructure problem  – but doesn’t the rest of the state? Doesn’t the rest of the country?

I would argue that we are a very American city - warts and all.  Maybe  the French-Canadian immigrants who built this city in decades past felt the same way as I do now as they were marginalized and unfairly targeted by Maine’s industrialists, mill owners,  (newspaper publishers?) and others.

We are not Cape Elizabeth. We are not Cape Neddick. We are not a rich coastal community full of the super elite wealthy who bought up all the oceanfront property.  We are not Freeport where skinny jeans and hair gel is the norm and fashionistas flit around in their Bean boots even though most have never seen a brook trout, tracked a whitetail deer or ventured further into the Maine Wilderness than their luxury SUVs will take them. We are not friends with Chellie Pingree, Angus King, Susan Collins or Paul Lepage - and they rarely come here. 

We are the hub for services for York County and beyond and there is no doubt about it. People come to Sanford to rebuild their lives and the organizations that provide those solutions are here. It isn’t always pretty to look at and it isn’t always successful.  But for every negative headline there is a success story. You just don’t read all about it in the Portland Press Herald.

This barrage of negative headlines is relentless, while ignoring the thousands of community members and organizations that work every day to make Sanford what it really is.  For example, a recent story targets us for having a 5.5 percent unemployment rate….so that means that 94.5 percent of us get up and go to work, every day, all year long. 94.5 percent..

We supply the largest amount of workers from any town to the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard. We work at Pratt and Whitney. We work in banks. We are realtors. We work in restaurants and we build houses. We manage stores and sell insurance.We are teachers, educators, therapists, social workers. We work and we work hard. My neighbors have served in the military and some are veterans of this nation’s wars stretching back to World War II. This is what a working class community looks like.

Let me give you an example of Sanford as a community. Every year, a Sanford  agency serving folks with developmental disabilities holds a telethon in Sanford to raise money for services. Every year, Sanford residents, businesses and organizations donate close to $100,000 for a population that greatly needs this funding.   

$100,000 every year. For 40 years. Not bad for a community described in the Portland Press Herald as in an “economic torper,” or “beaten down.” Of course, I’m sure you didn’t read all about the telethon in the Portland Press Herald. They don’t cover events like that in Sanford because it doesn’t match their narrative – and it doesn’t sell papers and generate advertising.

Does Cape Elizabeth raise $100,000 every year for folks with special needs?  No. Does Freeport do this? No. Kennebunkport?  No. Oh, but don’t get me wrong, there are a myriad of fundraisers that those community members are willing to go to and participate in  – as long as you can get your picture on the Society Page of the Maine Sunday Telegram.

In conclusion, I have to disagree with the Portland Press Herald and its super wealthy owner. We have our struggles and obstacles.  They are large and will take an enormous effort to overcome, but we are not beaten down – in fact to steal from Winston Churchill, this may be our finest hour.

In future generations this is what they will say – I firmly believe this - they will say that this is the time we overcame the struggles of our time and forged a dynamic city based upon values of family, community, and faith. That we built a dynamic new high school and technical center. That we redeveloped the mill buildings and improved roads and infrastructure. That we helped those in need while working to provide for our families. That we volunteered in our community. That we took pride in ourselves and our community. That we worked and stood together when it seemed  like no one would stand with us.

I am a resident of Sanford and I am not beaten down and there are many who feel as I do. So keep your chin up Sanford. Our actions speak louder than their words. If they are not going to tell our story, then we’ll have to tell it ourselves.

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