River Fund Design Challenge
River Fund Youth Innovation Summit
A 2.5-day virtual design challenge workshop sponsored by the River Fund
The Design Challenge
Earlier this month The River Fund Maine (TRFM) hosted another design thinking workshop in their “Dare to Dream” series. The workshop was held virtually with students participating from both Telstar High School and Gould. The challenge focused on imagining a post-pandemic world and asked teams to design a product or service to improve wellness across all ranges of ages and types of community members in the Bethel area.
Another way of understanding the challenge is to show that Bethel not only values wellness, but also prioritizes equitable use of wellness resources, products, and services.
“Young people thrive with guided, creative opportunities and real-world design challenges,” says Sara Whalen Shifrin ’88, who facilitated the workshop. “The young people talked directly about the lack of connection between the two schools, and are giving the community a call to action to see them in new ways—not as Gould and Telstar, but as young people who share a love of mountains, clean air, clean water, and a small community that is driven by helping when asked.”
[They] are giving the community a call to action to see them in new ways—not as Gould and Telstar, but as young people who share a love of mountains, clean air, clean water, and a small community that is driven by helping when asked.”
SARA WHALEN SHIFRIN ’88
The virtual workshop was held from February 4-6, with nine Telstar students participating along with Gould students Hannah Smick ’23, Emma Lenoël Quang ’24, Abigail LaRochelle ’24, Jacky Tse ’22, Burke MacLeay ’22, Liam Hourihan ’21, Allison Chase ’24, Ava Mastroianni ’21, Paige Mull ’22, Joseph Herlihy ’24, and Lila Stevenson ’26.
Students from Telstar High School and Gould were broken up into four teams for the duration of the 2.5-day virtual workshop. All of the teams had winning ideas, but one prototype prevailed.
Introducing the Bethel Bulletin Board
Students applied a design-thinking approach they are familiar with in their academic lives to solving a community problem. What students imagined was a cloud-based bulletin board inspired by the very familiar bulletin board that lines the walkway in and out of the Bethel Foodliner/IGA.
The Bethel Bulletin Board is an app that community members (residents, second homeowners, and visitors) could use to access vital community information with a focus on wellness. The group found that there are bountiful wellness resources available, but identified a lack of organization and overall ease of accessibility, which has led to lower awareness and subsequent engagement.
Platforms based on social media like Facebook’s Team Bethel, they believe, can be limiting from a user perspective and lack the necessary structure. The Bethel Bulletin Board aims to remedy those issues with clear organization of content, regularly updated information for community events, extensive health resources (mental & physical), and more information for other activities and initiatives in the greater Bethel Community.
Each student brought experience, skills, and creativity to contribute to strong and diverse teams. The Bethel Bulletin Board team was composed of Telstar High School Students, Maebrie Hoff, Rebeka Lou Palmer, and Lila Stevenson, and Gould Academy Students, Burke MacLeay, and Ava Mastroianni.
Benefits of Collaboration
“Collaborating with new friends in our community was eye-opening,” said Jacky Tse, a day student at Gould who lives in Bethel. “We live in such a close community and we still didn’t all know each other. Forging those relationships virtually was difficult, but I’m so glad we had the opportunity to connect, now more than ever.”
Jacky also participated in the past two TRFM innovation workshops and says he’s been able to develop his presentation and interviewing skills and become a more effective communicator.
“The time constraint really puts the pressure on the workshop,” he adds. “But, as in life, you don’t always have all of the time and resources you need to problem solve and execute. The skills I’ve developed over the past two workshops have helped me with that critical decision making, and how to think ‘upstream’ when identifying solutions.”
“The skills I’ve developed over the past two workshops have helped me with that critical decision making, and how to think ‘upstream’ when identifying solutions.”
JACKY TSE ’22
“Giving students the opportunity to voice their concerns for how to improve the community is perhaps more important than ever,” said Perkins. “It’s reassuring and inspiring to hear their approaches, especially given the challenges facing the world at the moment. Now it’s up to us as adults to empower them and introduce them to the tools that we have to help them make these dreams a reality.”
Foundations and philanthropic organizations like the River Fund Maine have a very important role to play in strengthening our community, says Benedict. “TRFM’s wellness challenge was a great way to reach young people of diverse backgrounds living in Bethel to focus on the importance of building community and equity through creative ideas and new approaches. Acting as a judge for this special initiative was a privilege that inspired me with hope for the leaders of the next generation.”
Adapting to virtual
Early on The River Fund Maine predicted the youth summit would be virtual and quickly harnessed the mindset of their scheduled guest speaker, Enock Glidden—a disabled athlete, adventurer, motivational speaker, and advocate for others with disabilities. “Instead of thinking CAN this happen, we began thinking HOW can this happen. Globally youth have adapted to new ways of learning and connecting, said Noah Tanguay-Collins, who is executive director of the River Fund Maine. “If given the opportunity, young people can do amazing things. It is critical young people see the opportunities in virtual collaboration more than the barriers.”
Critical to the experience were reliable internet and sufficient technology. Through the challenge, students met a public health leader from Chicago; watched pre-recorded interviews with Bethel wellness and business leaders; dug into research about Bethel’s demographics; and teamed up with guides from Bates College and NYU’s graduate school.
Covid restrictions position young people to look at community and equity in new ways, Tanguay-Collins said. The challenge to access physical and virtual events, platforms, and systems have been felt by all members of the community, and this fueled many of their innovations.
“We were so thrilled with where the students took this challenge,” Tanguay-Collins added. “The River Fund Maine is looking to regroup with all of the teams that participated in the workshop and explore how The Bethel Bulletin might be developed and possibly produced.”
TRFM recognizes that youth need more opportunities to see themselves as change-agents and to build community with others who are ready to step into the challenge of leadership in this complex world. The COVID-19 pandemic revealed that youth are incredibly resourceful and capable problem solvers, and in a post-pandemic world they will be able to use this experience and growth to drive future innovations.
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