Panama playground on punch list for home repair business

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CAPE ELIZABETH — A local provider of handyman and home improvement services is embarking on a capital campaign to take the business 5,000 miles south, where it can lend a helping hand in Panama.

If they raise at least $28,800, members of the Willard Square Home Repair team will travel in February to help build a playground at the primary school on Isla de San Cristóbal.

Owner Michael Friedland said he is always looking for ways to give back, but has felt more and more inclined to do so since the 2016 election. The constant circulation of “bad news,” Friedland said, “makes my head spin.”

Every year, Friedland makes what he calls a “small difference,” by donating money to different charities in his employees’ names during the holidays. But rather than writing an annual check, Friedland said this year he’d like to be “on the front lines … making a difference in someone’s life.”

By going on this trip with his crew and 14-year-old daughter, Friedland said he’s hoping to convey that the minor inconveniences that many encounter day-to-day, such as a broken phone or a traffic jam, aren’t “a huge deal when they’re put into perspective.”

“Everyone could always say someone has it worse,” Friedland said. 

The trip is being organized and led by the nonprofit Surf for Life, which “sponsors high-impact, sustainable development projects in under-served communities” by designing infrastructure projects, according to its website.

Surf for Life’s local partner on the project will be Give and Surf, a locally embedded nonprofit providing “sustainable empowerment to indigenous communities in the greater Bocas del Toro area.”

Volunteers, including those from WSHR, will work with the community to build the playground, including sidewalks around it and potentially around the preschool that was built last year.

On average, Surf for Life does about four to five projects a year.

Lisa Bisceglia, Surf for Life international program director, who is a resident of South Portland, will lead the trip. With a master’s degree in education, she has been facilitating community development and leading groups of volunteers in Latin American countries for almost 20 years.

Right now, she is visiting an area in the Tayrona region of Colombia for a few days in between volunteer trips to meet with community leaders and scope out the area for a potential spring project. 

Bisceglia has also long been a neighbor and friend of Friedland’s. When she’s home from her travels Bisceglia still works for WSHR on a part-time basis.

“Lisa is really out there making a difference,” Friedland said Oct. 29.

The two friends began discussing a collaboration between Friedland’s business and Surf for Life about two years ago. Bisceglia said WSHR is the first business in Maine to partner with Surf for Life. 

“It makes me proud of Maine. It also makes me excited to share my work with SFL with people from my own community,” she said.

When the project in Panama came up, Friedland said he felt the timing was perfect. 

“Our busy season is typically from March through New Year’s,” Friedland said, so having a large segment of their team gone the week of Feb. 9-16 wouldn’t mean business would take a hit.

This, of course, is all contingent on whether they can raise the money in time. 

“I hope WSHR can meet their fundraising goal and start a new trend of local Maine businesses partnering with and supporting local communities in need around the world,” Bisceglia said.

It costs each volunteer $2,500, plus the cost of airfare, to go on the trip. Bisceglia said the trip requires between five and 12 volunteers for each of the two weeks they’ll be down in Panama.

“When I told my team about the trip, they were excited and expressed interest, but many said they didn’t have the money,” Friedland said, adding finances often stand between individuals and their desire to volunteer.

It’s a big price to pay … Unfortunately, it’s not that easy to volunteer.” 

Friedland’s team has created a GoFundMe page with the goal to raise $28,800 to allow for nine people to go, including airfare.

“If every client on our list of 2,000 were to donate $20 we could raise $40,000,” Friedland said in a release. “But not everyone will donate so please donate as much as you feel comfortable.”

If they don’t raise the money in time, Friedland said either a smaller group will go or they’ll donate the money they did raise to the trip without participating. 

Friedland said he has never before started or led a capital campaign like this.

“If you don’t plant a seed, nothing will happen,” he said. 

Jocelyn Van Saun can be reached at 781-3661, ext. 183 or jvansaun@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter @JocelynVanSaun.

Members of the Willard Square Home Repair team enjoy lunch at the Lobster Shack at Two Lights in Cape Elizabeth. The home improvement business hopes to raise enough money to help build a school playground in Panama.

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