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What is the Island Institute?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 26 June 2017
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The Island Institute is an organization in the American state of Maine which focuses on preserving the integrity of communities in the Gulf of Maine. The organization focuses primarily on year-round communities on Maine's islands, recognizing the unique culture of island life and the specific issues which face island residents, such as lack of ready access to medical care. This organization works extensively with local and national service and community organizations, such as AmeriCorps, along with groups such as the National Science Foundation.

Founded in the 1980s, the Island Institute was established in response to growing concerns about the health of Maine's island communities. From 300 vibrant year round communities at Maine's peak, the numbers had declined to 15, leading some people to fear that island life, culture, and traditions might be lost. The organization's founders wanted to create support to help Maine's islanders survive, and to promote sustainable, sensible development which would help communities retain their character. Communities served by the Island Institute include: Frenchboro, North Haven, Cliff Island, Peaks Island, and Monhegan.

Members of the Island Institute may work directly on the islands as community servants, or be involved in recruitment programs which bring in volunteers who do everything from teaching to helping out with lobster fishing. The organization also offers grants and other forms of financial support for everything from funding the building of a new firehouse in a community which needs one to providing scholarships to island residents who want to go to college.

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The organization publishes a newspaper, The Working Waterfront, which provides information about local communities and supports the volunteering and networking initiatives in island communities. Members of the organization work on a variety of issues of importance, including maintaining Maine's rich lobster fisheries, providing low income housing, securing medical care for island residents, and addressing environmental concerns. Agriculture, fisheries, access to education, and historical societies are also issues of interest to the Island Institute.

Preserving year round island communities is not merely a matter of saving Maine's cultural heritage. Such communities also contribute economic, social, and political benefits to the people of Maine. The close ties between residents of year-round communities are vitally important, for example, as is the spirit of volunteerism and pitching in when needed which exists in many of these communities, because residents must be able to be flexible in order to keep their communities alive and thriving in a changing world.

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