When Rob Gordon came to the United Way of Kennebec County more than three decades ago, it was not necessarily his intended path.

While working in Brunswick in an alcoholism recovery program, he had become a very involved volunteer with the United Way. He had, he said, caught the fever for the United Way value system and its method of bringing people together. So when a friend suggested suggested he apply for the director’s job in Augusta, he did.

And now, Gordon, 72, is being honored by the Kennebec Valley Chamber of Commerce as the winner of the 2020 Peter G. Thompson Lifetime Achievement  Award.

Gordon will be honored Friday at the Kenney Awards, the chamber’s annual recognition event. The black-tie event will be held at the Augusta Civic Center.

Rob Gordon, who retired from the United Way of Kennebec Valley in August, is being honored by the Kennebec Valley Chamber of Commerce as its 2020 Peter G. Thompson Lifetime Achievement Award winner. Kennebec Journal photo by Joe Phelan Buy this Photo

“It was a humbling surprise, because I have known and worked with many of the previous recipients, who are people of quite some stature who I respect and admire,” Gordon said.

He said he considers the award affirmation of the work the United Way of Kennebec Valley and its committed volunteers have done during the 33 years he worked there.

“I really learned a lot about generosity and thoughtfulness from the people I worked for as board members and as volunteer — the corporate business leaders of the Kennebec Valley,” he said. “We really do have a special place.”

Among the initiatives of which he is most proud is the Day of Caring, which gives public school students a chance to volunteer in their communities. It started small but has grown to 17 schools in the region.

“It had the support and backing of a number of companies and organizations — most specifically E.J. Prescott, G&E Roofing and Kennebec Savings Bank and others who have really supported that financially in addition to everything else they do for United Way,” he said.

The program, he said, is critically important. Every community in Maine depends on adult volunteers.

“How do people prepare to  take a volunteer role in their community?” he said. “The whole Day of Caring thing is an effort to introduce young people to the concept of being a volunteer, to realize they have something to offer to the community, that the community needs what they have to give and their gift to the community is very important.”

By the time students graduate from high school, Gordon said, they have had some experience working together as volunteers and they can eventually take on more substantial and longer-view roles in their community.

Michael Tardiff, vice president of marketing at J.S. McCarthy Printers, took part in Days of Caring when he was in high school.

“I’ve seen it come full circle with United Way,” Tardiff said last week. “That experience and a lot of other things I was exposed to growing up in the area and with a family that really takes volunteering and community involvement seriously really did bring me back looking for some way to get involved, and the United Way was there.”

The Days of Caring, he said, gives students a chance to see the impact of their work on their community.

“A little work goes a long way,” Tardiff said. “We painted a fence and we raked leaves. We did things around town that you can notice. You can drive by that thing you worked on and say, ‘I had a part in that.’ They do a good job plugging kids into things that are not only important to the community but also visible to the kids.”

Gordon said it is a very different program from the fundraising the United Way does to support the 52 programs that help people in the region at all stages of life, from early childhood through hospice care, and with programs for senior citizens and programs that provide mental health care and substance abuse treatment.

“I’m really pleased to have the chance to work with the 27 or 28 major sponsors last year,” he said.

Gordon, who lives in Bowdoinham with his wife, Cathy, is a New Hampshire native whose parents encouraged him to take part in community activities.

He studied at Springfield College and Boston University, before starting work in an alcoholism treatment program at Boston City Hospital. He continued that work after he moved to Maine in 1975. Two years later, he volunteered to lead the United Way campaign at his workplace.

From 1986 to 2019, when he retired, he worked to expand the number of organizations the United Way funds in the region, doubling the number in that time to more than 50. An estimated 22,000 people receive services through those organizations.


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