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“You were a lifesaver.”
So said a member of the Mitchell Institute staff to Kayla Girardin (above), the 2013 Mitchell Scholar from Presque Isle High School and current Project Assistant at the Institute.
Girardin came to the Mitchell Institute just when she was most needed, filling a staff vacancy in the busy run-up to preparing for Gala, the organization’s most important fundraising event of the year. Not long after she participated in application reading season and then helped execute the early-August MILE III program and Welcome Celebration — the first in-person events in two years, owing to the pandemic.
And nearly a year to the day that Girardin joined the Mitchell Institute staff in August 2021 to help coordinate a highly successful virtual fall Gala she will be leaving the organization to serve the Great Schools Partnership as a Project Associate.
Mitchell Institute President and CEO Jared Cash says Girardin’s departure is not unexpected, but still bittersweet.
“We knew we would have Kayla for a year at most,” Cash said. “We are fortunate to be a part of her early career, and there is no question that her skills and professionalism are going to take her places. Great Schools Partnerships is a perfect fit for her next career move.”
Elyse Pratt-Ronco, Assistant Director of Upward Bound at the University of Maine at Farmington and a member of the Mitchell Institute’s Board of Trustees, knew Girardin from her days as a Secondary Education–Mathematics major at UMF, where she began working with the Upward Bound staff the summer after her junior year.
“In the years Kayla worked for Upward Bound, she continually impressed me by being both brilliant and grounded. She embodies so many qualities of an exceptional educator; the most important being her student-centered focus,” Pratt-Ronco said. “I am excited to see Kayla continue to challenge herself and to bring her expertise to another educational setting that will help students in Maine.”
Girardin brought several years of professional experience to the Mitchell Institute. At Upward Bound, she held multiple roles of progressive responsibility, including outdoor recreation coordinator, mathematics instructor, and career mentor to UB students. The academic year following graduation from UMF in May 2017, she became a mathematics teacher at Mount Blue Middle School in Farmington, where she taught for four years and served as faculty advisor to the school’s Civil Rights Team and secretary to the district’s chapter of the Maine Education Association.
For Girardin, serving the Mitchell Institute and Scholars has been a “full-circle moment.”
“As a Mitchell Scholar Alumna, working at the Mitchell Institute has been an opportunity to pay forward the support I received to the next generation of Mitchell Scholars. It also felt like a warm hug,” she said. “This community is very special to me, and I cannot overstate the impact the Mitchell Institute has had in my life over the past nine years. I think the most valuable thing I have gained as a Mitchell Scholar is confidence — a change in my attitude from ‘I’m not good enough to do that’ to ‘why not me?’, and the reassurance that if I fail, there is a safety net to catch me.”
The year at the Institute also deepened Girardin’s understanding of the organization’s role in the lives of young people in Maine.
“Working for the Mitchell Institute has been incredibly fulfilling because I was reminded every day of the impact that this Scholarship and these programs have on Scholars and Alumni,” she said. “I have learned more about the nonprofit world and picked up skills that I will take with me into the next stage of my career. Each step of the way, I have had support and encouragement from my wonderful colleagues. Luckily, although I will no longer be a staff member at the Mitchell Institute, I will continue to stay connected as part of the Alumni Council.”
Which is why we’re grateful that it’s not now — or ever — goodbye.