By Anita Ruff, Executive Director, Oasis Free Clinics

In 2018, an incredible and tenacious lady in the community, Caroline Russell, volunteered at several area nonprofits, including The Gathering Place, Tedford Housing, and Mid Coast Hunger Prevention Program. Caroline saw firsthand the impact these organizations made on the lives of the folks they served, as well as the community, and she was frustrated that more people didn’t know about them. She invited her friends, the executive directors from The Gathering Place, Mid Coast Hunger Prevention Program, and Tedford Housing, to meet with the Times Record editors, and I was fortunate to be asked to join. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the creation of a weekly column to highlight the work we were doing. And just like that, Giving Voice was created and has been a staple of the Times Record opinion section ever since.

Giving Voice has been an opportunity for each of our organizations to share stories of the people we serve, literally giving a voice to those who seldom have one in the public domain. In our work, we have the privilege of bearing witness to the incredible range of humanity that exists in our community. This column gives us an outlet to share a sliver of our patients’ and clients’ lives with Times Record readers. Looking back at previous articles, writers have described the experiences of people in need of free dental care, families who access the food pantry, and those who experience homelessness.

I also found an article from one of The Gathering Place’s weeks that is a perfect example of why this column exists. From the author: “Whether tinkering and helping with cars in disrepair in the parking lot, sharing a take-out order of food, swooping in to give tired moms and dads a reprieve from busy children, or offering a hand or a shoulder to someone who is fearful of the future, I have seen our community of friends help one another in a thousand ways…The Gathering Place wouldn’t be what it is without the color, character, good humor, and care offered by those who frequent the space.” This article shows how, when you create a safe, welcoming, and comfortable space, a caring community blossoms. Giving voice indeed.

This column has also provided a mechanism to express frustration with the systemic inequities that our patients and clients face – barriers that keep them hungry, unhoused, unemployed, and mentally and physically unwell. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote from the Birmingham, Alabama jail, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” Unfortunately, injustices exist in our community, and Giving Voice has allowed us to name and address some of them.

Often, we talk about how much need there is in our community and how that need continues to grow. When I think back to some of our early columns and what we were doing, I am astounded by the change. All of our organizations are significantly different. While our missions have remained the same, we have all added new programs to meet community needs. We have developed stronger connections with each other – even taken on the moniker “Core Four” to connote our roles as safety net providers for our community. The executive directors talk frequently, and for the past several years, the boards of directors of our four organizations have been meeting to learn from each other, identify opportunities to collaborate, and strengthen our organizations’ ties. As our local fishers know, the best net is one that is strong, durable, and reliable.

Despite the overwhelming need and occasional feeling of futility, we have all infused our columns with hope. Gratitude has been a constant theme in Giving Voice. We are thankful for our staffs, the professionals who assist the people we serve every day with compassion, grace, and respect. Some days, that is easier than others. Our staffs bring their own complicated lives with them to work, and they put that aside to help someone else with smiles and kindness. We have highlighted the generosity of our volunteers, who give freely of their time and skills to help our organizations and the people we serve. This community is incredibly fortunate to have a bounty of people who fundamentally believe in service as part of their charitable giving.

We are now six years into the Giving Voice columns. Since our first article, there has been a global pandemic, a challenging economic crisis, gubernatorial and presidential transitions, and world conflicts. Closer to home, we have experienced organizational leadership changes, huge increases in demand for our services, and lingering effects of the post-pandemic world. Things seem to be getting harder.

And yet…we continue to write, to share stories, to shine a light on injustices, and to express gratitude. There is so much good in this community. We will be here, telling you about it each week in Giving Voice.

Oasis Free Clinics is a non-profit, no-cost primary care medical practice and dental clinic, providing exceptional, patient-centered care to uninsured members of our community. For more information, please call 721-9277 or visit

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