Lora S. Downing, Waterville Area Essentials Closet

Lora Downing is a retired Maine Educator, serving as: a classroom teacher of Family and Consumer Sciences and Health at both Waterville High School and Messalonskee High School, a high school assistant principal at Messalonskee High School, and with the Maine Department of Education as State Director of Career and Technical Education.

Lora runs the  Waterville Area Essentials Closet in collaboration with her fellow members at First Congregational Church of Waterville. The Essentials Closet opened as the First Congregational Church of Waterville was seeking a way to serve those in need in the greater Waterville Area. The Essentials Closet offers personal care and household items to area community members and offer items with respect and kindness for all who come.


Share a story or experience of a time you worked with a Colby student? What were the joys of that experience? What were the learning experiences?

I have two stories to share.

Chiamaka Unbani, the Colby student who volunteered came to us in the fall of 2019. She was a little unsure of what she had volunteered to do but soon fit in with us “old folks” when serving those in need. She came with the skills to respectfully greet our clients and to help them make choices of what they were in need of. She often helped us unload a truck load of supplies in preparation for opening the Closet. I think she truly enjoyed serving others. I looked forward to having her with us and learning of her life, her dreams, and her Colby experience.

I also want to share my experience of grant writing with the support of Dean Strup, a Colby Student who volunteered to assist in writing the grant offered by the Maine Community Foundation. I had written grants during my working years but had always had someone to review what I had written and to question what I had written. Dean offered to assist as a second pair of eyes. He made suggestions and pushed me to expand on my ideas. It was a unique position for both of us, he was helping the much older retired educator and the old educator was relying on a Colby senior to support her in her writing and expand on her thoughts. I enjoyed meeting with Dean to discuss the grant and to complete our work ahead of the due date. I was reminded that no matter how old you are those much younger can always teach you something new and guide you in the work to be done. The great news is, we have just received word that we have been awarded the grant.


What is your favorite thing about the Greater Waterville area? What do you wish Colby students knew about your community?

I love the fact that the Greater Waterville area is home to multiple educational institutions which provide opportunities for interaction of the students with the wider community and the wider community with the educational institutions. Of course the Greater Waterville area has been home to me all my life, even when I did not physically live here. The sense of home and community is extremely important to me. It is a place where each person can find where they fit in. Our mission is to serve those on the margins of the community. The Colby students offer a way for those from “away” to engage with the local volunteers (mostly very elderly) and those in need all at the same time. Their contribution in the way of time, talent and treasure is beneficial to the Closet in that they are not only serving those in need but also the volunteers.

“I love the fact that the Greater Waterville area is home to multiple educational institutions which provide opportunities for interaction of the students with the wider community and the wider community with the educational institutions. Of course the Greater Waterville area has been home to me all my life, even when I did not physically live here. The sense of home and community is extremely important to me. It is a place where each person can find where they fit in. Our mission is to serve those on the margins of the community. The Colby students offer a way for those from “away” to engage with the local volunteers, mostly very elderly, and those in need all at the same time. Their contribution in the way of time, talent and treasure is beneficial to the Closet in that they are not only serving those in need but also the volunteers.”

Contact Civic Engagement

Bill and Joan Alfond Commons
150 Main Street in downtown Waterville

[email protected]