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This week Maine received an incredible gift from a man whose generosity is already well-known around the State.

On Tuesday, I was proud to take part in the formal introduction of the Harold Alfond College Challenge.

The Alfond College Challenge brings together the ideals that have driven Harold Alfond’s lifetime of giving.

Harold’s generosity is legendary in Maine and it continues today. Beginning this January in Central Maine and going statewide next year, the Alfond College Challenge will start every newborn off with a grant of $500.

The grant, which will be invested in a college savings plan, will start Maine children on their way to a college education.

As the name says, the program will also challenge parents to begin saving at the beginning of their child’s life for college.

Money invested today can grow dramatically by the time a baby is ready to start their higher education.

If left untouched, the $500 will grow into almost $2,000 by the time a child is old enough for college. With a little help from parents and grandparents – maybe just $50 more a month – the account can grow to $25,000.

And the program assures that families have the information they need to be smart investors who plan for their children’s future.

Given the growing cost of higher education, it’s essential that families start planning early. While the task of putting a child through college can seem daunting, the job is more manageable a little bit at a time.

So dollars invested today can make a real difference down the road.

Throughout his life, Harold repeated the same mantra over and over again: A community’s greatest assets are its children.

That philosophy is central to Harold’s giving and to the Alfond College Challenge.

It’s our collective responsibility today to take care of our children. In the future, it will be their responsibility to take care of the world.

Harold was dedicated to making sure they have the tools they need to be successful.

It’s impossible to estimate Harold Alfond’s impact on Maine. He has touched so many lives and so many communities with his generosity.

But his activism went well beyond making gifts.

He continually challenged people and communities to do more than perhaps they thought possible.

He reached out to people, he built partnerships and he drove people to do amazing things.

Whether it’s the new cancer center or a one-of-a-kind partnership with the “Y” and the Boys and Girls Club in Waterville, Harold brought out the best in people.

I’m grateful to have had a long friendship with Harold Alfond, and just before his passing talked with him about the important Challenge as a way to encourage all Maine families to plan and prepare for higher education.

Harold didn’t go to college, but he recognized early on that the days of making a good living with just high school diplomas were disappearing.

He has committed himself to making sure every child – regardless of background – has a chance.

Harold believed that in this new economy that a person should get a college degree regardless of the cost. The benefits, he said, would last a lifetime.

But he wasn’t blind to life’s hard realities and for some families, college can appear like a distant dream.

With the Alfond College Challenge, the dream is a little closer into reach, is more attainable, and less distant.

While Harold was building Dexter Shoe, he also was building a family with his wife, Bibby.

Bibby was a modest and necessary partner for Harold. Her goodness has shown through in all of his work. Her eloquence and gracious nature are a shining light, and her commitment to doing the right thing helped to shape Harold’s thinking and his actions.

Together they raised the family – and a beautiful family. Together that family and Harold and Bibby instilled that ideal of service and generosity to their children and grandchildren.

Harold Alfond was my friend. I miss him dearly, but also have remained inspired by him.

In the book about Harold and Bibby’s life, Harold said that he didn’t plan to retire until 10 years after his passing.

He was serious, and Maine will be a better place because of it.

Generations of Maine children have been touched by Harold Alfond and his family, and he will continue to reach out with a hand up to generations to come.

The people of Maine owe Harold a great debt of gratitude. He has made the world a little bit kinder and a little bit gentler for all of us, and he has challenged us to do better for ourselves and our children.

Beyond everything he has done, that will be Harold’s legacy.

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