Ramona and Kent Whitaker, Nobleboro, savoring their first Chocolate Fest.by Patricia Thigpen
Coastal Journal Contributor
NEWCASTLE — Mother Nature didn’t keep more than 125 guests from one of Lincoln County’s most anticipated and elegant evenings of the year.
The Lincoln Home in Newcastle hosted the 11th annual Chocolate Fest and Silent Auction benefitting the Healthy Kids child abuse and neglect prevention programs in Lincoln County. Healthy Kids’ mission is to provide a variety of programs and services to help “parents, caregivers and professionals in raising emotionally, physically and cognitively healthy children,” according to the mission statement.
White lights twinkled throughout the spacious and beautifully appointed venue on the banks of the Damariscotta River. A thin blanket of fresh snow added a romantic element to the annual benefit, which is scheduled to take place before Valentine’s Day.
“St. Valentine is all about love,” said Healthy Kids director Leslie Livingston, “and bringing people together this time of year, at an event that focuses on the welfare of our children and their families, while celebrating our ‘love of chocolate,’ is perfect. People love the event, look forward to it, and support it.” she added.
The amount raised this year was unavailable at press time, but last year’s benefit brought $23,000 to Healthy Kids.
Sondra DeLorenzo, former Healthy Kids board member, introduces daughter Teresa to her first Chocolate Fest.Bath Savings Institution sponsored the benefit. Talented jazz pianist Mickey Felder and 16-year-old budding cellist David Sieracki serenaded guests as they mingled and meandered over two floors filled with savory hors d’oeuvres from Damariscotta River Grill, champagne and delectable chocolate desserts from numerous bakeries and chocolatiers, including Black Dinah Chocolatiers of Isle au Haut. Dessert Magazine recently named Kate Shaffer, Black Dinah Chocolatiers owner, among the top-10 chocolatiers in North America. Members of Lincoln Academy’s Alpha Sigma Gamma service club volunteered as servers.
Local artisans and business donated a range of beautiful items in all price ranges for the silent auction. Attendees perused and bid on items including paintings and other art work, books, hand-crafted jewelry and crafts, ceramics, gift certificates to many local businesses and several getaways at private vacation spots. Two very desirable pieces were the exquisite electric violin that famed instrument designer Ned Steinberger donated, and a stunning, 14-karat, white-gold necklace with pearl pendant that Stars Fine Jewelry provided. As guests nibbled on the divine confections, several were overheard saying the auction “is the perfect place for Valentine’s Day shopping.”
Everyone attending agreed that the annual event is both fun and necessary to provide critical funds for the local Healthy Kids program. “Healthy Kids doesn’t receive any state or federal funding,” said Doug Straus, board co-president, “so the Chocolate Fest began as a means to raise funds to keep our programs going.”
ean Johnstone, left, and daughter Karen Bachelder salute the Healthy Kids event and mission.“It’s one of our most successful fund raising events,” noted board secretary Margot Stiassni, a statement that drew unequivocal agreement from former board member Sondra DeLorenzo. “I was on the board starting with the second event at the Skidompha Library and the community’s always responded,” DeLorenzo said. “Healthy Kids provides needed services to our community,” DeLorenzo said, adding that she’s involved with the Montessori school in Damariscotta, which has referred children and parents to some Healthy Kids programs.
Allison Eddyblouin, a leader with the Lincoln County La Leche League, said Healthy Kids hosted several of the league’s meetings. “We’ve referred mothers who needed some assistance to Healthy Kids because it provides incredible programs.” Her friend Chris Szalay agreed. Szalay worked for Healthy Kids’ parent resource center. “It’s not easy raising kids and sometimes a parent might just need an answer to a question or options with situations involving their kid or family and Healthy Kids can help.”
David Sieracki, 16-year-old cellist from Lincoln Academy, plays the perfect score for a gala event.Livingston agreed that kids don’t come with manuals. “The old mentality was that you must know how to parent because you’ve given birth and that’s not always the case because what parents bring to parenting is their own childhood.” So, she continued, “unless you’ve had incredible support, educational experience involving kids or you had a wonderful childhood experience to begin with, parents need support, even the best of parents.”
Healthy Kids’ goal is to help all parents be the best they can be which includes understanding brain and child development. “Research has shown that understanding brain development is critical because 85 percent of the brain is wired in the first five years of a child’s life, so that’s where we’ve needed to provide support.” The greatest percentage of child abuse happens to kids under the age of five. The logic is if parents understand brain and child development, get information and support needed to help them be good parents then ultimately that could prevent child abuse. “We also try to help parents understand how kids temperaments work and how their own temperaments work because kids sure know how to push parents hot buttons.”
Healthy Kids was among the first in Maine to provide home visitation programs. It offers parenting programs in day care centers, Head Start, at the local YMCA, at the Healthy Kids facility, in the schools and even the jails. It also runs the “Baby Think It Over” program for high schools where “teens carry the baby simulator around,” Livingston said.
Healthy Kids Board Member Beth Polhemus and Liam Barnum, Lincoln Academy Alpha Sigma Gamma service club volunteer, preside over the chocolate table!Primary prevention was Healthy Kids goal when it incorporated in 1985. Since then, it’s moved, to a degree, into secondary and tertiary prevention, such as the “Baby Think It Over” and supervised visitation programs. Supervised visitation provides services when the court says a parent cannot see the child unsupervised. This isn’t primary prevention, Livingston said, it’s “stopping stuff that’s already happened from re-happening.”
Healthy Kids board members said they were thrilled that the organization recently received a Ronald McDonald Foundation grant that will support home visits and the “Baby Think It Over Program.” “This is terrific for our community,” board member Beth Polhemus, said.
Last year, Healthy Kids served 1379 people - children and parents - in various programs with only two full-time staff, Livingston and program specialist Lucy Smith. Livingston said they’re grateful for their volunteers and a great working board. “We’re using more volunteers, a few of our board members do programming and all board members certainly are involved with fund raising!”
“We’re making inroads,” Livingston said. The stigma associated with parents reaching out for help “because I’m not that kind of parent” is decreasing, Livingston explained. “We’re seeing a move away from the ‘I should know’ to it’s okay to ask,” she added. That’s encouraging when you examine Maine’s child abuse statistics. In 2010, there were 18,478 cases of child maltreatment reported to Child Protective Services. Of those, 46 percent resulted in child protective services or about 8,500 cases with 1,650 children put into the Department of Health and Human Services care.
“Child welfare is everyone’s business,” Chocolate Fest guests Karen Bachelder and Jean Johnstone said, “and what Healthy Kids does is a fantastic job of providing the programs and support for families while we provide some financial support.”
Prevention is a good thing. “It shouldn’t hurt to be a kid,” said Stephanie Nelson, attending Chocolate Fest for her sixth year. “This event mixes our passion for chocolate with our commitment to kids which is good for us all,” she said diving into her plate of heart healthy chocolate.