AUGUSTA — To say Rob Gordon’s 33 years leading United Way of Kennebec Valley were transformative for the organization would be accurate.

In his time at the helm, the nonprofit doubled the number of organizations it helps fund to more than 50, has seen its annual fundraising campaign reach its highest figure ever last year, at $1.75 million, and seen the number of area residents helped by its partner organizations reach 22,000 people — 31% of the population of the Kennebec Valley.

But to Gordon it’s not necessarily about big numbers. To him, as he often says, it’s about helping one person. One child. Or one family. And how doing just that can lift up the entire community.

He recounted the story of a woman who was homeless before someone told her about the Augusta Community Warming Center, where she went to stay warm. There she also ultimately found help, through Bridging the Gap, getting an apartment, warm clothes and a blanket. She then returned to the warming center, to volunteer.

“She was very much alone in the world, then someone told her about the warming center,” Gordon said. “So, in our community, we now have one less person who is lonely and cold. And now she’s volunteering at the warming center.

“That strengthens the entire community, it makes the world better in some small way,” he added. “It’s a fabric and we all work together to make it stronger. If you contribute to the United Way, you’re the person giving this woman a blanket.”

After 33 years of connecting empathy to need, Gordon, 71, is retiring from the United Way of Kennebec Valley this week.

He said he will miss his job and the satisfaction that comes from leading an organization that helps so many by tapping into the generosity and empathy of area residents to help their neighbors in need.

“It’s tremendously powerful, rewarding work,” Gordon said. “It’s all about that sense of empathy that brings people together. I don’t know what a community would be like without those sorts of empathetic connections.

“I have a great sense of gratitude to the community and the hundreds of volunteers who have given to it,” he added. “I’m grateful for the relationships and the profound needs we’ve filled, working together.”

Mark Johnston of Manchester was chairman of the United Way of Kennebec Valley in 1986 when the organization searched for a new executive director, but didn’t find anybody amongst the applicants they thought could do the job. Then someone, Johnston doesn’t recall who, suggested looking at Gordon for the job. They interviewed him, were impressed and hired him.

Johnston, himself a volunteer with numerous area organizations and former president of Kennebec Savings Bank, said being part of hiring Gordon was his greatest accomplishment.

“He infiltrated the community in a way I think few people could do,” he said of Gordon. “Community functions, he got to them all. He’s been extraordinary. We couldn’t have asked for anyone better to fill that position. He’s Johnny-on-the-spot.

“In some cases he is asked to get involved in situations, in other cases he jumps in and tries to find ways to help,” Johnston added. “The warming center is a good example. He was instrumental in getting that moving. He sees a need and tries to marshal resources to help with that need.”

The warming center opened in 2009, and was managed by the United Way as a collaboration of MaineGeneral Health, the city of Augusta, and several area faith-based organizations. At first it was open a few hours, then expanded its hours and opened up every day of the week, to provide a warm place for residents to come during the day. The center later transitioned to become part of Bridging the Gap, a nonprofit group which receives funding from the United Way and which also now houses a clothing bank and essential items pantry which began at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church.

Bridging the Gap is one of more than 50 partner organizations to get funding from the United Way from funds raised in its annual fundraising campaign. They include: Kennebec Valley YMCA food banks in Augusta, Winthrop, and Gardiner; Bread of Life Ministries’ homeless shelter and soup kitchen; Meals on Wheels; Capital Area New Mainers Project; area Head Starts; Boys and Girls Clubs of Kennebec Valley; the Children’s Center; Big Brothers Big Sisters of Mid-Maine; MaineGeneral’s Hospice Support Program; Crisis and Counseling; and Legal Services of the Elderly.

Gordon said over the years there has been a shift in donors and the fundraising campaign, from one that previously focused on workplaces and getting smaller donations from numerous area workers, to one more focused on individual, larger donations. Part of that change, he said, has been because there are fewer large employers in the area.

But he said the area community remains very generous. In 2018, the annual fundraising campaign brought in $1.75 million, the most in the 64 years of the United Way of Kennebec Valley.

In 2000, Gordon worked with local businesses to start a Day of Caring, in which area students get out of their classes for a day to undertake service projects in the community. The first Day of Caring involved only the sophomore class from Cony High School in Augusta. The event has grown to now include 5,200 students from 17 schools.

Gordon said the bigger goal of the Day of Caring, beyond getting students to, say, paint a town gazebo, is to instill a sense of volunteerism in area youth. That is something he hopes will remain with them for their lifetime and inspire them to give to their community as adults.

“Every Maine community depends upon volunteers, so how do you keep that base (of volunteers) growing and evolving?” Gordon said. “The concept of a Day of Caring is for a young person to get a sense of accomplishment, to think ‘I can do something for the community, what I do is valued and needed.'”

An open house-style celebration of Gordon’s 33 years of service is planned Thursday from 4-7 p.m. at the Senator Inn in Augusta. The event is open to the public but those interested in going are asked to call the United Way ahead of time at 626-3400.

Gordon lives in Bowdoinham with his wife, Cathy, and has two adult stepchildren and four grandchildren. Originally from Keene, New Hampshire, he came to Maine after working at a Boston hospital in the field of mental health and substance abuse treatment.

In his retirement, Gordon plans to spend time with family and travel, but said he thinks he still has “the time and energy to invest in the community in the future, but I’m not yet sure what that will be.”

Rob Gordon and Courtney Yeager on Wednesday at the United Way offices in Augusta. Gordon is retiring from the United Way, and Yeager will take over his executive director role. Kennebec Journal photo by Andy Molloy

Taking over as executive director will be Courtney Yeager, currently the United Way of Kennebec Valley’s resource development and marketing director.

Gordon said he’s confident Yeager is up to the job. He said she has greater organizational skills than he has, by far.

Yeager, 29, of Brunswick, has worked for the organization for three years and previously worked for Crisis and Counseling.

She said she is honored to be taking on the role, is passionate about fundraising and she is not taking the task of leading the important organization lightly.

“Rob has been a tremendous mentor to me in a lot of ways,” Yeager said. “Rob has led this organization so strongly and for so long I really hope we can build on that legacy.”

Eric Lind, a United Way board member and Augusta city councilor who has known Gordon for 27 years, said when he thinks of Gordon he thinks of someone with integrity and honesty, yet who remains humble.

“You couldn’t have done better, you’re a great leader and a great person,” Lind said to Gordon last week when councilors issued a proclamation declaring Aug. 8 to be “Rob Gordon Day.” “When the community has an issue, I look to you like a lighthouse. When something happens in the community you guide us through the water.”

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.


  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.