On Tuesday morning at its headquarters in Freeport, Maine, L.L. Bean presented Maine Winter Sports Center with a $1 million commitment to its Healthy Hometowns program. The gift is part of the outdoor company’s 100th anniversary celebration, which also included a $1 million grant to the National Parks Foundation and $500,000 that has already gone towards the creation of new athletic fields in Freeport.
The goal of all three gifts is to make enjoyment of the outdoors more accessible to everyone. With its donation to MWSC, it focuses that goal on Maine youth. The gift will be paid out annually to MWSC in $200,000 increments over the next five years, and will allow what was once a ski-oriented program that existed primarily in northern Maine’s Aroostook County to expand to the entire state, be active in all four seasons, and offer access to a multitude of outdoor sports.
“We wanted to do something for the state of Maine, and the theme of this 100th anniversary is getting more kids outside,” said Steve Fuller, the company’s Chief Marketing Officer. “We know Andy [Shepard, MWSC President], and we like what they’re doing in northern Maine. Anyone who has spent a little time with those folks knows they’re doing very cool things.”
L.L. Bean has given away comparably sized donations in the past, but they are relatively few in number. This grant will rank up among the highest the company has ever given, said Fuller.
Shepard, who worked in product development at L.L. Bean before leading MWCS, expressed enthusiasm for the coming partnership between the company and his organization.
“L.L. Bean is respected around the globe for their 100-year commitment to their customers and the state of Maine,” he said. “They probably have one of the strongest brand reputations in the world, and for Maine Winter Sports Center to be associated with that now is an extreme honor.”
The Healthy Hometowns Ski Program began 13 years ago with the inception of MWSC. It represents the community development component of an organization that also has a competitive ski program and owns several ski areas throughout northern and western Maine.
Healthy Hometowns operates on a model of educating volunteer organizations across the state to be able to sustain their own outdoor programs, with the aim that that empowerment translates into leadership in other areas within the community from both its ambassadors and its youth participants. The program has received awards in recognition of its efforts from both the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association and the International Ski Federation.
As of this year, Healthy Hometowns had reached 106 communities throughout Maine. With L.L. Bean’s donation, the hope is to quadruple that reach.
“Four years ago we started the process of developing outing clubs instead of just ski clubs,” said Shepard. “We had outdoor leadership programs, and canoe and kayak trips in the spring, summer, and fall. But really our limitation was: we didn’t have any gear. We had to find communities that could round up gear from friends and family.”
“Now, the outreach can be more strategic, larger scale, and accessible to every kid in the state of Maine.”
The partnership between L.L. Bean and MWSC to push for an increase in the accessibility of outdoor sports for Maine youth is in response to the state childhood obesity rate, which has worsened along with the nationwide rate in recent years.
“Maine’s a great place, but the health statistics aren’t great,” said Fuller. “This project goes towards something that is near and dear to the entire state.”
Shepard expanded on that notion: by introducing kids to an active lifestyle, you not only create a healthier population — you prepare those kids for success later in life.
MWSC’s competitive program and its race venues throughout Maine play a role in that overall vision alongside Healthy Hometowns.
“The competitive program assumes that when you have thousands of kids on skis or mountain biking, inevitably those kids will want to see who’s fastest,” said Shepard. “We believe in a commitment to excellence, setting high goals, going about accomplishing those goals, and holding yourself accountable for the results.
“Those are the same attributes required for success in life, and that’s what we’re trying to prepare these kids for.”
Audrey Mangan (@audreymangan) is an Associate Editor at FasterSkier and lives in Colorado. She learned to love skiing at home in Western New York.