ELLSWORTH — Coming into her role as executive director of Downeast Community Partners (DCP), Rebecca Palmer brings experience gained close to home and from afar. A native Mainer, Palmer is a University of Maine graduate who started her career decades ago serving adults and children for a Penobscot County nonprofit.
Her career and her dedication eventually led her to countries around the world, including to an international children’s charity where Palmer coordinated medical missions for pediatric surgeons in 52 countries.
Her work with the charity not only helped the children served but everyone else involved, from the doctors and attending medical staff to FedEx, which flew in supplies and equipment.
“People generally want to know their gift makes a difference,” she said. “Those opportunities, in my mind, level the field of what humanity is and the opportunity to contribute something that is life-changing to the recipient.”
As executive director of nongovernmental organizations, much of what Palmer did, and still does at DCP, is match the skills of individuals where they are most needed, in addition to “harnessing the good will of donors and making them understand to the extent possible the power of their gift.”
Most recently living in San Diego, Palmer said she was excited to return to her home state and take on the challenges at DCP.
“San Diego was wonderful, but Maine is my ‘heart’ home,” she said.
An early challenge for Palmer is to bring awareness of DCP and its many services to the communities it serves in Hancock and Washington counties. DCP formed in 2017 after the merger of two longstanding agencies: Washington Hancock Community Agency and Child and Family Opportunities. The name recognition for DCP is still not there, Palmer noted, despite that “in many ways, the two organizations melded together for a bigger impact, [and] reduced redundancies.”
With 10 divisions across two counties offering services from help with home heating to Head Start preschool programs to housing, transportation and elder care services, “those are big hills to climb,” Palmer said. “I’m standing literally on the shoulders of the work that’s been done.”
It doesn’t help that there are 30 vacant positions at DCP, which currently has 170 employees on the payroll, she noted. Palmer is working with the DCP Board of Directors to raise wages and create a plan to bring them up to market rate in the next two to three years, she said. “The board is really committed to this.”
DCP is the recipient of millions of dollars in federal and state funds to provide services for communities and people in need. The agency received revenue upward of $10 million in 2018 and 2019, according to 990 tax-exempt forms filed with the IRS. Palmer said the federal, state and local government funds represent 87 percent of DCP revenues. Public donations account for another two percent, and grants and other revenue covers 11 percent of costs.
“DCP is really an organization that’s well suited to respond to the needs of our two respective communities,” Palmer said. “We have many years of experience. Our real goal is to address the issues that keep people in poverty and to walk along with people to paths out of poverty.”
She added, “And to do that, there’s no magic wand.”