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Unsung Hero: Aric Walton of Yarmouth, helping others to STRIVE

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Unsung Hero: Aric Walton of Yarmouth, helping others to STRIVE

YARMOUTH — When he was a senior at the University of New Hampshire, Aric Walton took a grant-writing course, which required each student to write a practice grant proposal.

Walton decided to write a real grant proposal to a real organization for a real purpose: to establish a wilderness program for at-risk youth in Newmarket, N.H.

“Many of these kids came from challenging circumstances,” Walton explained, “and they hadn’t had the opportunity to experience the natural beauty of the area."

Lo and behold, the Division of Children, Youth and Families awarded him a $20,000 grant to launch the program. Walton spent 2 1/2 years after graduation working with the Recreation Department of Newmarket, which secured additional funds for his salary and other expenses.

Walton and his wife Jessica, a fellow UNH graduate and Yarmouth native, decided to return to Maine in 2006. He got a position with Demont Associates, a Portland firm, which provides counsel and support to nonprofit organizations, and she began working as an occupational therapist at Maine Medical Center.

Shortly after moving back to Maine, Walton discovered STRIVE, a South Portland-based organization that sponsors programs designed to serve tweens, teens and young adults with disabilities. STRIVE’s mission – "Support, Transition, Reflection, Innovation, Vocation, Education" – immediately struck a chord.

“The schools in Yarmouth have always done a great job of inclusion,” he said. “There’s no segmentation.”

Walton noted that one of his high school classmates had Down syndrome and had been very well accepted. Coincidentally, he went on to be well served by the programs at STRIVE.

The various STRIVE programs, which serve 850 young adults in greater Portland, run the gamut, including providing a social outlet; helping young people develop basic living skills, such as managing money, taking public transportation, cooking, and resolving conflicts; living independently, and, most of all, becoming a contributing member of the community.

One of its most innovative programs, STRIVE U, run in partnership with the University of Southern Maine, enables students with disabilities to benefit from two years of a carefully designed higher education experience.

For the last five years, Walton, whose day job is serving as the assistant director of annual giving at Bowdoin College, has been active in all areas of STRIVE, including attending various events, such as Friday-night socials, a 5K race and the STRIVE Dance Marathon, a popular annual fundraiser held at the Maine Mall; lining up corporate sponsors, and serving on the STRIVE Steering Committee. He also serves as a valuable one-on-one sounding board for Peter Brown, STRIVE program director.

Brown spoke highly of Walton’s contributions.

“Aric is the definition of an ‘Unsung Hero,’" Brown said. "He shows up early at events, and he stays late. He’s active in the Steering Committee, which helps conceive new programs or events. And he helps gets sponsors. He steps in to do whatever needs to be done.”

Walton, in turn, derives great satisfaction from serving STRIVE.

“When the organization sees a need, it tries to fill it," he said. "When you attend a STRIVE event, you see the good in people. The whole global community would be better off if we all had that attitude.”