The three nominees for the Kennebec Valley Chamber of Commerce’s Cynergy Young Professional award come from different backgrounds and have had different careers.

Two of the elements they have in common are their leadership and dedication to community service. They’re also friends.

Nominees are professionals in the age range of 21 to 40 who, for the past two years, have shown exemplary leadership throughout the region and are recognized for their long-term commitment to the betterment of the Kennebec Valley, according to the chamber.

One of the nominees has spent weekends volunteering with her grandparents at church. Another nominee is a retirement and estate planner who works with the Kennebec Historical Society. A third is a vocational rehabilitation counselor dedicated to healing others.

This year’s winner will be announced at the Kenney Awards ceremony, beginning at 5 p.m. Jan. 26 at the Augusta Civic Center.

ERIKA BUSH

Bush, the coordinator of private label marketing at NRF Distributors, credits her parents’ time as foster parents for giving her the inspiration to make giving back a way of life.

Bush, 29, is from Maine but studied advertising and public relations at City College in New York City. She was a co-founder of Hear the Hungry, a nonprofit organization focused on public education of homelessness during her senior year, and she moved back to Maine following graduation with a goal to help others feel connected to their community.

“It’s really about building this community of like-minded professionals who want to see this region grow and become more successful,” Bush said. “It’s something I’m really passionate about.”

Bush said after moving away for college, she decided to come back because she loves the community. She said it’s wonderful to see people come back and bring the skills they have and put them to use here in central Maine to make it a better place.

She said being nominated with two of her friends is interesting because it will make the night even more fun. Bush, Arbour and Merriam work together in a lot of what they do for the community, and vying for this award is the friendliest of competitions.

“I’m humbled to be nominated because a lot of the past nominees are people I look up to and respect,” Bush said.

When she can find the time, Bush maintains a lifestyle blog on self-exploration called “The Art of Getting Lost and Found,” and she’s a member of the First Impressions Team at Kennebec Community Church.

As for her future, she wouldn’t rule out a try at running for public office, but it isn’t something she is focused on.

“I’m just going to continue increasing our reach within the community,” Bush said. “Whoever wins, it’s not going to change our involvement, and we’ll continue to be involved and have each other’s back.”

JAC ARBOUR

Arbour had has first business when he was 9, but he was studying pre-med and dentistry at Bowdoin College when he realized he didn’t like the courses. He spoke with his mother, who advised him to think about doing something that would involve his love of banking, investments and entrepreneurship.

“She encouraged me to consider owning my own business, and I started my practice after graduation, offering fee-only investment advisory services,” Arbour said.

Arbour, 33, said he always has been naturally interested in the stock market and financial planning, and he said his passion is helping people grow their asset base and protect it so they can live their life the way they want.

“I think that’s what retirement should be about,” he said.

His service to the community includes working with the Friends of the Cobbossee Watershed, the Kennebec Historical Society and the Kennebec Valley YMCA. He said he often thinks about going to Cony High School basketball games as a boy, noticing the logo on the court and wondering what that company or person did to get that spot.

Arbour said everyone all has some amount of money and time that they should consider giving.

“Our community exists because people in the community care enough to donate (those resources),” he said.

He stays involved because he knows how important the community is and how new blood is needed to continue to grow the Kennebec Valley community. He said his fellow nominees are close friends of his and they’ll continue to work to build the community and make it stronger.

RACHEL MERRIAM

Merriam said she’s passionate about being a positive influence in the community and has long been interested in helping others. Her mother, a nurse who cares for people with special needs, was her mentor and taught her about hard work, love and compassion.

“My experiences helping her work with people with special needs inspired me,” Merriam said.

She has a bachelor’s degree in rehabilitation and disability studies and a master’s in rehabilitation counseling from Springfield College in Massachusetts, and she’s been a vocational rehabilitation counselor for eight years at the Augusta Career Center, where she assists people in developing skills, accessing assistive technology and with workplace training. It’s all about helping others, she said.

Merriam is on the boards of several local organizations, including Kiwanis for Kids, the Betsy Ann Ross House of Hope and the High Hopes Clubhouse; and she serves on a committee that helps the governor recognize people and businesses that give back to the community. She been an active fundraiser for groups including Free ME From Lung Cancer and wants to continue donating resources, time and energy to the central Maine and Kennebec Valley community.

“I’ve found a great deal of opportunity to volunteer and help out in the community, and I just love to give back,” Merriam said. “The community is growing, and for the last seven years, I’ve been involved in a lot (of that growth).”

Merriam, 36, said it doesn’t matter if she wins the award because she will continue her work in the community, as Arbour and Bush said, too. Despite working seven days a week, she finds time give back to the community and wants to add to her volunteering résumé, all while running a skiing and snowboarding league on the weekend.

“I just love giving back to the community and helping it to thrive and grow,” she said.

Donating money is one way to measure success, but ultimately, for her, donating time and energy is more important. She said her success is measured by how many people she helps.

Jason Pafundi — 621-5663

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Twitter: @jasonpafundiKJ