GARDINER — When Katherine Kollman took her seat Monday in the empty bay of the Gardiner fire station, she became part of an initiative that’s expected to define a series of goals the community will be working toward over the next 10 years.

The United Way of Kennebec Valley has joined with leaders across the region in the Kennebec Valley Goal-Setting Council to focus attention around three areas of concern — health, education and financial stability for those who live and work in southern Kennebec County.

As a soon-to-be empty nester, Kollman said she’s interested in finding a different avenue to contribute to Gardiner, the community where she and her family have lived for two decades.

“We’re very involved in our community and the direction it’s taking,” Kollman said.

So Kollman spent about an hour and a half at the first of four public conversations intended to identify what’s good about the community, what can be improved and strategies that could be used to make those improvements.

“We don’t want a United Way strategic plan,” Courtney Yeager, executive director of the United Way of Kennebec Valley, said Monday as the 19 people who turned out worked through the questions provided.  “We want to set communitywide goals, community-set and community-achieved goals in the next 10 years.”


The groundwork for this project was laid in December, when the United Way reached out to community leaders in the private, public and nonprofit sectors to gauge interest in the process.

“The resounding response that we got was ‘yes,'” Yeager said. “I probably talked to 30 to 35 leaders at the time. We’re not always moving in the same direction as a community. Everybody’s doing great work, but are we all doing it in the same direction?”

The group commissioned a series of white papers from Plimpton research to identify the demographics, data trends and existing needs for the region, which covers the southern half of Kennebec County, from Sidney and Augusta through Litchfield and Pittston. The white papers are available on the United Way’s website,

In addition to the community conversations, project organizers — including representatives from local government, businesses, nonprofits, social service agencies, and education from preschool through college — plan to gather more information through a survey available on the United Way’s website. That information will be used to develop goals and benchmarks that are expected to be announced in early 2022.

Yeager said the hope is that these goals will become part of the priorities that local governments, businesses and nonprofits set for themselves in the next 10 years.

Similar initiatives have been launched and are underway in Portland and in Bangor.


The second public conversation is expected to take place at 5:30 p.m. Thursday at the YMCA Camp of Maine in Winthrop.

The third meeting, via Zoom, will take place at 5:30 p.m. May 25. The final meeting will take place at 6 p.m. June 2 at Mill Park in Augusta.

Kollman, who is a small business owner, has plans that will keep her in Gardiner for the long-term, including a five-year plan for opening a boutique in downtown Gardiner for her business, Out of My Head Designs.

“I have always been involved in my community,” she said, “but now I am looking for a way to be involved outside my children.”

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