Three female students pose with a resident of Portland's Barron Center, a long-term care facility

UNE students spreading goodwill during the season of giving

Students across the university are making spirits bright in their communities

University of New England students are doing their part to make the holiday season a little brighter for surrounding communities in southern Maine.

Each year, UNE student clubs and organizations participate in a range of events that are dedicated to providing gifts, necessities, and care for those who need a helping hand.

Below are some highlights of the 2023 efforts.

Pediatrics Club and Sigma Sigma Phi

Students in UNE's Pediatrics Club and Sigma Sigma Phi pose in front of a collection of wrapped gifts for donation

On Dec. 11, the College of Osteopathic Medicine’s Pediatrics Club and Sigma Sigma Phi, the honorary osteopathic service fraternity at UNE, donated 144 gifts to John F. Kennedy School in Biddeford. 

The gifts were collected as part of the annual Holiday Giving Tree, which the two organizations co-host each year.

“We are proud of the efforts made by the COM community in coming together to make accessing holiday cheer a little bit easier for many families in Biddeford,” said Pediatrics Club President Casey McAndrews. “The Holiday Giving Tree continues to be one of our favorite initiatives and we plan to support our local community for many holiday seasons to come. 

Old Orchard Books

A group of students from UNE's Office of Citizenship and Civic Engagement pose in front of Loranger Memorial School in Old Orchard Beach

Recently, a group of students enrolled in a course in citizenship and civic engagement hosted a book reading and donation for students at Loranger Memorial School in Old Orchard Beach.

All students enrolled in majors within UNE’s College of Arts and Sciences are required to take two courses in civic engagement before they graduate.

The students brought nine books to be read during the school’s homerooms, which they later donated to the school.

“The fifth graders had an amazing time and were so excited to hear from the UNE students,” said Cassandra McKiel (Marine Sciences, ’24). “The next day, when I went in, they were excited to tell me everything they learned, and I could tell that the things they learned will have a lasting impact. The books were donated to the classroom so the students and future students can reread them anytime.”

Hope for the Holidays

The team of student building managers at UNE’s Harold Alfond Forum recently hosted their annual Giving Tree gift drive, collecting 175 total toys and other gifts to donate to Biddeford’s Seeds of Hope, a local community center that works to find poverty solutions. This is the fourth year the group has partnered with Seeds of Hope, and the relationship grows each year, remarked D.J. Whitten, director of Auxiliary Operations at UNE.

“This truly is an amazing experience, and it is always impactful for us to hear the stories of how these gifts and the combined generosity of our student building managers with the support of the UNE community will change the holiday experience for so many,” Whitten said. “The students leave feeling inspired, accomplished, and, most importantly, with a new perspective.” 

The donations will be incorporated into Seeds of Hope’s annual “gift store,” where parents who are experiencing financial difficulties can choose gifts for their children with no funding needed. 

Students gather toys and gifts from the Giving Tree in the Harold Alfond Forum
Students and volunteers pose in front of a box truck holding toys and gifts for Seeds of Hope
A room full of toys and gifts at Seeds of Hope
Students and volunteers load toys and gifts into a box truck
Students and volunteers pose in the Gift Room at Seeds of Hope

“After delivering the toys each year, we can see a spark ignite inside the students,” said Cynthia Furber, senior administrative coordinator within UNE Athletics. “They leave with not only a desire to continue this type of meaningful work but also the confidence to know they can do it.”

The same group of student leaders organize and host the annual Teddy Bear Toss Hockey Games, which will be held on Jan. 19 and Jan. 20, 2024. The annual event encourages fans to throw thousands of teddy bears onto the ice when the Nor’easters men’s and women’s hockey teams score their first goal on the chosen date. The bears collected are donated to the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Maine.

Whitten noted that, in addition to supporting the daily operational needs of the facility, the Forum student building managers share a collective focus on philanthropy as well as a “community first” mentality, just as the building’s namesake, Harold Alfond, had done throughout his life.  

Making Main Street Bright

A female student wraps lights around the trunk of a tree in downtown Biddeford

On Nov. 11, members of the Class of 2026 and students with the Office of Citizenship and Civic Engagement gathered to adorn Biddeford’s Main Street with white and multicolored lights, a tradition that has carried on for several years. The students partnered with Heart of Biddeford — an organization that helps to foster a vibrant, inclusive, and sustainable downtown for residents, businesses, and visitors — to hold the annual event.

The group also raised funds to donate toiletry items to Seeds of Hope.

Alexandria Perry (Medical Biology, ’24), who took one of the citizenship courses this semester, said she was glad to give back to the community she’s called home the past four years.

“I think it’s great for students to go out into the community and volunteer, especially during the colder months,” she said. “Some people don’t have the support system that many of us are lucky to have, and it’s important for us to be there for them. It’s really nice to put our energy into something for the people of Biddeford.” Read the full story

Cookies and Conversation

A group of students poses with residents of the Barron Center in Portland

A group of students from multiple health professions gathered at the Barron Center in Portland on Nov. 28 to decorate cookies with the long-term care facility’s residents.

Students from UNE’s degree programs in physical therapy and physician assistant studies, as well as students from the College of Osteopathic Medicine, spent the night sharing stories with the residents and bringing holiday cheer.

A group of students pose with residents of the Barron Center during a holiday cookie decorating event

“It was a rewarding experience because this population of residents each had their own unique stories, and it was great to get to know them and what brought them to the Barron Center,” said Coral Robinson (M.S.P.A., ’25). “The residents enjoyed the student’s presence, and it was great to see all the residents smiling, talking, and laughing while decorating cookies.”

“It was a special time that I will keep with me, and hopefully I will get to see them again soon at other events,” she added.