Jaime Parker, Trails Manager for Portland Trails, photographed in the Fore River Sanctuary. (©2012 Brian Fitzgerald/Fitzgerald Photo)
Editor’s Note: As trails manager for the Portland Trails, Jaime Parker gets and sends a lot of emails. At the bottom of each, his signature includes the Latin motto “Non Sibi, Sed Omnibus”. It means,”Not for oneself but for all”, and it’s a good indication of how strongly Parker feels about his job and about the making the community stronger, by connecting trails—and thus people. Parker, a Massachusetts transplant, started working for Portland Trails shortly after moving here in 2001.
IP: You were a contractor in the past. What brought you to Portland Trails?
JP: I did contracting for years, in various places, and also started doing a lot of materials recycling and salvage because I was seeing whole houses getting thrown into Dumpsters. I couldn’t abide. I also have a background in resource management and a Masters certificate in planning and development. All of the quality of life, livability and walkability stuff that Portland Trails does, peripherally almost, has become something that I’m really excited and impassioned about.
IP: Can you describe Portland in just a few words?
JP: Vibrant, walkable, scenic and community-oriented. That’s what brought me here and I think what keeps a lot of people here. It’s a nice, gritty city. It’s got a town feel but the amenities of a city.
IP: Are you here to stay?
JP: Yeah. I love having all the amenities right at hand.
IP: What do your boys think of your job? Do they know what you do?
JP: Yeah, we’re past the point where they want to do my job. For a while, they definitely did. I still get them out on the trails, but it’s a hard sell these days. They’re seven and nine, so they’re too cool for that. Generally they think [my job] is cool. They know the city in a way a lot of kids don’t, because we explore. I get bored with the Eastern [Promenade] and the Back Cove, so we’re going farther afield and trying to find the little nooks and crannies that I haven’t explored yet. We’re always bushwacking through some undiscovered urban oasis. And it’s amazing—there are a lot of them. I recently walked for the first time between Forest Avenue and Warren Avenue. There’s this huge open space there that was proposed for development a few years back, before it fizzled. I’d seen it from Google Earth but had never been there, so when [my sons] had a birthday party to go to at Happy Wheels [Skate Center] on Warren Avenue, I parked at Riverton [School] and we bushwacked through. The boys just wanted to get there and go roller skating. “Why are we going through the prickers and the mud?” and I was like, “It’s just over here, I’m pretty sure.” We came out really close to Happy Wheels… It worked out. I explore the city and feel I know it pretty well. All the areas of the city I’ve been to most of the trails and any large open spaces.
IP: How do you find out about these places?
JP: Through conversations. People are always talking about their little neighborhood trail. For me, the connectivity—that community connection—is the most important part of what we do. I’d say for every mile of formal trail there’s probably two miles of informal trails out there.
IP: Is there the idea that if you don’t build the trails, someone else will? If you do, at least you can monitor it and do it properly.
JP: So many times [trails] get severed. Particularly back in the urban renewal days when they were truncating streets and giving away rights of way, we lost a lot of opportunities and if we’re not careful, can still miss them. That’s one of the motivations, to sort of inventory what’s out there and to look at it from a systems perspective, a network perspective. If we can identify priority corridors or linkages, for example, there may be one-hundred yard trail that links one cul-de-sac to another, or one neighborhood to another. That could be just as important as a two-mile section of trail out by a river that really is just recreational.
IP: So there’s less of the big flashy sections of trail like [the Starbird Lane trail], and more of the opportunities to connect existing spaces?
JP: As far as the obvious big open spaces go, we’re aware of those and we’ve gotten most of them. We’ve achieved what we’re going to achieve. There’s no more big open spaces in Portland that aren’t either protected or developed. It’s getting down to those linkages. It’s the diversity of the system that makes it such a great and functional and beautiful system.
IP: Why is this trail system so important to Portland?
JP: [Portland’s] a different city than any other city in the country. In an age where everything’s becoming homogenized and commodified, Portland is unique and the trails of Portland are part of what makes it unique. It helps people appreciate what we have. There’s all kinds of reasons. For children, all the research that points to the negative effects of not being connected with your environment. By getting kids outside and exploring their world we’re sort of pushing back against that culture of fear that keeps people inside, and plugged in and disconnected from their immediate environment. If kids can have access to these places, whether it’s the little woodsy shortcut to school or an excursion with the family or a field trip out to the Fore River Sanctuary, providing that access is hugely important. And it’s the same for adults as well. It’s important for us to have a connection to our environment.
IP: Do you think that people outside of Maine, and outside of Portland, have a concept of Portland as a walkable city?
