During its 131-year history, Good Will-Hinckley has touched the lives of thousands of young people. Most have been from Maine, the sons and daughters of farmers and millworkers, who arrived at GWH looking for a way to better themselves. Some came from other parts of the country, inspired by the hope and promise of George Walter Hinckley’s mission.
As our methods and programs have grown, so too have the perils and pitfalls faced by today’s youth. Which is why, when our students overcome these odds, it’s so important to acknowledge their success. Not just how they’ve grown as a person, but the impact they’ve made on our organization.
Today, I’d like to share the story of Sergei Bing, whose unique journey exemplifies GWH’s recent evolution—and the young men and women who’ve made that growth possible.
The long road
Unlike most GWH students, Sergei Bing’s story begins half a world away, in the Russian city of Krasnodar, where he was born in 1993. When his mom was unable to care for them, Sergei and his brother were placed in an orphanage. Three years later, when Sergei was five, he and his brother were adopted by an American couple from Kittery, Maine.
Despite the newfound stability, things weren’t easy for Sergei. Not knowing a word of English, he was immediately placed in school. A self-described “rambunctious child,” he struggled to focus in class. Disciplinary issues soon followed, and when Sergei turned 13, his adoptive parents—who hadn’t had kids before—made the heart-wrenching decision to turn him over to the Maine Department of Health and Human Services.
It was a dark, difficult period.
For the next three years, Sergei was in and out of DHHS programs: bridge homes, hospitals, any place that would take him. At 16, he was placed in a foster home in Island Falls, not far from the New Brunswick border. At 20, Sergei made his first attempt to earn a degree, but the daily rigors of college life proved overwhelming. After completing a Job Corps program in Limestone, he moved to Bangor, determined to make it on his own.
Timing is everything
But determination wasn’t enough, and it soon became clear to Sergei that he needed to take his education seriously. That’s when he discovered Good Will-Hinckley’s College Step-Up program. Launched in 2014, CSU helps young people continue their education even when traditional schooling and support systems have failed them.
“When you realize you’re going to be here for a while, you become brothers and sisters with your housemates. Then you have even more people to support you.”Sergei Bing
For Sergei, it provided necessary structure, but—crucially—not at the expense of his own style of learning or independence, he later told us. What’s more, the program exposed him to other students and community members, giving him something he’d always wanted: a family.
“When you realize you’re going to be here for a while,” Sergei says, “you become brothers and sisters with your housemates. Then you have even more people to support you.”
From the beginning, Sergei was ambitious. He told us he didn’t want any old 9-5 job. Working closely with Renee Gray, GWH’s dedicated CSU advisor, Sergei decided to take a lifelong passion—computers—and turn it into a career.
Thanks to a longstanding partnership between GWH and nearby Kennebec Valley Community College, Sergei embraced his newfound path. In May 2019, he earned an associate degree in applied electronics and computer technology. Now in his second semester at the University of Southern Maine, Sergei is well on his way to earning a B.S. in cybersecurity.
Just as importantly, he’s found a community of peers—and a family that keeps growing.
Back in October, we invited Sergei to share his story through a Q&A at our 2019 Fall Gala. His words brought tears to the eyes of many in the crowd. To achieve what he did—coming to a strange country, not knowing the language, enduring struggle after struggle—is nothing short of remarkable.
It’s also the ultimate expression of what we can achieve at Good Will-Hinckley.
When young people are given the love, support and structure they deserve, they are not disadvantaged at all. They are loving, contributing members of their communities, with amazing insight from their rich and challenging life experiences.
When George Walter Hinckley founded this organization in 1889, these are the success stories he had in mind: stories of hope sprung anew, of lives transformed, of a society built on lifting people up rather than tearing them down.
We are so proud of the young man that Sergei has become, and that his story is now part of ours.