by Jillian Netherland | photos from the archives of past events
Heading into its ninth and final year, Summer Block Party has an ambitious goal: raising enough funds to grant 19 wishes, bringing the event’s lifetime total to 100 wishes granted to children with life-threatening illnesses throughout Maine.
It was the summer of 2014, and Jim “Jimbo” Marston was in the early stages of planning a 20th anniversary celebration for Uncle Andy’s Digest to be held the following year. Ever the philanthropist, Jim soon decided to turn the party into a fundraiser benefiting a local nonprofit – the question was, which one?
Looking for a way to say thank you to the advertisers, contributors, and everyone who had been involved with Uncle Andy’s over the years, Jim reached out to Gerry Gagne and Mike Peters, two of the owners of Mac’s Grill, to determine if the restaurant could accommodate an event of the size he was anticipating. Upon discussing Jim’s vision for the celebration, it was decided the party could be held outside in a designated, roped off area to keep it separate from the restaurant’s patrons.
Perhaps it was kismet. A member of the Make-A-Wish board happened to be at Mac’s at the same time, overheard Jim mention his interest in raising money during the event, and invited him to attend a breakfast at the Hilton Garden Inn the following morning featuring speakers from Make-A-Wish Maine – including wish recipient, Summer Emery.
“Summer lived in the same town as us and we knew her parents,” shares Suzanne Marston, Jim’s wife. “As she spoke, she shared how she had just finished treatment for Hodgkins Lymphoma – the same type of cancer Jim had survived 20 years previously – he felt it was divine intervention.”
Summer discussed the power of the wish, not just for the child, but for the family as a whole to have something to look forward to at the end of treatment. Hearing this, Jim knew Make-A-Wish Maine was the organization he wanted to benefit from his event. He approached the representatives from Make-A-Wish immediately following the breakfast, sharing his vision, and that he wanted Make-A-Wish Maine to receive the proceeds.
The first Summer Block Party was held in August of 2015, raising enough money to grant two wishes and, as Larry Roy, – Jim’s best friend, owner of Dad’s Place, and current member of Make-A-Wish Maine Board of Directors – says, took on a life of its own.
“In Jim’s mind, Summer Block Party was meant to be a one-and-done event,” Larry recalls. “At the end of the evening, people kept approaching Jim sharing how much they enjoyed it, asking about plans for next year, so he decided to give it another year and raise more money.”
Thus, the annual event was born and given its name: Summer Block Party.
Wishes do come true
With the help of each year’s planning committee, the goal to continue Summer Block Party, raise more awareness, and bring in more funds each year, became a reality. Even through the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic, Summer Block Party has not missed a year since its inception. To date, Summer Block Party has raised a total of $571,000 for Make-A-Wish Maine, granting 81 wishes, and breaking records for the largest external fundraiser in the state.
“This year’s goal is to grant 19 wishes, which is $133,000,” shares Larry, noting that the highest event total was $126,000 in 2022. “If we do this, it means that the Summer Block Party will have granted 100 wishes in its lifespan.”
One big contributing factor to Summer Block Party’s success over the years is that Make-A-Wish Maine is a local organization offset from a larger, well-known national brand. Make-A-Wish Maine is its own nonprofit organization with a private chapter in Maine governed by its own local Board of Directors. Make-A-Wish Maine’s mission is to grant wishes to children ages two and a half through 18 years throughout Maine with life-threatening illnesses to bring them hope, strength, and joy during an unimaginable time, provide a distraction in their healing process, and create positivity during their journey. Approximately 75 wishes per year are granted throughout all of Maine’s 16 counties, equaling one wish every five days.
“We fund every aspect of the wish – travel, accommodations, everything – so no financial burden is placed on the families,” says Kate Vickery, President and CEO of Make-A-Wish Maine. “The average monetary cost per wish is $7,000, which we supplement with in-kind donations to offset the wish.”
What makes Summer Block Party so unique is that it is what is known in the nonprofit world as an external event: a fundraiser that is fully organized by community volunteers instead of employees of the organization. While external events are provided with support from the benefitting organization, all solicitation of donations (both monetary and in-kind), planning committee and day-of volunteer recruitment, and event logistics are all managed by the community hosting the event.
“The funds that are raised go towards granting wishes here in our communities,” explains Kate. “We have so much gratitude for Summer Block Party and the LA community at large that has wrapped their arms around Make-A-Wish – they truly understand the local impact and we are grateful for the influence it has had on our chapter and our ability to continue granting wishes.”