JP: Yeah, I do. Absolutely. Every other month there’s some new article in some national publication talking about just that. It’s got mass appeal, and this is a part of it, that’s for sure.
IP: Is there anything that should be happening in Portland? Predictions?
JP: It would be great if we could improve our transportation system. And as development occurs, if we can steer that development towards a pattern that’s more human scale. The built environment is hugely important. It would be great to see some more small-scale organic development.
IP: What’s an example of that?
JP: The counter example is what we’re often soliciting— these mega-developments like Ocean Gateway, It would great if we could see smaller lots and more human-scale development. I like density, but it’s nice to have a mix of types of development.
IP: What are you carrying with you today?
JP: My trusty Felco snips. Between the snips and this folding Corona flip saw, I can do 90% of the trail work that happens out there. Maybe it’s 80%. The snips are for walking along the edge of the trail–the White Pines are notorious for spreading right out into the light–so we just always prune it back to keep the trail corridor clear. Anything that’s bigger than that, I often skip the chainsaw and just use this folding saw. Whenever I go down the trail I usually have those two tools and some other implement, depending on what I think’s going to be out there.
IP: Pretty basic tools.
JP: Yeah, for the maintenance. When we’re constructing new trails we use skid steers and excavators and dump trucks. Some of our trails are ten feet wide and paved and others are single track out in the woods. Sometimes it’s as simple as running a brush cutter and snips and you’ve got yourself a trail. Sometimes it’s a little more involved.
IP: You’ve got gloves in your back pocket?
JP: A hat and gloves. Because you never know. And safety glasses.
IP: If the weather’s nice, do you skip the office?
JP: I wish it were that cut and dry. I do a lot of the permitting and planning for these trails. Not every nice day, but certainly we try to be opportunistic. It’s a flexible schedule, to a point. If the weather’s good, I try to be out.
IP: When are you busiest?
JP: Pretty much now. Between getting the trails ready. Typically after winter you’d have a lot of deadfall. We try to hit all the trails and walk them at least once and try to open them up. Any new trails, this is the time of year we try to crank those out as well.
IP: If people using the trails see something they don’t like, do they call you?
JP: Typically, yeah. We get calls all day long and some come to me. We have a great stewardship network. We get a lot of positive feedback. If things are amiss, then we get that too. But it’s rarely controversial. It’s usually constructive feedback.
IP: What’s your current favorite place in the trails system?
JP: I like the trails on Munjoy Hill, but that’s just because I can walk to them and use them frequently. The Loring steps and the Eastern Promenade trail are my go-to, everyday kind of trails. They’re in my neighborhood so I’m partial to those. Out and about a little further, we’ve been spending a lot of time out on the Presumpscot River Preserve, which is off of North Deering. We’ve had a contract with the city to do some rehabilitation of some trail sections , rebuilding some bridges. Every time I go down there I’m reminded how beautiful it is. The vistas are stunning in there. You’re ten minutes from downtown and you feel like you could be in the White Mountains. It has that really natural feel.
IP: What would you be doing if you weren’t doing this interview?
JP: I’d be de-rooting and cutting some drainage. Every time you walk the trails you find something new to be done. Whenever I take a walk I make a mental or physical list.
IP: It never ends.
JP: It never ends.
IP: When do you get up and go to bed?
JP: I usually get up between 6 and 7 with my kids. I’m usually on the trail by 8. I work till 5-ish, but there’s plenty of days where I’ll work later. I work weekends occasionally. I’m always at work, in a sense. I really live and breathe this job, in a good way. I’m always thinking about it, because I live in the community that I work in and somehow it’s all related. If I’m taking a walk downtown—my wife and kids will tell you this—to a fault I’m thinking about how it can be improved from a pedestrian and bicycling standpoint. I’m always thinking about it from the perspective of someone who walks on a regular basis in the city. How could it be more inviting? When I cross Franklin [Arterial] it’s hard to not notice that it’s really not pedestrian friendly.
IP: It helps to walk, doesn’t it?
JP: It really does. You can sit in a room and look at plans and talk about it, but just being out there and experiencing it is the best way to really get to the core issues of what works and what doesn’t. You see people and talk to people and everywhere there’s trails. Little shortcuts through the edge of a parking lot where you’ll see that little dirt strip. To me, that stuff is fascinating: migration patterns. I think it’s really important to notice those things. It takes quite a bit to wear down a path through the grass, so you know that many people are following the same course on a daily basis.
IP:So when you make formalize a trail, you’re just facilitating the will of the people.
