BANGOR, Maine, Sept. 7—The first Doty-Woodward Award, which honors and highlights extraordinary community service and spirit, has been given to Free Martin, a Bangor businessman who turned over his hotel property to house and serve people experiencing homelessness.
Penobscot Community Health Care, which provides shelter, support, health care, and navigation to permanent housing through Hope House Health & Living Center, created the award last year to honor two pivotal former board members. During the pandemic, Hope House extended its services to the Ramada Inn on Odlin Road. The extra room allowed appropriate social distancing and COVID-safe housing, including a separate area for quarantine. Martin, Ramada’s general manager, and his business partners made the entire facility available to PCHC through a Maine Housing lease.
“This award recognizes Free Martin for demonstration his empathy and compassion in a very practical way,” said Christopher Winstead, chair of the PCHC board. “He has gone above and beyond, not just in providing space for Hope House programs, but in educating himself and others about the issues of homelessness, mental health struggles, and substance use that these programs address. We celebrate and honor his manifest commitment to the community.”
Martin, who grew up in Bangor and graduated from John Bapst High School, said that working with Hope House and getting to know its residents was a life-changing experience for him.
“People experiencing homelessness need the type of love and the professional support system and services PCHC provides,” Martin said. “As you know, sometimes that is sadly all they have, but so many are thankful to have it at all.” Martin said he hopes to model community-spirited action, particularly to his four sons.
“I tell my boys to treat people they would want to be treated,” he said.
While the hotel space was initially useful to provide COVID-safe accommodations, the Hope House team quickly realized that offering private sleeping quarters and bathrooms created better results than the old dormitory-style shelter.
“We realized that if you give someone their own place to sleep, their own bathroom—it offers dignity and peace of mind. And that actually translates into results in terms of moving forward, using services, and ultimately moving out of the shelter into permanent housing,” said Hope House Director Josh D’Alessio. “It has changed the way we look at how we provide services and plan for the future.”
Martin’s career in real estate and hospitality has spanned from New York state to New England; he has won multiple recognitions in both business and community service. He called this award “the most meaningful” he has ever received.
The Doty-Woodward Community Service Award honors Rev. Mark Doty and Mark Woodward, now both retired. Doty, longtime pastor of the Hammond Street UCC Church, and deeply involved in local projects, causes and organizations, was a PCHC board member for 10 years. He was a champion for diversity and inclusivity and served on the board of EqualityMaine.
Woodward, a PCHC board member for nine years, most recently as chairman, was a 38-year veteran of the Bangor Daily News and a member of the board of the Discovery Museum; he helped bring the National Folk Festival to Bangor and created a community group focused on school safety.