News Feature

Originally published in Castine Patriot, September 27, 2018
Sponsor program brings community together
Students get help with college transition

A message from the president

Maine Maritime Academy president Bill Brennan talks about the importance of the sponsor program during a reception on campus on September 24.

Photo by Monique Labbe Order prints of selected PBP photos.

by Monique Labbe

For any college freshman, the idea of moving away from family and friends and embarking on a new life chapter can be daunting.

At Maine Maritime Academy, a student sponsorship program is in place to try to help alleviate some of the stress of getting to know people and navigating life in a new town.

The program pairs first year students not from the area with people and families in Castine and the neighboring communities. The sponsors act as a sort of host for the students, having them over for dinner, helping them get to and from the grocery store or airport, and simply helping them get acclimated to their new surroundings.

Castine resident Nancy Sayre has been participating in the program for several years, and has formed relationships with many students during that time. She, along with husband W.G., sponsored four students over the last four years, all of whom graduated last year. The couple has decided to sponsor three students this year, and Nancy met them at a sponsor/sponsoree reception at the academy on September 24.

“We were both college professors, so we understand the importance of being a contact for these kids,” she said. “We’re here to help out, we’re a part of this community and it’s a way to give back.”

Academy president Bill Brennan and his wife Heather also serve as student sponsors, and Heather also plays a role in matching up students and community members, along with Rhonda Varney.

Varney receives all the sponsor applications from students and residents, and then she and Brennan will work together to place a student with a family of similar interests, experiences and hobbies. It takes “a lot of work,” said Varney, but the matches seem to work out.

President Brennan welcomed the students and their sponsors during the reception on the 24th, and told the students to take advantage of the relationships they could build as a result of this program.

“The relationships you make today can grow and blossom, it’s a great thing,” he said.

The relationships that are built between the students and families often result in an extension of the program, as students will bring their roommates, teammates or friends over to their sponsor’s homes. Soon, a relationship with one student can result in a relationship with several, said Heather Brennan.

Alex, a first year student paired with the Sayre family, said that he was not really sure what the benefits of the program might be just yet, but he was excited to find out.

“I originally thought I was doing this for my mom, but then I realized I really was doing it for me,” he said.

Prospective sponsors are required to fill out an application, available at the Castine Town Office or by contacting Rhonda Varney at, or by phone at 326-2220.