The kitchen of Alison Smith's West End home doubles as her office and headquarters when she's not on the road and at the legislature in Augusta. (Fitzgerald Photo/Brian Fitzgerald)
Editor’s Note: Alison Smith is president of the board for the Maine Citizens for Clean Elections (MCCE) and helped lead the effort to make Maine the first state in the union to adopt the Clections Act more than ten years ago. A mother of three and not entirely comfortable with the public spotlight, Smith has shown that a so-called ‘average citizen’ can make a huge difference in Portland, in Maine and beyond.
IP: So [the kitchen] is where you do most of your work at this point?
AS: Yep. Well, I have an office upstairs, but I can’t get out of the kitchen.
IP: Tell me about your association with Portland. How long have you been here?
AS: I grew up in New Jersey and have lived most of my adult life in New England. But I moved to Maine in 1977 and lived up on Mt. Desert Island for five years. I then lived in Connecticut for 10 years and when we came back to Maine we moved to this house in Portland. That was 1992. Before that I had just gone through [Portland] on the way to and from Mt. Desert Island. When we lived in Connecticut, most of my husband’s family moved up to Maine. Even in the years we weren’t in Maine, we had a lot of Maine connections. We came to Maine all the time.
IP: Why Portland?
AS: We wanted to get out of our cars. We wanted our kids to grow up in a place where they could walk places and not have to be driven everywhere, and have a little of that independence kids like to have. They were in third grade, seventh grade and ninth grade when we moved here.
IP: How did you get involved in political activism?
AS: When I was in Connecticut I got involved in civic life after this developer drained a wetland next to my house. So when I moved to Maine, my colleagues in the League of Women Voters in Redding (CT) bought me a membership in the League of Women Voters up here. So before I got here, the League had a letter that ‘Alison is coming.’ So I moved here thinking I wouldn’t be involved or be over-committed to anything. I’d just get the kids into school and start living life. Very soon the League was knocking at the door, so I did get involved.
IP: Were you dealing with voting issues right away?
AS: Yes. Pretty early on, the [League of Women Voters] was involved with a nascent Clean Elections effort. And the League was a founding member of [Maine Citizens for Clean Elections]. I wasn’t personally involved. My first involvement was when we went to collect signatures to put the bill on the ballot after the bill had been drafted and vetted by constitutional experts. It was Election Day in 1995. I got a call from somebody on the campaign, calling through a list of league members and he said, would you collect signatures in your precinct on election day? I said I would. He said, “Great…would you be the precinct captain for precinct 2-2 in Portland?” So I went down to get my stuff and set up at the polls and as people came out of the voting area, I and the other people who were there asked them to sign a petition to get the big money out of politics.. That was the beginning for me.
IP: Did you ever think you’d be doing what you’re doing now? Involved to this level?
AS: No. Basically, the league was pushy. They kept pushing me to do more things. [On Election Day] there were coalition partners from various groups. It’s now called EqualityMaine, but back then was called the Maine Lesbian Gay Political Alliance (MLGPA). There was the Maine People’s Alliance, and a bunch of other groups. Those groups had members in this neighborhood so I was working alongside activists from those groups and different social justice groups. That was the first flavor of what the effort was really going to be. After that I would get a call once in a while to come down and make signs and whatever.
IP: How did you make the jump to becoming the public face for Clean Elections?
AS: As I was starting to know these folks, and carpooling with them to Augusta to meetings and so forth, they did a poll. They asked, ‘who is the best messenger for this issue. Who does the public trust on this?’ Of all the coalition groups, which groups are well-respected and have name recognition?’ So it turned out, people wanted to hear from regular people, not professional, polished politicians, and the League of Women Voters and the AARP were the only coalition partners that were recognized and respected. So that just put me right in the crosshairs. They had me do things—like talk to the press, etc.—that I would not have ever done in a million years. The League ladies have always been pushy.
IP: Are you glad they pushed you?
AS: Yeah. I sort of came of age in the Watergate era. That was not a time in America where you really thought about government in a very warm and fuzzy way. I grew up in a house of staunch conservatives—big Republican conservatives—and their politics didn’t speak to me at all. After Watergate I [thought], ‘The president’s a crook, they’re all a bunch of crooks.’ Watergate was so seedy. As it unfolded, it was so dark and disgusting, I didn’t want to have anything to do with politics. But I always voted. The first presidential election I voted for was Jimmy Carter. I guess I figured out that I was a lot more liberal than my parents.
IP: How did you make the leap from simply voting to getting more involved?
AS: Because I stepped out at that town meeting in Connecticut, talking about the developer who drained the wetlands, I was appointed to the conservation committee in the commission in that town. I had no idea how government worked, especially local government. Once I got involved, one thing led to another. When I got on the conservation commission it was a tremendous amount of work. I had to learn all sorts of stuff about due process and hearings and all of that, but it was my civic education. I never had a civics class in high school; there was just no such thing where I went to school.
