Roots and Wings: Gilda Nardone


Our Executive Director, Gilda Nardone, has dedicated her whole life to helping Maine people achieve economic security. We would like to thank Gilda for giving career & passion to New Ventures Maine.

Read or listen to Gilda’s remarks from the Deborah Morton Award Ceremony to learn more about her story.



“I would like to add my heartfelt thanks for this honor.


In thinking about my remarks for today, the theme that kept coming to me was Roots and Wings—roots to remind you where you’re from and wings to show you what you can become.


First the roots.  I was born and grew up in The County and just celebrated my 50th High School Reunion from Presque Isle High School with my classmates.  We were a working class family; my father was the wage earner and my mother a homemaker, although she was the one with a college degree.   From both of them, I learned the values of hard work (having picked many potatoes), respecting the earth (they were both great gardeners), and the value of family and community.  The woman who had a major influence in my life was my aunt Gilda, my father’s sister, who taught physical education and coached high school women’s sports, long before Title IX, and after whom, obviously, I was named.


When I was in the 8th grade about to enter high school, my parents told me they did not have the resources to send me to college, so I took a combination of business and college courses.  Ironically, my Dad died suddenly from a heart attack my senior year, and our family was then eligible for financial aid.  I received a full scholarship to what was then Westbrook Junior College and started my academic career on this campus.  I will be forever grateful to Westbook, now UNE, for opening possibilities to me.


I began to develop my wings in the years after graduation from Westbrook.  I was living in Boston and Cape Cod, MA and drawn to and into to the second wave of the Women’s Movement in the early 1970’s.  I began to view my own life experience and the world from a broader lens.  I worked as a secretary and then as a day care teacher, both careers affected by the 59 cent wage gap at that time.  I completed my Bachelors degree through UMass’s University Without Walls program which allowed credit for my paid work in early childhood education and volunteer work in women’s studies.


Another door of possibility was opened when I was accepted into Wheelock College’s Masters in Educational Administration program and awarded a graduate assistantship.  I moved back to Maine in 1978, a year after state legislation for services to Displaced Homemakers was initiated and passed by two other notable Debbies–Rep. Merle Nelson and Rep./Sen. Barbara Trafton, and I was hired as the first paid staff person for the new pilot program.


When my colleague Eloise Vitelli and I met in a “Counseling Women and Girls Over Their Life Span” class at USM shortly after that, I don’t think either of us could have conceived that advocating for the economic security of Maine women and girls would become our life work.  My experience with displaced homemakers helped me understand and value the homemaking role of my mother and maternal grandmother, both of whom became young widows, who had to learn how to transfer their skills to the paid labor market.  Much has changed with regard to the role of women and the Maine economy since we began delivering services 38 years ago, and our organization and our work has evolved over those years.


How did and do we help women and men develop their wings?  We provide information about career and education options, expanding their horizons about what they can become and the steps to get there.  I am particularly proud of the work we do with middle and high school girls through our Totally Trades Conferences, including one in Presque Isle, giving them hands-on experience taught by female role models in trade and technical career fields.


Our second area of focus is microenterprise or small business development.  We help aspiring entrepreneurs to plan, develop business and financial skills and networks, and start and grow their businesses in communities across the state.


Third is financial education.  We believe it’s important for women and men to understand where their attitudes and beliefs about money come from, to manage their financial resources well no matter how small, to think beyond today and plan and build assets for their financial future, including education and retirement.


The fourth area is leadership development.  As women’s lives become more secure, we encourage them to move beyond themselves and contribute their skills to their communities and state, whether that is learning how to talk with a Legislator, serving on the Board of a local nonprofit, or running for public office.


My own leadership wings have been stretched and nurtured in many ways but I think most important was the opportunity to serve in New England and national leadership roles for two women’s employment and training organizations—Women Work! and Wider Opportunities for Women.  Being able to travel to our nation’s Capitol, interact with Congress, and visit many other states enriched what I was learning and helped me appreciate what we have in Maine.


Despite our accomplishments, there is still more work to be done for women, particularly women of color, to earn a wage equal to their male counterparts, for family-friendly workplaces to support the role of mothers and fathers in raising healthy children and caring for elderly parents, for education to be accessible and affordable and not leave graduating students burdened with debt, for older women to be able to be economically secure in their later years.


In closing, I want to circle back to roots and wings.  Two of my favorite stories are Miss Rumpius by Barbara Cooney and The Man Who Planted Trees by Jean Giono.  Miss Rumpius, as many of you know, planted lupine seeds to create beauty in Maine and in the world.  Elzeard Bouffier planted acorns which grew into trees and transformed a barren landscape in Provence.


I would ask each of you to think about what seeds you have planted that have taken root to make a positive difference in your family, your college, your community, your state.  How has or can your leadership help you and others to grow and develop their wings?


Thank you again for this recognition.  I accept in honor of my family, my staff colleagues and Advisory Council over the years, and our graduates/Ambassadors who have taught me and us so much about acknowledging their roots and unfurling their wings!”