The Harold Alfond Foundation pledged Thursday to provide $1.4 million in a matching grant program to support the development of a new generation of female leaders.

Greg Powell, chairman of the foundation, made his announcement at a luncheon celebrating the Olympia Snowe Women’s Leadership Institute, which offers leadership opportunities to girls in high schools throughout Maine. The money, offered as a 1 to 1 match, is intended to leverage a $2.8 million endowment to expand and sustain the program, now in its second year.

“The Alfond Foundation has a history of teamwork and backing winners,” said Powell in making the announcement before a gathering of 650 at the Holiday Inn by the Bay in Portland. He later noted that Snowe made a career of building effective alliances and getting things done. “She is the perfect person to launch this kind of initiative,” he said.

Powell got the ball rolling by handing Snowe a personal check for $1,000, which the former three-term senator accepted graciously.

“We can make a big difference in the years ahead,” she said thanking Powell and the foundation.

Snowe started the institute last year to help Maine girls develop self esteem and leadership skills, first with a pilot program in seven high schools in Androscoggin County, where she grew up. Now more than 150 girls are currently enrolled in the program, which focuses on helping them develop their values, voice and vision through three years of mentorships and other opportunities.

Now in it second year, the program has expanded into at least one high school from each county, but the goal is to significantly expand that in the near future.

Karen Mills, Brunswick resident and the former head of U.S. Small Business Administration and a member of President Obama’s Cabinet, was the keynote speaker. She encouraged the women and girls in the audience to address inequities in the workplace, Congress and elsewhere by lifting each other up. Paraphrasing Michelle Obama, Mills said that when girls and women succeed and walk through a door of opportunity, they shouldn’t slam it behind them, but reach back and help the next person behind them.

“That’s what true leadership is all about,” said Mills, addressing the young girls in the audience. “Just because you’re young doesn’t mean you have to wait.”

For more information on the institute, go to

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