IP: Connecticut is one of the other Clean Elections states too.
AS: Well, the system is modeled on Maine. They have more statewide offices than we do, but it’s a voluntary public funding program. They also lost their matching funds in a lawsuit so are dealing with that. But they have a Democratic governor who was elected using Clean Elections.
IP: Maine was technically first.
AS: We were first. We passed it in 1996 and it went into effect in 2000. Arizona was next after that. They passed it in 1998 and theirs also went into effect in 2000.
IP: Why was Maine first?
AS: You know, we have this wonderfully participatory political culture in Maine. We have an enormous legislature given our population. When I moved here I just couldn’t believe it, that right here in my neighborhood I could practically throw a ping-pong ball out the window and hit my state senator and my state representative’s house. Everybody seemed to know who they were. I don’t ever remember living in a place where average people were so aware of who their representatives are.
IP: Is this a political neighborhood?
AS: This is one of the most progressive precincts in the state. There are a lot of lawyers in this neighborhood. Our state representative, when I moved here, was Jim Oliver. He quit in the middle of his term, so we had a special election and immediately there were four people running. I was like, ‘wow!’ They were all great people and would have made fine state reps. The one who won, Michael Saxl, ended up becoming the speaker of the House a few years later.
So, why Maine? People care, I think, in Maine. We still have the Town Meeting form of government in most small towns in Maine.
IP: How is Portland important to the state’s political process?
AS: I think the whole state is important politically. When you live in Portland your worldview is a little bit different. So Portland is an incredible engine for the state. It’s a creative engine, it’s an economic engine, it’s an educational engine. Portland is incredibly important, but I think the whole state is important politically. Overall we have a very inclusive participatory political culture and you certainly see that in Portland. Since I’ve lived here, Portland people have made a lot of changes to their city government. I’ve seen a lot of locally-created leadership ladders where people are getting involved in city government. I’ve always kind of regretted not being able to be involved with city government. For a long time I thought, ‘what I really want to do is get more involved in Portland.’ I feel like I haven’t been. I love Portland. When we moved here I’d never lived in a city before and I was a little concerned about it. I’m used to it being dark at night and not noisy. One of the reasons we liked this neighborhood is that not only can you walk everywhere, but the bus stop is right at the corner. I’ve never yet taken the bus, because really, by the time the bus would come, probably I could walk where I was going.
IP: What’s going to happen to Portland in your view?
AS: I think a continued flourishing of local initiatives and businesses, and locally-grown efforts to expand the things that are already here and the stuff that people already like. I don’t see any end to the growing food culture. I think that’s going to just get better and better.
IP: How would you describe what you do to a five-year-old?
AS: I feel like I do two things. One is I work on getting big money out of politics. But I feel like what I really do is I really work to help people get involved in their own self-governance. That’s what motivates me. If we had been doing a campaign finance initiative that was about having spending limits or contribution limits, or saying people can’t make political contributions, I don’t think that would have spoken to me at all. That would be all restrict, restrict, restrict. To me the beauty of the clean elections system is that it’s about opportunity. It’s basically opening the door. Its the one reform that actually provides resources to challengers which says, just because you’re the incumbent doesn’t mean that anybody owes you your seat. And it’s worked. Voters have more choices.
IP: So it’s been a success?
AS: In terms of the opportunity it’s provided, there’s no question. We’ve had so many people run and serve with the Maine Legislature who would have never run. Either they felt they couldn’t raise the money, or didn’t want to raise the money. Clean Elections let people say, ok, I actually can run.
IP: Who are some examples that stand out in your mind?
AS: [Deborah] Simpson was a single mother in Auburn trying to finish her college degree, waitressing. She was one of those people who really cared about what was going on, and so people would come in to her restaurant and would say, “Deb, you should run for office.” She was struggling single mother of an African-American child in the whitest state in the country and thought, it’s never going to happen. One of her friends brought her to the statehouse for a day, and she thought, “It’s a bunch of old white men, mostly. How could these people understand my life?” It just struck her.
Deb Simpson came to my workshop on Clean Elections. That workshop allowed her to imagine herself representing Auburn in the house. She ran that year, one of the pioneering clean elections candidates in 2000, using this untested system that nobody in the country had ever used, and she won her house seat. She served for four terms, and then won a senate seat. She lost in the Republican sweep two years ago. She brought the issue of domestic violence to the legislature in a way that it had never been represented before and raised the consciousness of her colleagues and peers up there, passing some important legislation and was an effective legislator. She was one of the first non-lawyers to chair the judiciary committee. So Deb’s one example, but there are probably hundreds of examples.
