Sarah Brake – An Island’s Human Resource

Young mother moves to Frenchboro, putting hospital career on hold

By Casey Engelman

When Sarah Brake first moved to Frenchboro in 2014, she didn’t think it was a good idea. At all.

“I was terrified when I first moved to the island, didn’t think I was going to make it whatsoever. Island life isn’t easy.”

Seven years and one pandemic later, Brake, 29, is still living on the island, and her fears have been proven wrong. She has become a fixture in the workings of the Frenchboro community, wearing many hats, including that of a member of the island’s select board.

The path to island life wasn’t apparent early on. After growing up in Kittery, she pursued a degree in human administration in Missouri, her goal to work in human resources at a hospital.

“I liked the idea of the involvement with the people. It’s what interested me most—the on-boarding, the idea of hiring somebody and trying to figure out why they might be a good fit for a job—it was really intriguing to me,” she says. The work seemed like a living, breathing puzzle, where the right piece needed to be found for the right gap. That passion transferred to a passionate pursuit of work, as she balanced three jobs with her studies, taking on apprenticeships and eventually finishing her degree online.

Then in 2014, Brake became pregnant with her first son. She moved back to Kittery to live with her parents. Her fiancé, Danny, with whom she’d grown up in Kittery, had moved to Frenchboro to continue his work as a lobsterman. Though she was initially apprehensive, she finally made the move to the island, prioritizing their family life and Danny’s career.

“I could have stayed in Kittery and he would have come and visited us when he could,” she says. “If I had made that choice, he would move off-island, but he’s been lobstering for some time. The best place for him was Frenchboro—it was where he could get his license first, it is where he could thrive.”

She made the move to the island in October, a bold choice for someone who hadn’t yet experienced island living.

“I do not recommend moving out to an island in the winter,” she says now. “The whole first winter I didn’t really get out much, I didn’t know a lot of people so I kind of stayed in my own little home.”

With the arrival of warm weather in June, islander Kim Smith approached Brake about joining the select board, seeing her education as an attractive asset. 

“She thought it might give me something to do, something to look forward to.”

Though she didn’t yet know what the responsibilities were, Brake jumped in, attending meetings and quickly gaining a spot on the board, employing the skills acquired during college and apprenticeships. Members have changed through the years, but since 2014, the board has been comprised almost exclusively of those under the age of 30. 

Brake marks passage of the island’s comprehensive plan as the board’s biggest accomplishment in her time. Frenchboro was almost 20 years overdue on passing a plan, something typically updated every ten years. 

“The reason it is important is it states goals, what your town is moving towards,” she explains. “If it isn’t eventually passed it can hurt the town’s ability to apply for grants. It kind of holds back a town’s potential if you don’t have a comprehensive plan.”

Differing perspectives can lead to misunderstanding and conflict, but she and others worked to draft a simple and straightforward plan all islanders could accept. She partnered with Island Fellow Zain Padamsee to get the plan passed.

Beyond her role on the select board, Brake works at the post office three days a week, helps clean rental houses during the busy summer tourist season, and every other summer, greets visitors and sells them sandwiches and refreshments at Lunt’s Dockside Deli.

And she is the mother of two sons, a role that has its own island quirks. 

Brake says it is challenging raising children on an island, but the positives far outweigh the negatives. Among the benefits are inclusion in the Outer Island Teaching & Learning Collaborative that brings together students from neighboring islands to learn together and form friendships, and the multi-age peers and companionship her sons get. 

“We have the most amazing teacher on the island who really focuses on each child’s interests,” she says. “My son loves science and because he’s one of three kids in the school, it is so tailored to him. They also learn to play well with kids that aren’t their age, which is something that totally gets lost on the mainland. The education that my kid is getting is so much more than just school lessons.”

Though she admits that for now, she has had to put a career in human resources on hold, Brake says her move to the island has rewarded her in ways she did not expect.

“In college I just wanted to work, but I wasn’t seeing friends, I wasn’t talking to people, I was working 24-7,” she says. “Coming out here made me re-focus, re-center. Living out here you get to know yourself, learn about yourself, figure yourself out.”

In regaining that focus, she has also been able to hone in on the progress and vision for the island she has come to call home.

“You move to an island because it is little, or you have your independence. You have all of these people who think they know best and they want the best. What we all need to realize is that we all want the best. I want to find a way for us all to best work together—though our ideas may be different, I want to encourage people to listen with more open ears.”

For now, she’ll continue with that work and enjoy the qualities of island life she has learned to love, like taking a hike on the Yellowhead Trail, where in 2022 she and Danny plan on getting married.

“It has both views, Acadia on one side and the open ocean on the other.” she says. “It puts everything into perspective—the world is huge, and we’re just on this rock in the ocean. You really get to be who you want to be out here.”

Casey Engelman is a recent transplant to the Midcoast. She attended Indiana University, where she studied journalism and food anthropology, and often employs both disciplines in discovering the treasures of everyday life to create her stories. She is a partner in Stone’s Throw catering, based in Rockport.