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Stanicki: Built for this

Seasoned activist strives to reduce poverty, increase pathways to education
By Fran Gonzalez | Jun 23, 2020
Photo by: Fran Gonzalez Robyn Stanicki of Belfast, candidate for the Democratic nomination for the Maine Senate District 11 seat, speaks during Liberty's town meeting June 27.

Belfast —

Robyn Stanicki said her education and professional experience set her apart from other candidates in making a difference in the Maine Senate. “Professionally,” she said,”I’m really built for this kind of work.”

In an interview with The Republican Journal June 8, Stanicki said she is currently employed by Dartmouth College coordinating research sites in the state. “We’re trying to test a specific piece of technology that lets physicians and patients have conversations with each other about substance abuse,” she said.

“I’m specifically trained to go in and work with a team to decide what is our situation from today’s perspective — what do we need to look at to change things and how do we get there in a systematic way?”

These are all skills that translate well into policy making, she said. “We often see many people on a team such as a committee like Health and Human Services, or even a working group, they all have different priorities. …There is a real need for team-building and being able to work together, understanding we’re all going to have different things that we bring to the table….”

In her professional experience, Stanicki said working with policies places her ahead of the other two candidates who do not have such experience. Working with advocacy groups and testifying for bills, she is often called to comment on federal legislation.

She has worked with lawmakers to expand MaineCare eligibility, increase critical health care access for children in foster care and implement new tax credits for working families.

A Belfast resident, Stanicki also has “lived experience” navigating social and educational systems in the state, first as a homeless teenager, and later as a non-traditional college student attending school while raising children.

“I didn’t have a lot of ways to make ends meet or find out what I was eligible for,” she said. “I went through life working at grocery stores or the types of jobs for folks that just have a high school diploma.”

Growing up in poverty on a rural farm, Stanicki experienced the adverse effects of foster care. “I aged out and wasn’t eligible for a lot of programs you see today,” she said. “Either they hadn’t been formed yet or I didn’t fall into the lines of eligibility to be able to get a transitional housing allowance.”

After 10 years as a military spouse, and working for the U.S. Army as a medical technician, she came home to Maine as a single mother of three, and served veterans readjusting to life after deployment.

She tried to go to college several times but struggled to manage the priorities in her life. She was finally accepted by a state retraining program and graduated from the University of Maine with a degree in social work and sociology, and immediately returned for graduate school, studying higher education and human development.

During her graduate program, Stanicki realized how attending college had positively changed the trajectory of her life.

She thought her experiences could help other people take advantage of programs already available in the state. Programs “that are really hard to find, and really hard to take advantage of, especially for nontraditional students,” she said.

So she wrote a bill and proposed her idea to the state's workforce development board. “I kept bringing it around and saying ‘I’ve developed this program — I think it’s a great idea,’” only to be “stonewalled” by the board. “I didn’t really understand that from a policy perspective you need to act differently. This was a learning curve for me.”

She started joining advocacy groups that were doing similar work, which ultimately led to the bill LD 1774, “An Act To Reduce Child Poverty by Leveraging Investments so Families Can Thrive” (LIFT), being signed into law by Gov. Janet Mills in June 2019.

The bill provides the structure and funding for the HOPE grant, sending 500 nontraditional students including low-income families and single mothers to seek training certificates, associates, and bachelor’s degrees.

This month, Stanicki’s daughter graduated from high school with honors and will be studying at New York School of Design in the fall. She said it is important that her daughter go to college, ending the “intergenerational” effect. “The cycle of poverty ends with me,” she said.

Because Maine has invested in her with support services, Stanicki said she would like to give back. “There is a return on this and demonstrating that return is important for the program to continue.”

When thinking of workforce development, she said, Maine has a wealth of human potential. “We have a full-bodied workforce here, of people that simply need the opportunity and are waiting for their moment to shine and contribute.”

Other legislative priorities for Stanicki include universal health care, increasing accessibility to education and training, and protecting the state's natural resources including water, land, timber, and air quality to name a few.

Extending education programs so students can take college courses or technical training courses while still in high school is important to Stanicki — anything to eliminate college debt, which can be so crippling, she said. “It can prevent you from owning a house,” she added.

“Many times you will pass a law and wonder why it doesn’t get the outcome you thought that it would,” she said. “It is because people who are going to use the policy can’t access it, or there is something that prevents them from fully taking advantage of it.

“Lifting up voices of people who have actually navigated these systems is the best approach at trying to change systems,” she said. “...There is often a disconnect between the lawmaker and the law they pass, if they don’t have the lived experience that helps them implement the policy….”

It is important to note, she said, “we’ve been asking for changes for a long time. We’ve been dissatisfied with our leadership… and there has been a lot of trust eroded, not only between parties, but even within the parties and I think we need to begin to elect leaders, not only who have lived experience and professional experience working..., but people who demonstrate that they are committed to real change because we can’t hold onto the status quo anymore.”

The Stanicki campaign will be hitting the road and traveling town to town, meeting people and talking about their concerns in the next few weeks. To view her schedule, visit her on Facebook or at robynstandsforme.com.

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Comments (1)
Posted by: MARY JEAN CROWE | Jul 02, 2020 13:07

I first heard Robyn speak at the caucus this winter, and talked with her afterwards.  Since then, I have had several conversations with Robyn, including in my home wearing masks and sitting 6' apart(!).  Then, as now, she has impressed me immensely with her positive spirit, intelligent and needed policies, and commitment as a public servant in her work life.  Robyn's personal story is more than compelling.  She has drastically, profoundly and positively changed the direction of her life.  I admire Robyn - you can be certain I will be voting for her.  I believe Robyn Statnicki will be a powerful and quality leader in Augusta, working for all of us.



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