Somerset Public Health gets Bingham Foundation Grant

SKOWHEGAN — Somerset Public Health, a local community health coalition and department of Redington-Fairview General Hospital, has been awarded a Bingham Foundation Community Health Program grant.

The two-year grant provides funding for interactive improvisational theater to create awareness about health issues related to Adverse Childhood Experiences. Improvisational theater is a technique used to present challenging issues while involving the audience in recognizing those issues and strategizing solutions.

Adverse Childhood Experiences are events that can have negative effects on lifelong health and well-being. These experiences are can be broadly grouped into abuse, neglect and household disturbances — including divorce, parental incarceration and witnessing violence. A growing body of evidence shows a connection between experiencing multiple events with the development of negative behavioral and health outcomes later in life, such as obesity, substance use, suicide attempts and depression.

In Maine, more than half of the population has experienced at least one adverse childhood event. Maine’s 2017 Integrated Youth Health Survey shows one in four students in Somerset County reported experiencing three or more events. The effects can be profound, but they don’t have to be. Youth who have opportunities for meaningful belonging, clear expectations, unconditional love and support from at least one adult have improved outcomes, even in the presence of adversity.

The Marti Stevens Interactive Improvisational Theater will develop a series of entertaining, short conversation-starting scenarios and discussions showing emotions, conflicts, attitudes and motivations for behaving in a way that might be labeled as negative by audience members. At a critical point in each scene, the director stops the action and then invites the audience to interact with and question the characters. This provides an opportunity to see situations in new ways and stimulate dialogue and group problem solving.

These performances are designed to stimulate the nonverbal and emotional side of the brain so audience members will have a greater understanding for how these childhood experiences impact the lives of youth and community. Audiences also will leave with strategies modeling resilience if put into practice at home, work or in the community

“This funding allows us an entertaining and engaging way to challenge the audience’s thinking about adversity,” said SPH Director Matt L’Italien. “It is also an opportunity to work with local partners that we don’t traditionally think about in public health, like our local theater groups and arts council.

Some of the partners in this grant include Kennebec Valley Community Action Program, Wesserunset Arts Council, Lakewood Theater Productions, Midge’s Theater Arts Studio, Maine Resilience Building Network, Marti Stevens Interactive Improvisational Theater, Somerset County Poverty Action Coalition, Kennebec Behavioral Health, Hospice Volunteers of Somerset County and the Somerset Sheriff’s Office.

Individuals or organizations wanting to explore how to be part of Somerset Public Health’s prevention effort, or to request a presentation, contact Bill Primmerman, SPH community health educator, at or Matt L’Italien, SPH director at .