Opening the Classroom Walls


The heat and humidity were oppressive. It was the type of Maine summer Sunday where most vacationing high school students might head to the beach or lake to escape the relentless sun. Mark Brown ’23, a Gould senior from Bethel, Maine had instead opted to join Civic Engagement Coordinator Adam Leff P’15,’17 in a packed box truck bound for the inland Maine city of Lewiston.
With the assistance of the Bethel Rotary, Mark and Adam delivered furnishings that helped to transform ten apartments into homes. Due to an influx of refugee families in the Lewiston-Auburn area from Afghanistan, Ukraine, Angola, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Rwanda, many families had to be placed into apartments that weren’t fully furnished.
“It really humbled me. It’s an experience that I’ll never forget,” Mark says, his tone earnest and heartfelt. “I met refugee families and experienced their culture and their food. I’ll never forget the smile that I saw on a little girl’s face in her crib as we were leaving. It was a moment that I knew I had done my best.”
Mark’s story isn’t a unique outcome of the civic engagement program at Gould. Adam is fervent in making sure as many Gould students as possible have the same opportunity for a transformative experience like Mark’s.
Adam Leff has the same amount of hours in the day as you and I, although the amount of substance he can shoehorn into any given day seems almost otherworldly.
His long list of responsibilities at Gould includes being the World Languages Department Chair, the Coordinator of Clubs, a French and History Teacher, the head coach of the cross-country running team, and most recently he has officially taken on the role of Civic Engagement Coordinator. If he were a superhero, his superpower would undoubtedly be the ability to control time and space.

In his downtime during the years that he served as a dorm parent in Davidson Hall with his wife, French teacher and Assistant Dean of Students Lolo “Madame” Leff, it was typical to hear him logging miles on his stationary bike throughout evening study hall, only breaking for the occasional thunderous cheer when the Bruins scored a goal. Even then, his door remained open to students in need or just wanting to connect.
It is entirely possible that he has learned to cut out sleep altogether. While many people lament not having the bandwidth to volunteer, Adam has made service a priority. Both for himself, and the Gould community.
He has something valuable to offer at every all-school assembly. He could be announcing a French film festival screening, or championing students reporting their WorldQuest results, a national world affairs high school competition team he mentors. If it’s a weekend activities assembly, he will be enthusiastically promoting all of the service opportunities available.
This year Adam has coordinated opportunities for students who have:
  • kept the Bethel Food Pantry stocked for local food-insecure families,
  • established a new farmers market and worked in community gardens with the St. Mary’s Nutrition Center,
  • baked for Lasagna Love, a grassroots movement that connects neighbors through homemade meal delivery,
  • coached skiing at Mt. Abram in collaboration with The Root Cellar, a mentoring program in Lewiston and Portland, Maine.
These are just a few of the many endeavors students and faculty have joined this year. There is no shortage of need and opportunity in Western Maine and beyond. From food insecurity to local elementary students who need winter gear, Gould students can always find ways to engage with their community.
Adam believes strongly in the Civic Engagement Program, and the benefits it provides for Gould students.

“I think one of the main benefits of civic engagement for our students is that it builds character. It helps students to actively engage in the world around them. To participate in their communities, to build bridges, and foster an understanding of other cultures and lifestyles and new worldviews,” he says. “It prepares our students for the world in which they’re going to live, where they’re going to face a variety of different cultures and practices, and they’ll be better equipped to adapt and interact with the people around them.”
Adam is particularly passionate about volunteering with the refugee population in Maine. He has been traveling with students to Lewiston-Auburn every Sunday since the Maine Immigrant & Refugee Services (MEIRS) opened its doors in 2008. At the time, the organization largely served Maine’s significant Somali population, but now there are in the neighborhood of 45 different populations coexisting in the “Cities of the Androscoggin.” Most refugees escaped horrific war-torn situations in their home countries just to get to Maine, a place that for many is new and unfamiliar.

“I think it’s incumbent upon us to be active and engaged in our communities. And Lewiston is only an hour away. It has a vibrant and growing population,” explains Adam. “Service learning opens up the walls of our classrooms to the wider world that surrounds us. I’ve taught courses on global migrations. What better way to learn about the experiences of migrants than by getting out into the community and talking to and working with people directly? It's a rare opportunity for us to work with these populations.”
Besides outfitting refugee living spaces, another valuable initiative that Adam and the Gould students have undertaken is tutoring. They are teaching the English language while tutoring children and adults in citizenship most weekends. Successful integration and self-sufficiency for the immigrant and refugee population of Maine are central to the MEIRS mission. Learning to communicate in English is the most important step on the path to citizenship for new Mainers, and learning about the culture in the United States is also invaluable. Job interview rehearsals, mock conversations at the doctor’s office or the grocery store, and financial literacy lessons are enormously helpful for day-to-day life in a new country.

“Our students gain a lot more than they give. I’ve seen this time and again. It instills this sense of civic-mindedness. And it develops some moral an ethical values that are extremely important. Kids take it with them wherever they go, and they’re going to make the world better. I really believe that large things start with small actions. And this is just a small action. But we’re seeing some large and profound effects.”
Quin Doyle ’26, a Gould ninth grader from Bethel, rarely misses an opportunity to travel to Lewiston on the weekends.
“It’s an opportunity to really help people. [The need is] right in front of you, so you have to acknowledge it, and I feel compelled to do it. Like I’m actually doing something to help.” Quin is emphatic. “Working with the refugees in Lewiston has really made me feel more confident in my life. I now know how I can actually go out and do something to help.”
The students and Adam have been so successful in connecting with the refugee communities that they now have more families requesting services than they have students to volunteer. It’s one of the reasons Adam stands up in the all-school assembly every week to make the request.
Earlier this school year, Adam took to the stage in Bingham Auditorium to try and impress upon students why he does this work and why it’s worthy of their time. He spoke passionately about the founders of MEIRS, Jama Mohamed and Rilwan Osman, and what he says it takes to be a hero.

“I want to talk to you today about endeavors that I consider to be heroic and those people I consider to be heroes among us,” explained Adam. “When a person sticks with something and doesn’t care if they get any credit for it when a person stands up for their community despite the backlash they are sure to receive, despite the angry words that may come from their neighbors, that’s a real hero. I want to invite each and every one of you to find your own heroes, as a life lived with purpose is perhaps a first step to finding balance and fulfillment.”
It wasn’t his intention, but Adam was describing himself to the students in the seats of Bingham, and the description wasn’t lost on the students who travel with him each week.
Mark Brown struggled at first to find adequate words to describe his mentor.
“Mr. Leff is an inspiration for all students. What he does for the community is simply unmatched. He does it every weekend. If it wasn't for him, many students, including myself, would have never done this. It’s incredible what he has done for [the refugee population] and how much he has helped us at the same time.”
Adam deflects the adulation and insists that this work is transformative for students and allows them to flourish and live lives of purpose. It is central to the Gould experience.
“I live in an absolutely wonderful community. When there is a strong service program at a school, the community thrives. There’s engagement from all parts of our community, and we’re better for it. We have a much more vibrant community that takes care of one another, that looks after one another, that supports one another, that communicates and listens to one another closely. That’s a world that I like to be part of.”
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