Presentation of Women Making A Difference Award, from left, Merle Nelson, Gilda Nardone, Barbara Trafton. Courtesy of Mouse Island Creatives

AUGUSTA – Gilda Nardone has been named the 2021 recipient of the Merle Nelson Women Making A Difference Award by New Ventures Maine. The award was presented at a celebration of Nardone’s 43 years as NVME executive director at the Senator Inn in Augusta on Dec. 8.

The Merle Nelson Women Making A Difference Award was established in 2004 to honor Merle Nelson who in 1977 championed what she called the “economic fairness bill” designed to give women a “hand up, not a hand out.” The award recognizes an individual who has had a positive impact on the lives of Maine women and their families. That is central to the core mission of New Ventures Maine: Helping Maine people succeed in the changing economy and achieve economic security for themselves and their families.

The award was presented by Merle Nelson and Barbara Trafton, both Maine legislators who sponsored the original Displaced Homemakers Program legislation.

“No one deserves this award more than Gilda,” said Nelson. “For 43 years she led the program with skillful leadership, humor and wisdom, empowering thousands of Maine women. I am proud of her and the work she has done. We had a vision in our legislation; Gilda made it into reality. Bravo!”

Trafton added, “Forty-three years ago Gilda was handed a newly enacted statute and a few thousand dollars, but with vision, leadership and heart, she created a statewide organization that has transformed the lives of thousands of Mainers. We celebrate Gilda for all her good work and know that she will continue to make a difference in the years ahead.”

In her years as executive director, Nardone has guided the organization in its establishment as Displaced Homemakers beginning in 1978, as it grew into Maine Centers for Women, Work, and Community in the mid-1990s, and as it became New Ventures Maine in 2015. Throughout her tenure, Nardone has been an advocate for women pursuing career changes, entrepreneurial opportunities, and financial literacy. She will retire as of Dec. 31.

“It is an honor to be among the recipients of this award,” said Nardone. “They have inspired me beyond measure in my life’s work to make a difference in Maine.”

Previous award recipients include: Merle Nelson (2004), Ann Schonberger (2006), Betsy Sweet (2009), Mary Cathcart (2011), Mary Herman (2013), Mary Allen Lindemann (2015), and Barbara Trafton (2019).

In video remarks shared at the event, U.S. Sen. Angus King, R-Maine congratulated Gilda Nardone on the award, saying, “It’s impossible to express what you’ve meant to Maine people … you’re receiving this award as a capstone to an extraordinary career … Gilda, you’ve made such a difference for Maine. It’s an honor for me … to thank you on behalf of all of the people of Maine and, especially, those thousands whose lives have been changed by the work that you’ve done.”

The mission of NVME is to help Maine people succeed in the changing economy and achieve economic security for themselves and their families. NVME achieves its mission by providing training and individual coaching in planning careers, starting businesses, and managing money and building assets. New Ventures Maine is a statewide education and economic development program of the University of Maine at Augusta, University of Maine System, an equal opportunity/affirmative action institution. For more information, visit