IP: What are the big challenges Clean Elections is facing?
AS: We have a diminished Clean Elections system. There won’t be matching funds and before the court struck down matching funds, the legislature cut five percent of the distribution. So we are going into the cycle with lower distributions—they are so low, they are back to where they were in 2002. The legislature has entirely failed to address our concerns about PACs. We’ve put forth PAC reform bills in the last three cycles and they haven’t gotten anywhere. We are one of the only states that has no contribution limits to what you give to a PAC. That’s where the special interest money now goes in Maine. As we diminish the public clean elections system, it just makes the private money more important. So we’re going to see a bigger influx of outside money coming in.
IP: This is a busy time of year. When do you sleep?
AS: It depends on whether I have to go to Augusta or not. Oftentimes I’ll be in my pajamas until 1 o’clock in the afternoon because I got up and phone started ringing before I could finish my tea.
IP: Are you working late at night?
AS: Yes, I’m a night owl.
IP: So what’s bedtime for you?
AS: Almost never before midnight.
IP: What’s something not many people know about you?
AS: It’s funny. I’ve never had a big garden, but I really like the idea of gardening so I’ve always composted. Back in 1992 or ’93 I bought myself a worm bin so I could compost food scraps inside the house. It’s called vermicomposting. Not a lot of people know that I have worms in my basement. But those worms have been eating my food scraps for 19 years. It’s like the bazillionth generation of earthworms there, eating the tea leaves and cabbage peelings or whatever.
IP: Why have you been so successful?
AS: i have no idea. I’m a reluctant leader, I would say. I would never in a million years have ever thought I’d be on this path at all. I really don’t know.
IP: Maybe you just say yes too much.
AS: Honest to God, my first reaction to almost anything is no. Why I stood up in the town meeting years ago in Redding (CT) to talk about that developer and the hypocrisy of what was happening in the room…I have no idea what moved me to do it. But it was just the beginning and started knocking over a lot of dominoes, I guess.
IP: What’s next? Running for office?
AS: No. I’ve been asked. I wouldn’t say never but there are a lot of reasons why I say no now. One is that I feel like I have kind of an important job right now. We have been an all-volunteer organization that’s worked very hard to build up to the point where we can have some staff, and I want to continue us on that trajectory to make a transition to a professionally-run, fully-staffed organization. We’ll need a strong board. So today I’m president of the board, and I want to be there long enough to raise my successor and make sure that when I step back we have something stronger.
IP: Sounds like you’re in a good position.
AS: We’re stronger than ever, just when the issue is more important than ever…and where Maine’s leadership is more important than ever. We’re not getting it from the 125th Legislature, but I believe we will get it from the people of Maine.
Donna Galluzzo, Executive Director of the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies at the school's custom-designed Congress Street headquarters. (© Brian Fitzgerald/Fitzgerald Photo)
Editor’s Note: Donna Galluzzo has steered the Salt Institute since 2003, guiding it through a big physical move to a new space at 561 Congress Street and helping it transition from film and tape to digital cameras and recorders. Galluzzo, a Maine transplant who has lived here off and on since 1981, is focused on making sure that Salt continues a tradition of producing amazing stories and storytellers.
IP: Can you give us your bio, the bare-bones version?
DG: I moved to Maine in ’94 and I went to Salt in fall of ’97. I was working working a bunch of part-time jobs and working on my masters part-time. I took a little detour and came to Salt. After I left, Pam Wood, Salt’s founder, called me in 2000 and asked me if I wanted to come here to work. I think I literally held the phone away from my head and looked at it kinda like, ‘you sure you meant to call me? ‘and I came in to talk to her.
IP: So it was a surprise?
DG: It was really a shock, I have to say. I came in and talked with them and I decided not to take the full-time opportunity. I said I’d like to be here part-time and to contribute in any way that I could, so they hired me on to help with photography which was wet process back then. Pretty shortly after I was here Pam stepped down as the executive director and a bunch of us took a more active role in running the institute. I was one of those people. By 2003 I was appointed as the interim executive director by the board and then eventually fulll executive director that fall.
IP: Has Salt expanded? I know you’ve moved.
DG: It was a big move from Exchange Street to here. We were never intending to expand the student base so we haven’t done that. We still don’t intend to do that. The only thing we hope in the future is to really increase our applicant pool. We’d love the opportunity to be even more selective with our students.
IP: Talk about the different tracks.
DG: We have three tracks: radio, non-fiction writing and photography. We’re trying to introduce multimedia storytelling, almost as a fourth track. We’re really struggling with how much theory we want in that class versus how much practice and product we want the students to make, but we definitely want to embrace the idea of multimedia.
