February 1, 2013

Maine's oldest family planning program under new mangement

Western Maine Community Action, citing cash crunch, turns over 45-year-old family planning services' management to Maine Family Planning Association

By Kaitlin Schroeder kschroeder@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

FARMINGTON -- The first family planning program in Maine is under new management for the first time in its 45 years.

Western Maine Community Action, a nonprofit organization focused on fighting poverty, founded a family planning program first in Franklin County but then expanded into Oxford and Androscoggin counties. Because of financial hardship, the group's family planning services were taken over by Maine Family Planning Association as of Feb. 1.

The association used to pass its state money on to groups like the one in Farmington to run family planning programs, but because of a tightened budget it is now directly running the family planning program.

Fenwick Fowler, executive director of Western Maine Community Action, said none of the four clinics will be closed or reduce services. The only change will be the new managing organization.

"People will probably never notice the difference," he said.

Celeste Branham, co-president of the organization's board of directors, said the group fought to make ends meet for years, but could no longer keep the program running. She said the board decided the transfer was the only way to sustain the program.

She said the family planning staff worked hard to provide for the community, even when money was tight.

"Our ability to endure so long is because of the incredible staff who ... worked long hours with dwindling resources," she said.

The organization was founded in 1965 when 25 people met in Strong to talk about fighting poverty in Franklin County. They founded the Franklin County Community Action Council later that year, she said.

In 1967, the group formed the first family planning program in Maine to offer contraceptives to low-income families, two years before the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that married couples had a right to use birth control.

It wasn't until 1972 that the court ruled unmarried women had a right to birth control.

The Franklin County group served 48 people the first six months it was running, Branham said.

The family planning program continued to expand and in 1968 opened family planning services to Androsoggin and Oxford counties. In 1989, the group reflected its growing expansion by changing its name from Franklin County Community Action Council to Western Maine Community Action.

It also began to expand services beyond contraceptives and into a broad-based emphasis on reproductive health. In 1989 the state tasked the organization with battling sexually transmitted diseases in the area and it began anonymous HIV testing. In 1991, it began offering prenatal services. The program also offers breast and cervical cancer screenings.

Dot Paquette, 78, who worked for the organization for eight years, until 2001, said the most rewarding part of he job was directing outreach programs.

Paquette said she took over outreach her last three years, going to any workplace that she thought would have women to hand out brochures and let them know family planning services were available.

She said she would go into bars early in the day and hang up posters in bathrooms.

"Bartenders would tell us there were people they knew who had problems, but they didn't know where to send them," she said.

George Hill, president and CEO of Family Planning Association of Maine, said the decision to take over the program was not an easy one.

He said the group had much to be proud of as a pioneer in family planning.

Maine has the seventh lowest teen birth rate in the nation, and the rate has decreased by 45 percent since 1984, according the Family Planning Association of Maine.

Ellen Grunblatt, a WMCA board member, said the past and present staff should feel proud, looking back, at the work they carried out in the community.

"We were a community leader, sometimes controversially so, but nevertheless a leader," she said.

Kaitlin Schroeder-- 861-9252
kschroeder@mainetoday.com

 

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