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For Immediate Release
September 13, 2004

Contact:
Julie McQuillan
(207) 828-7558
Jason Wolfe
(207) 883-6083
E-mail: jason@wolfenews.com
Web Site: http://www.peoplesheritage.com


Cromwell Disabilities Center Introduces Disability Awareness Training Program in Maine Elementary Schools

Program funded by a $15,000 grant from Peoples Heritage Bank through the Banknorth Charitable Foundation

People with disabilities face many struggles on a daily basis, but perhaps the most difficult is the exclusion, intolerance and discrimination they endure from people who often don’t know any better.

A program offered for the first time ever in Maine elementary schools this fall aims to change those negative attitudes by helping children learn at an early age to accept and be sensitive to people with disabilities. A $15,000 grant from Peoples Heritage Bank through the Banknorth Charitable Foundation has funded development of the program curriculum and the launch in elementary schools across Maine.

Developed by The Jeremiah Cromwell Disabilities Center, the Elementary School Disability Awareness Training Program sends trained adults into 3rd through 5th grade classrooms to conduct age-appropriate interactive exercises with children and their teachers that focus on positive attitudes and messages about people with disabilities. Each training session lasts between 1½ to 2 hours.

Eight employees of Peoples Heritage have volunteered as school trainers for the program. Training sessions for children already are scheduled in elementary schools in Alfred, Augusta, Brunswick, Readfield, Saco, and York.

“The most effective and worthwhile method to combat the harmful treatment of persons with disabilities is to start at the beginning,” said Jamie Kaplan, executive director of the Portland-based non-profit Cromwell Disabilities Center. ”Children form value judgments about people with differences at an early age. By preschool, many children already have acquired negative attitudes. This intolerance can be ‘unlearned,’ but that process must start when children are at an age when they are most impressionable.”

The aim is to help the children understand that persons with disabilities simply are different in the same way that every person is unique, Kaplan said. “We demonstrate to them that these differences are worthy of respect and no one – with or without a disability – can change a difference on whim or fancy,” he added.

“The Cromwell Center has developed a great program and we’re pleased to be able to launch the program in Maine’s elementary schools,” said Mike McNamara, President and CEO of Peoples Heritage Bank. “It also is gratifying to see such heavy involvement of our employees, who obviously see the value of this program.”

Kaplan applauded Peoples and the Banknorth Charitable Foundation for its
involvement. "This program might well not have happened without their generosity," he said. "We are certainly grateful for the financial support and for the spirit of volunteerism of the bank's employees."

The Cromwell Center is named after Jeremiah Cromwell, a young boy with disabilities who was institutionalized in the early 1900s in the Maine School for the Feeble-Minded, formerly located in New Gloucester. He died there in 1928 at the age of 16, but no family member retrieved Jeremiah's body for a proper burial. He was interred in a small graveyard next to the school. His grave was marked only by a cylinder of cement with a number stamped on top. The Center is dedicated to the mission that people with developmental and other disabilities will never again experience such profound isolation in life and anonymity at death.

For more information on the Center or the program, visit online at www.cromwellcenter.org. Those interested in serving as a program trainer are asked to contact Jamie Kaplan at (207) 775-9955 or jkaplan@cromwellcenter.org. As a non-profit and federally tax-exempt organization under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, the Center gratefully accepts tax-deductible contributions: The Jeremiah Cromwell Disabilities Center, 57 Exchange St., Suite 207, Portland, ME 04101.

Peoples is a Maine-based bank with more than 60 branches throughout the state, four of which operate as Oxford Bank & Trust, a subsidiary of the bank. For additional information about Peoples, visit online at www.peoplesheritage.com.

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