IP: Why are you a good fit here?
DG: Two reasons. For my position as executtive director I think I’m a good fit because I have a background both in the corporate worlds and the for-profit worlds and a lot of background in education in the non-profit world. For me over the years I’ve really called upon the strengths from those two places a lot. That’s been very helpful in making me be sucessful here. Another reason iIm a good fit is that I like change. While I’m at the helm I’m always going to push Salt to keep changing and growing and I think ultimately that’s a good thing.
IP: Would you say Salt has changed more now—with the move, and the shift to digital—than at any time in the past?
DG: Yeah, I would say definitely say that in the last couple of years, moving here there was a huge change. We finally changed from wet process to digital photography. We’ve introduced multimedia storytelling. We’ve upgraded our equipment; everything is a much higher grade of technology. We’re using digital more in all three tracks. That was one of the exciting things about moving here because we had the means to do that. I think in the three years that we’ve been here there has probably been more change in those three years than in the previous 15 or 20, to be honest.
IP: It seems like you guys are in a stronger position now. That the move was a positive and not something you had to do.
DG: I think people were trying to figure out was it our death knell, or if this was a good thing. There’s no doubt about it in my mind: it was one of the best things Salt could have done. That [Exchange Street] building was great. It was very charming but it needed so much work inside and out and we needed to really upgrade all of our technology…and we owned the building. Selling the building was a great real estate move; we couldn’t have planned it any better. It gave us the financial capital to upgrade the technology, put some money away, and to start saving money to continue to help Salt in the future, and then we were able to custom design the space and upgrade our technology so we feel like we can prepare our students to leave here and start to work if they want to…or go to some terrific masters’ level programs. With the move here and the changing technology and what weve been able to give our student body, we’ve just better prepared them for what’s out there. And that was our goal.
IP: Let’s back up a bit. You came here in 1994 to go to school. Where?
DG: I did my undergrad here, yep. At Colby (College), from 1981 to 1984. I fell in love with Maine. I didn’t know much about Portland. I fell in love with Maine and I thought, I’m going to make it back here.
IP: What did you do after graduation?
DG: I left Colby and went back home to New York. I taught third grade in the South Bronx and that to date remains my greatest educational experieence. It was a huge, huge learning experience. Amazing for a young person of 21 to be thrown in to that. I learned so much about myself and a lot of life came at me. It was also the time in the early ’80s where crack had just exploded in the New York City areas and it was really bad right there. Spanish Harlem and the South Bronx were some of the first early big drug busts and my kids all came from really hard family situations.
IP: How different from Maine.
DG: You know, funny though, in the extreme urban and the extreme rural areas you do find some similarities and I think even back then I was able to see a little bit of that. It’s funny, kids are afraid of different things and they’re surprised at what they’re afraid of. My city kids were really afraid of the quiet of the woods. They were literally afraid. Not bored or anything, but it scared them. They didn’t know what to do with that. The country kids were just completely scared of the bigness of the city. But they all dealt with their fear in the same way. A kid scared is a kid scared. There’s some consistency there as to how you calm them, how you deal with that. It was a really crazy time. I loved it, but it was so hard. I kind of wish I could redo it. There have been many times in my life when I wished I could redo that year. They invited me to come back. I moved to Washington, D.C. and started working for Merrill Lynch after that.
IP: You changed your path.
DG: I changed my path. I think it was just a little too much at too young an age.
IP: So you got burned out.
DG: It was crazy, yeah. I was overwhelmed but Ialways stayed—even when I was with Merrill—I always stayed working in the education field somehow. I was in corporate training and I actually worked for Outward Bound after Merrill Lynch.
IP: What made you come back to Portland?
DG: I was finishing up my Masters in Education and like so many people even that come here today, I was taking a couple of photo classes. I saw a poster advertising Salt in a photo lab. I thought, ‘that’s the kind of photography I want to do’. My photography wasn’t strong at all, and I know that—and even today we’re still like this—what got me in was about my passion for wanting to do this, the drive that I showed. I wound up doing my Masters thesis as a documentary photography project. I spent two years and documented survivors of domestic violence. I photographed people around New England. I was really more interested in people who survived and thrived.
IP: How would you describe what you do to a five year old?
DG: I feel like I have a hand ultimately in everything that goes on here. I could be working on the budget one minute and literally be changing a light bulb the next minute.
IP: Can you simplify that?
DG: That’s hard. I feel like I’m part of the glue that keeps the whole place together.
IP: You mentioned you grew up in New York City. Where exactly?
