December 11, 2015
Perspective: Seeing United Way in a Different Light
Like most people, my familiarity with the United Way of Kennebec Valley came from the annual giving campaign at my workplace. Employees are encouraged to donate, and it is made easy through payroll deduction. I had a demanding job, had stopped volunteering after my kids graduated, and giving to the United Way assured me that I would be supporting a worthy cause without too much thought or effort on my part.
Life changes have given me some unexpected free time, so I approached the United Way of Kennebec Valley to explore volunteering opportunities. Rob Gordon, Executive Director, suggested that I visit a few member agencies to familiarize myself with the services offered.
My first visit was to Dan Vigue at Goodwill of Northern New England. He toured me through their offices, and gave me an overview of the wide range of services that Goodwill provides. His passion for serving the needs of the disabled was humbling and his review of the extensive
services they provide highlighted the need they have for additional resources. His staff works individually with the disabled to promote
independence and the skills necessary for these individuals to eventually be self-supporting. They work with local employers to identify possible jobs and stay with the client, once employed, in a mentor role to ensure a successful relationship. Independence for the disabled can be achieved through Goodwill’s guidance and support, but they can’t do it alone.
My next visit was to John Richardson at Bread of Life Ministries. They run both a soup kitchen and a homeless shelter. Locals who saw a need to help the hungry, the homeless and the lonely founded this organization. John is a deeply caring man who has made this his personal mission. My perception of a soup kitchen was a grim cafeteria line, but to my delight, this felt like a café with round tables and an open kitchen at the back. Volunteers serve the patrons, bringing over plates of food and drinks, and the feel
is bright, open and welcoming. Many who eat at the soup kitchen also volunteer there, giving back to the community supports them. Watching John interact with those who wander into his office for help or later in the soup kitchen, I was moved by his innate kindness along with a business acumen that has enabled him to organize the resources behind the scenes to make Bread of Life sustainable. A spirit of collaboration is demonstrated in how they work with other local programs to feed the hungry, sharing resources whenever possible.
The third visit was to Ingrid Stanchfield at the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Gardiner. The facility is an old school building and the gym and open, wide hallways with classrooms on each side have a familiar feel. Ingrid’s office is a children’s wonderland with stuffed animals and toys on every surface. Her tale of how this organization has grown from a small afterschool program to a vibrant community center, with an
active daycare, after school programs for kids and teens and space for public meetings in the evenings is inspiring. An average of 150 – 225 kids use this building daily as either a daycare or a safe place to be after school. Last year, they provided over 60,000 meals to kids under 18, many of whom would otherwise go hungry. The building is badly in need of repair, and they are tackling the inside room by room as they get donations. She was proud to show off the completely finished teen space, which has a cool industrial feel and an assortment of seating and activity areas. The open design allows for minimal supervision for a varied group of afterschool activities, and they are looking for sponsors to do similar renovations in other rooms . Kids in Gardiner are fortunate to have such a thriving Boys and Girls Club and under Ingrid’s leadership, the sheer volume of kids that come through the doors and the number of programs that they offer is quite impressive.
The one thing all of these people have in common is their dedication to serving the needs of the community. For them, living a life of service makes up for forgoing a higher paycheck in the private sector. For the rest of us, supporting their efforts by donating to the United Way is the foundation to aid the work accomplished at these and other member agencies.
- Laurie Clark, United Way Volunteer
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