This local support has exceeded fundraising as well. As a result of Summer Block Party, Make-A-Wish Maine has experienced an increase in volunteers from the Lewiston Auburn area, and connected with guests who have gone on to serve on Make-A-Wish Maine’s Board of Directors.
“The event has truly broadened exposure of what Make-A-Wish Maine is and the effect it has on our families,” says Kate. “That is priceless.”
2023 – time to shine
Planning for the 2023 Summer Block Party is underway with a date set for Saturday, August 12, 2023, from 1pm-10pm where it all began: Mac’s Grill.
“At this point, it would be incredibly difficult not to have the party attached to Mac’s because of all the moving parts – we need the restaurant as the anchor,” explains Gerry Gagne, one of the owners of Mac’s Grill. “It’s a great event and we’re happy to do it. Mac’s Grill, the City of Auburn, and all the day-of volunteers are the core group to make the behind the scenes action happen, but Jim was the straw that stirred the drink.”
With nine years of practice, the planning committee and Mac’s Grill have the event down to a science, handling everything from parking to securing food donations, running the bar, and booking the entertainment.
“We are fortunate in that we are able to work with our vendors to make sure all the food is donated,” shares Mike Peters, fellow Mac’s Grill owner. “Fewer expenses needed to put on the event means more money can be donated to Make-A-Wish Maine, which is what the event is all about.”
Summer Block Party has become an annual event the Lewiston Auburn community eagerly looks forward to attending – with entertainment including live music, inflatables, raffles, and a grand finale of fireworks – however, supporting Make-A-Wish Maine is really the heart of the event, possibly this year more than ever. As a free event with donations encouraged, reaching this year’s goal of $133,000 will rely largely upon corporate sponsorships and community-wide support.
“We have different sponsorship levels beginning at $500,” shares Larry, who has been part of the behind-the-scenes work of Summer Block Party since the beginning, and stepped up to take the reins when Jim became sick again. “Our Presenting Wish Sponsor is $7,000, to match the average monetary cost of one wish at Make-A-Wish Maine, so each sponsorship we secure at that level will count towards one wish.”
Seeking to raise as much money as possible in a relatively brief window of time, individuals or businesses interested in learning more about donating money, time as a day-of volunteer, or items to raffle off during the silent auction are encouraged to contact Larry directly at firstname.lastname@example.org, or through the Summer Block Party website where donations can be made securely online.
A legacy to celebrate
When preparing for the 2023 Summer Block Party, discussing its fundraising goals for Make-A-Wish Maine, and feeling excitement for all the fun guests have come to look forward to year after year, it would be remiss to not pay homage to the person who brought the inaugural event to life and will be sorely missed at its culmination: Jim Marston.
“Last year was the first year without Jim, but he is always going to be a part of it,” states Auburn Mayor Jason Levesque. “It’s a great legacy, probably the most perfect legacy for Jim, one that has continued to help children as well as the city that he loved.”
These sentiments are shared amongst everyone involved in making Summer Block Party happen. Without Jim’s vision, none of them would be involved, and the event would not exist.
“We’re lucky to have been a part of it for all these years,” Mike shares. “Jim was a great part of our community. Losing him has been a tremendous loss. What he’s built has become something very special.”
For Larry Roy, Jim’s behind-the-scenes counterpart in the orchestrating of Summer Block Party since day one, the last two planning cycles have been bittersweet.
“Up until last year, I wasn’t the one to spearhead it, and it was overwhelming with everything going on with Jim,” he recalls. “The support we received was absolutely incredible and certainly shows the community wanting to get behind a big cause.”
Community, from start to finish
The Summer Block Party planning committee hopes to rally a level of community support in a bigger way than ever – one last hurrah in honoring Jim’s legacy and supporting Make-A-Wish Maine. Although ambitious, if the event’s historic track record tells us anything, it’s that the goal of $133,000 to provide 19 wishes is attainable, thanks to the individuals in charge and the community where it is held.
“It’s been wonderful to witness how Summer Block Party has evolved over the last nine years,” reflects Mayor Levesque. “Obviously, we’re all thrilled with the amount of money raised, but really what it says about Auburn and this area is that the community comes together consistently for good causes.”
Seeing the community unite is what changed Summer Block Party from a one-and-done party to an annual event, and something that will remain with those involved long after the final event has ended.
“It’s unbelievable, that feeling you get at the end when you sit back and go ‘wow, we really made this happen – it all came together and we raised a lot of money to help a lot of people’,” reflects Larry. “It gives you goosebumps – it’s pretty amazing.”
To get involved as a volunteer, sponsor, or donor to help the final Summer Block Party reach its goal, please visit the Summer Block Party website or contact Larry Roy or any member of the planning committee.
Summer Block Party