Celebrating the desirability of place

By Kathy Miller

I am thrilled to have such an opportunity with the new organization, Mount Desert 365, right in my own town. My husband, Jerry, and I both have served on various committees and boards in town over the years. Our children all went through elementary and high school here on the island. They had jobs every summer in Northeast Harbor and were enmeshed with school and Neighborhood House activities.

I am sure that, when they were young, they got tired of hearing me say how lucky we were to live here. But now that they live in bigger and busier places, they get it.

We are lucky enough to get to travel once in a while and sometimes head off to far-flung places. But each time we return home, it is with a sense of joy – a mixture of relief from the pace of other places, awe for the natural beauty that surrounds us and comfort that comes from living in a community for such a long time.

This place has great appeal to so many people, those who have family roots going back generations and those of us who fell in love with it and made a commitment to live here.

Now, through no one’s fault and partly because of the loss of so many buildings in downtown Northeast Harbor to fire in the past decade, there are fewer businesses in town. As a result, there are fewer employment opportunities.

At the same time, the very desirability of this place means there are fewer affordable options for living here year-round. The opportunity to generate an income from short-term rentals to visitors is understandable. The opportunity to sell a house for a great sum because demand is high also is understandable. But that leaves fewer options for many individuals and families, even those with decent paying jobs right here on the island.

And that is what attracted me to Mount Desert 365. It’s the opportunity to help effect positive change in the place I love, to see more year-round residents and a thriving business community. It will not be easy or quick, and no one entity can turn things around alone. But a concerted effort, collaboration with others and a commitment to the long view are at the core of this effort, and I am honored to be a part of that.

I have been working with nonprofit organizations for longer than I care to admit. It started in Washington, D.C., working on issues of national importance and scope. Over the years, the work has gotten much more personal and on a smaller scale. I have been lucky enough to work for organizations with a mission I felt was important and with teams of people I admired for their commitment. I have worked with a wide range of individuals – from large donors to recipients of services, from judges to defendants, from administrators to support staff – and I have supervised people and projects in a variety of settings. In fact, “special projects” has been part of my title or job description more than once because the work didn’t always fit neatly in any one box.

To put my experience and skills to work on something as important – and as basic – as stable year-round housing and the ability to make a good living or create a business is personally very rewarding for me.

I have been asked whether economic development or affordable housing is the higher priority for Mount Desert 365. It’s hard to say which comes first; it’s a “chicken or egg” situation. A year-round, sustainable business will rely on year-round local support. I think movement can be made on both issues simultaneously, though I imagine the economic issues could see quicker results.

We all have ideas and aspirations for what our town needs and what it can be, and I look forward to hearing a lot of them. I welcome your thoughts, insight and support. I can be reached at 276-0555 or [email protected]. Or stop by our office in The Wheelhouse, upstairs at 123 Main St. in Northeast Harbor.

Kathy Miller is executive director of Mount Desert 365, the recently formed nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting economic development and providing year-round, affordable housing. She lives in Somesville.

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