DG: Just outside of the city. Ossining, New York. It’s home to Sing Sing Prison. My grandfather was a guard there for 50 years. I always say my hometown reminds me a lot of the city of Portland. It has a sense of community and Portland has a very strong sense of community.
IP: How would you describe Portland?
DG: It’s a really manageable city. It has great food and culture. People can really be themeselves here; it’s very welcoming and accepting. it’s personal. You can get to know people here, which I love.
IP: What do you see hapening in Portland in the next year or two?
DG: I’m so glad Salt moved to the Arts District because I think specifically there’s going to be a lot of growth in this area. I think this area of the city is starting to change and grow at a more rapid rate and Portland is continuing to grow a terrific reputation as a town that’s very culturally appealing. The city is very appealing to our student body who, generally speaking, are in their 20s. If there were more employment opportunities a lot of our students would stay in town. They really like Portland as a city.
IP: Is that one thing you’d wish for the city?
DG: I’d definitely wish that for the city. Absolutely.
IP: It seems like everyone here patches together jobs in order to stay in Portland.
DG: Absolutely. I did it for years. Until I became executive director for Salt, I was always working two or three jobs. And that is very common in Maine and even in Portland still. It’s fun for me now to bump into people who knew me as a waitress at Katahdin [Restaurant].
IP: Do you think Portland will ever explode in size?
DG: I don’t know. I don’t know if it really wants to explode.
IP: Changing gears, what are you carrying in your pockets?
DG: Absolutely nothing.
IP: What’s something not generally known about you?
DG: I like to—in the quiet of my own house with my partner—do lots of impressions. Accents. I can be good at doing a lot of accents, but I won’t do any.
IP: What time do you wake up and go to bed?
DG: I like to wake up really early and be at work by 7 or 7:15. I can be a night owl as well. I don’t need a whole lot of sleep.
IP: So you don’t go to bed early?
DG: No,Ii don’t tend to go to bed early. I don’t like to miss anything. So I’m to bed late and up early.
IP: Why are you successful?
DG: People say of me that I’m good at networking and I think that’s true. I think I’ve done so many jobs that I’m good at networking and connecting with people in my community and putting people together, and that’s helped me to be successful. My friends tell me that I’m typically pretty steady and calm. That’s served me well here in Portland.
IP: If I wasn’t here what would you be doing?
DG: It’s towards the end of the semester so I’d be bouncing around a lot. This is the point of the semester where I’m connecting with the students a little bit more and today I’m editing and proofing some text blocks for the gallery. Just a whole potpourri of things.
IP: Are there any stories you’ve seen that are in development right now that you’re excited to see?
DG: I know in the writing track, one of the students is writing about the Branding of Maine and I’m curious to see how that comes out. One of the students in the writing track is writing about happiness. To me that’s sort of pushing the edge of what we do here in creative non-fiction, and so I’m very curious to see that piece as well. One of the things I love about the photography this semester is that is has a different aesthetic than it has traditionally for Salt in the past. I’m exited about that. We’re pushing the envelope of how you define visual documentary, so people who are coming to the show this year are going to see some different work.
IP: Why is Maine so conducive to documentary?
DG: You can find just about anything here. There are so many interesting stories. People are so welcoming here. They’ll let you in…which is great for us as a documentary institute. I used to have this theory that border states were really interesting places. Maine carries some of that. It’s kind of the outer edge, the frontier, of the U.S. and I think there’s something unique about people who live on those edges. Figuratively and literally, we live on the edgge here. We’re just a little heartier. The weather’s jut a little more challenging than it is in other places. The people have to cull together from different jobs to make a living. There’s something to that and Maine reflects that. It’s a great place.
Nan Heald, Executive Director of Pine Tree Legal Assistance in Portland. (Brian Fitzgerald/Fitzgerald Photo)
Editor’s Note: Nan Heald joined Pine Tree Legal Assistance in 1985 as a staff attorney in the non-profit’s Native American unit, and became executive director in 1990. Growing up in the Rangeley, Maine area, Heald loved to visit Portland—the big city—where she’s since made her mark. Among her many awards and achievements, Heald assisted the Aroostook Band of Micmacs in their successful bid for federal recognition. PTLA has been in existence for more than four decades, providing low-income Mainers with legal representation provided by volunteer attorneys.
IP: What’s your goal here at PTLA?
NH: It is to provide justice for low income Mainers who experience legal problems with basic necessities and to make sure that the justice system in Maine functions fairly for people regardless of income.
IP: How do you get the word out?
NH: What I’ve seen over time is there is a sense in the community of legal problems and where you can go for help. Folks know about Pine Tree especially for landlord-tenant issues. I think that’s probably the thing we’re most known for, but we do many other things. When we got grants to do foreclosure work even before we advertisted we somehow started getting those calls. People just somehow knew.
