Partygoers bid high and often at Wednesday night’s 6th annual auction to benefit STRIVE at Ocean Gateway in Portland. The party attracted more than 300 guests and served up a considerable assortment of silent auction items that included everything from lamps and tables to restaurant gift certificates and travel packages, plus 17 big-ticket live auction items sold at the end of the night.

According to Noreen Savage, who chaired this year’s auction committee, the total value of the items up for bid was more than $40,000.

In between enjoying drinks and hors d’oeuvres and chatting with friends, guests were focused on bidding on the silent auction items.

One such guest was Bill Ryan, the chairman and CEO of Banknorth Group.

When I caught up with him in the midst of the silent auction tables, Ryan said, “Life has been pretty good to me, so it’s nice to give back, and there’s no better organization than STRIVE.”

He then excused himself to head back to the tables, saying, “Let me go bid on some more items.”

Sounds like just what the organizers of the party wanted to hear.

Peter Brown, STRIVE’s director, is one of the people who was happy to see the crowd intent on bidding in support of the nonprofit.

“We serve 11- to 25-year-olds with developmental disabilities,” Brown told me. “Our goal is to get people to be as independent as possible in the community through social, educational and employment training.”

He went on to say that “our goal is by the time they’re 25, we have them connected to the community.”

Since the rates of autism have been skyrocketing lately, I wasn’t surprised to find that many of the party guests had a family member living with the condition.

Mary Chris Bulger of Falmouth said her 22-year-old autistic daughter has benefited tremendously from STRIVE’s programs and particularly enjoys the Friday night socials.

Along with her husband, Paul Bulger, Mary Chris was instrumental in creating the privately owned E Street condo in South Portland for young adults with special needs. Parents buy the units and pay the monthly fees, with help from Supplemental Social Security payments and Section 8 housing vouchers. The building is the first of its kind in Maine, and according to Mary Chris, has been a success for all involved.

Barbara Smith Gulino of Cape Elizabeth said STRIVE has also served her autistic son well.

“He got involved with the Friday night events,” Gulino told me. “They’ve done a really nice job.”

She added that STRIVE really fills the need for programs geared toward tweens, teenagers and young adults.

“There really isn’t any organization in the state that caters to young adults” with developmental disabilities, said Chris Cameron, who serves on the STRIVE steering committee.

His fellow steering committee member, Aric Walton, agreed.

“I graduated high school with one of the first STRIVE U students,” Walton told me. “If you don’t have a program like this, you have a lot of individuals who are in the state system.”

A little past 8 p.m., after all the silent auction tables closed, we all gathered at the front of the room for the live auction, with MPBN’s Jennifer Rooks serving as emcee and Jason Briggs, who heads STRIVE’s parent organization, PSL Services, handling the gavel.

Before the competitive bidding got under way, we had a chance to hear from two young people who’ve benefited from STRIVE.

“I’m living successfully in my own apartment,” Caitlin Kilarney told the crowd. “My favorite thing about STRIVE is going to the Friday night events.”

STRIVE participant Niels Doughty then climbed onto the stage to offer his assessment of the organization.

“STRIVE is a safe and fun place to be,” Doughty said. “The staff is really nice and cool. I think tonight’s event will really help spread the word.”

These personal testimonials seemed to get people in a generous mood to the point where guests were not only bidding against each other but also against themselves.

When the price for the catered lobster bake for eight soared to $650 with two bidders, lobster supplier Wayne Perry offered to donate another identical package, which also sold for $650.

This prompted Briggs to observe, “Only in Maine would someone pay $650 for lobster. President Obama, the recession is over.”

When the gavel fell on the last item, the organization had raised more than $40,000.

I assume most bidders share the sentiment of Priscilla Simmons of Yarmouth, who told me STRIVE “is a great program. They do wonderful things with the kids.”


Staff Writer Avery Yale Kamila can be contacted at 791-6297 or at:

[email protected]