The festival took place from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. with events for all ages. Booths were set up on half of the gym floor for local vendors and groups to share information about their organizations, sell products or distribute flyers.
Keynote speaker Bill McKibben was present, as well as juggler Zachary Fields; Timbered Lake music group; and Innana, Sisters in Rhythm.
“The goal of the event is to celebrate a connection to the earth and to each other, share information about all the good work that they’ve done and to celebrate Earth Day,” said Ilze Petersons, director of the event.
Petersons has been running the HOPE Festival for 18 years, though she did not come up with the idea on her own. According to her, the Peace and Justice Center of Eastern Maine started the festival. She was a member of the organization when they came up with the idea and has been organizing it ever since.
According to Petersons, the event continues to grow each year, and she said this year generated the biggest turnout.
“People come back each year, and each year we have new people who come too. And when you have someone of the stature of Bill McKibben, it really brings a lot more people in, and it makes it a lot more worthwhile for the vendors,” she said.
William “Bill” McKibben is a environmentalist and author who has extensively studied global warming. In 2010, Time Magazine referred to him as “the world’s best green journalist.”
Petersons explained that the event moved around to a couple of different places before coming to UMaine.
“It started at University College [of Bangor] the first year, and that was too small,” she said. “We moved to Brewer Auditorium and were there for 10 years.”
The festival moved again to the Field House at UMaine, where it remained for two years before settling in at the rec center for the past three years.
“This is the nicest space, and it’s a green building, so it’s really wonderful to be here,” Petersons said, referring to the building’s LEED certification.
Amy Hughes, a fourth-year philosophy and anthropology student with a minor in sustainable food systems, volunteered her time to organize a children’s venue at the festival.
Hughes had never been to the event until this year. She found out about it through the Peace and Justice Center of Eastern Maine, where she recently became a member.
“I have been volunteering with them for a while, and they have really awesome ways for younger people to get involved, and I just thought this was so cool,” she said.
As she learned more about the festival, Hughes explained that she had found out there wouldn’t be a children’s section unless somebody took the job. She thought that not having a venue for children would be “tragic,” so she took on the challenge.
“For the kids’ area, we just wanted to have crafts that kids could make,” she said. “One thing that we really wanted to do was have interactive crafts so that kids are making stuff together for cooperation sake. I think that’s very important.”
Hughes said the experience was a “realistic application” of her education. She felt it was one of the only things that could bring all of the “social change” groups together, and she said she plans to continue volunteering at the event every year she can.
“I think the reason that the Peace and Justice Center is so awesome is because they make this sort of umbrella mission that a lot of different people fit under,” she said. “It’s like we’re all kind of in our own corners, but it brings back the realization that we are all actually pursuing peace together, and that you can’t do it unless you have awesome ways to meet each other and network.”
Matt Scaccia, a third-year parks, recreation and tourism student at UMaine, also volunteered at the festival for the first time this year.
“I’ve been absolutely loving it,” he said. “I think I’m having more fun than any of the kids here.”
Scaccia put together a booth in the children’s section where they could make homemade bird feeders out of pine cones, seeds and peanut butter.
He said that helping children to engage with the outdoors and the species that inhabit it is important in order to encourage them to spend more time outside instead of watching television or playing on the computer inside.
“A big part about that [effort] is keeping kids outside and involved with the outdoors and hopefully building a stewardship effort for the future, because it has to be carried on,” Scaccia said.
Petersons said that the Peace and Justice Center plans to continue to keep the festival going in years to come as long as they receive enough support.
“There are so many volunteers here that make it happen, and that’s what we need. As long as there are people who are willing to do it, we’ll do it,” she said.