by Jamie Carter-Logan, Bryan Roche and Peter Anania
Growing up, Alison Siviski had to persevere, depend on herself and work hard. She had no other choice.
When she was in first grade, her mother suffered a ruptured brain aneurysm, followed by a coma, intensive care and residential rehab — then suffered two strokes. Once home and struggling to recuperate, she turned to substance abuse as a coping mechanism. Her neglect while under the influence led to Alison being left at school with no ride home, a car accident with Alison in tow and the family’s home burning to the ground.
They lost everything.
Siviski’s father worked long hours to support the family, and Alison was essentially taking care of herself, while trying to help her mother recover.
But she isn’t bitter — far from it. Instead, Siviski sees the adversity she faced as what helped her become the strong, productive and generous member of the community that she is today.
Today, her successful career is well underway with the Olympia Snowe Women’s Leadership Institute. Siviski also coaches varsity cheering for Deering High School, and gives her time and talents as an active member of the Junior League of Portland, Maine. She stands out among young professionals in Portland for her strong dedication to volunteer work, and was recently honored by PROPEL as the recipient of the organization’s first Ignition Award for Young Professional of the Year.
“No struggle I faced was in my control, but my own coping and well-being was. I was forced to build resilience at a young age, and I was able to come through those hardships virtually unscathed,” she says. “A strong community showed up when I needed it most, which is precisely why I do the work I do now.”
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Because of what she went through growing up, Siviski is driven not only to volunteer, but also to be a role model and resource for at-risk youth and high school kids who just might need a listening ear like she once did.
Siviski’s father was present, and was her role model in many ways — for one, he was an MIT graduate, engineer and business owner — showing her the value of an education and strong work ethic. But he couldn’t be there full-time for his children if he wanted to provide for them, so Alison was built up by a community that was always there for her and her two older brothers.
When the family’s home burned down, Siviski was transitioning from middle to high school. The family was able to turn to friends and relatives for help, as they had many times before. In fact, Alison got used to spending the night with family friends, or at her dad’s co-worker’s homes when she needed a safe place to stay.
She also had a solid and understanding support system of teachers and coaches. In particular, Siviski credits her high school cheering coach, Jen Babcock, with guiding her through the difficult adolescent years, especially when her mother moved to an assisted living facility and Siviski yearned for a female role model.
The combination of community mentors, a desire to be able to support herself and seeing her father’s example of educational achievement helped spur Siviski to attend college. While at the University of Maine, she majored in journalism and advertising, on top of working full-time.
However, Siviski had to give up some of the extracurricular activities she loved so much — including cheering at UMaine — because she had to work to help support herself. Once again, though, the community stepped in to help her. Her gymnastics coach found an opportunity for her to coach local youth with behavioral issues and additional disabilities, giving her the chance to earn some money and still be involved in a sport she loved.
Siviski was also able to study abroad through the Semester at Sea program during her undergraduate years, an opportunity that ultimately helped shape her life right out of college. Her enriching international experience steered her to work at UMaine’s study abroad office, where she learned of CIEE: the Council on International Education Exchange, a world leader in study abroad based in Portland.
“When I learned CIEE was based in Maine, I set my sights on working for them right away,” she says.
While she wasn’t able to start immediately after graduation, she made the transition to a career quicker than most new graduates. She was only a month into her Bar Harbor summer waitressing job when she got the call. CIEE wanted her to work full-time as Reception and Administration Coordinator.
Siviski left Bar Harbor, moved to Portland, and jumped right into her job and the community. At CIEE, she quickly began seeking out additional projects, and was noticed by Christina McAnuff, who ran the high school and gap year abroad department. McAnuff brought Siviski onto her team to act as the Enrollment Coordinator. Not surprisingly, Siviski excelled in this role, and quickly moved further up the ladder to become the Senior Engagement Specialist and work on creating course material and content marketing for the department.
Between her own time studying abroad, working at CIEE, and personal travel, Siviski has explored 37 countries. When accompanying CIEE students to and through orientations abroad, she not only got to see the world, but also got to know the students. Her conversations with high schoolers from across the country cemented her belief that working with teenagers was something she enjoyed, and filled a real need in the community.
As much as Siviski enjoyed CIEE, other opportunities awaited her. When McAnuff left to serve as the Executive Director of the Olympia Snowe Women’s Leadership Institute, Siviski joined her in the move. Once again, a mentor and role model made a big difference in Siviski’s life.
Initially, Siviski was hired as Executive Assistant to Senator Snowe and her husband, Governor John “Jock” McKernan. Siviski worked part-time for them and part-time for the Institute with McAnuff.
”It was such an honor to work for both Senator Snowe and Governor McKernan, and a valuable learning experience I was grateful to have,” she says.
But at the beginning of 2018, her perseverance paid off once more. A full-time position opened up, and it was right in Siviski’s wheelhouse — Community and Communications Manager. She applied and was hired.
Even with the full-time job, Siviski finds plenty of time to give back to the community. With the Junior League, she helps out on various initiatives and volunteers with youth at risk in Greater Portland. She oversees the local chapter’s marketing and communication team, and is ever-present at events.
And she loves every minute of it.
“I am really happy right now, and I don’t see much changing in the near future,” she says.
Siviski recognizes the value of giving back to the community, having benefited from community support herself. She doesn’t do it to be honored, and in fact was surprised when she received the Ignition Award earlier this year.
Independent and driven from a young age, when she had no choice but to be, Siviski has taken the tragedies that befell her early in life and turned them around to help others.
That’s why Alison Siviski is an Emerging Maine Icon.
All photos by Peter Anania