IP: Being a non-profit, you rely on a lot of volunteers. Do you have enough resources?
NH: Maine lawyers are really generous in donating their time and their money…..but new things keep happening, like the mortgage foreclosure crisis that create problems that we didn’t have—at the level that we have them now—five years ago. We have not been able to create systems to fully compensate for that. So you have new areas where people need help. or who could benefit from help who aren’t getting it.
IP: What geographic areas do you serve?
NH: Six offices now. Machias, Presque Isle and Bangor all serve the tribes; we have a full-time attorney is in Machias—not Native [American]. We’ve only had two attorneys that were Native . One left and the other was snapped up by the Passamaquoddy [Tribe]. We also administer migrant legal aid throughout New England.
IP: So….why Portland?
NH: I like living in Portland. I love the diversity of Portland. I really love the Back Bay Hannaford. It’s a really diverse place, it’s got a diverse workforce. It’s not like Rangeley.
IP: Why else?
NH: Again, from when I was growing up Portland was the really big city so there’s a little bit of that excitement about living in the biggest city in Maine.
IP: You always wanted to come here?
NH: That’s right. Well, actually, one of my father’s relatives lived on the Eastern Prom when I was a kid so I got to come here occasionally and I got to go to Boone’s (Restaurant)—very exciting—maybe once a year as a very special treat. Now I get to be here every day.
IP: Describe Portland.
NH: Lots of trees. Interesting history, great old buildings, diverse people, friendly. And I would say also, a caring community. The city actually modified their parking plan to go around our building, to accommodate our volunteers. That’s a pretty fabulous thing to have done.
IP: How would you describe to a small child what you do?
NH: There’s what I do and what Pine Tree does. If I describe what I do, it’s ‘work on a computer and go to meetings’.
IP: How about Pine Tree?
NH: Pine Tree, I would say, helps people who don’t have any money get a fair result.
IP: What would you like most to see in the next year or so happen in Portland?
NH: That’s a really hard one, Brian.
IP: Do you have any predictions for what’s in store for us?
NH: Putting on my parent hat, I guess I would say I’m worried about the financial pressures on our schools. I think one of the great things for my daughter and other kids has been this sort of rich supportive learning environment and my hope is that despite the financial pressures that’s not going to change. The diversity of the classes, the commitment to high quality teaching. Those are the kinds of things that can suffer when we’re trying to save pennies.
IP: Does (your daughter) go to Portland High?
NH: She goes to Deering (High School) where, I’m not bitter, there is no Latin teacher. Portland is about to have three. The new superintendent, though, I do have a lot of respect for.
IP: What are you carrying in your pockets. Do you even have pockets today?
NH: I don’t. But if I had pockets I probably wouldn’t have anything but a Kleenex in them.
IP: What’s one secret to your success?
NH: Being willing to work long hours and not needing to get credit for projects that I work on. I actually think that if you don’t need to take credit and you’re willing to work hard, you can move projects forward that other people might not have the time for but do want to have their names associated with. So if that’s not important and it’s just the end result that’s important, you can get a lot of things done. Excuse me. (takes a call from daughter).
IP: What time do you go to bed typically and what time do you get up?
NH: I typically get up at six. My father drove a plow for the state and so I got up at 5:30 when I was a kid growing up. So that habit, I never lost. I probably go to bed at 10 or 10:30. I have a reading addiction so I have to indulge it before I go to bed.
IP: What’s something no one knows about you?
NH: When I was in fifth grade I wanted to be an opera singer.
IP: Did you sing?
NH: I did sing, but I think it was mostly because my mother used to listen to the Texaco opera broadcast and it just seemed a little like Portland: an incredibly glamorous life I couldn’t quite imagine I aspired to.
IP: What would you be doing if you weren’t right here with me?
NH: Literally? I’d be writing an update for our board of directors on the not-so-good things that are happening in the Congress with our funding…and trying to figure out what we could do to make up for that lost revenue if it happens.
IP: Finish this sentence: What Portland needs most is…..
NH: …more money. More state and federal government funding, more jobs, more jobs for the people who live here. If folks had access to jobs—that’s one of my frustrations with this debate that happens in the public—if our clients could get jobs no one would be happier than me to not have anyone needing our help. And if they had jobs they wouldn’t be facing eviction and foreclosure and all of the challenges that bring them to our door.
IP: How about what Portland needs less of?
NH: I don’t know. Does Portland need something less? Hmmmm. SUVs.
IP: I think the gas price problem will take care of that.
NH: You know, it’s shocking to me that it hasn’t yet. When I’m driving in my Civic, I’m always struck by it.