Strive marked 20 years of serving Mainers with intellectual disabilities the same way its members so often spend Friday nights – with uninhibited joy on the dance floor.

Noel Thompson was among the 380 people at the anniversary gala Jan. 25 at Portland Sheraton at Sable Oaks. Wearing a tux and posing for photos with his parents, he talked about his apartment, his job cleaning at World Gym, the podcast he helps produce (STRIVEcast) and, most of all, his friends. A 39-year-old with Down syndrome, Thompson has been an active Strive member since the beginning.

“It was once a month, then twice a month and then the organization just blossomed. Our lives would look very different without Strive,” said his mother, Paula Thompson.

Since the first drop-in teen night, when just four members showed up, Strive and its umbrella organization, South Portland-based PSL Services, have grown to offer more than a dozen social and educational programs to help more than 1,000 people live more fulfilling and independent lives.

The anniversary gala included a surprise tribute to Associate Director Peter Brown, who, as Strive’s first employee, set up that first sparsely attended Strive night two decades ago.

“We know the journey has been long, and often trying, and the never-ending quest to fundraise can be tiring beyond belief,” said Program Coordinator Olivia Fraioli. “In a field that often is overlooked, understaffed and misunderstood, your dedication to this organization and the people we serve has never, ever wavered.”

Some of the tributes came from longtime members, including Thompson. “Peter, you have changed many people’s lives by creating Strive,” he said. “I am a better man because of you.”

Several of Strive’s hundreds of volunteers were honored with awards, including Participant Volunteer of the Year Robert Mendillo, a Strive member who collects recycling, helps with meal prep and makes sure everyone knows about fundraisers.

Peggy and Jim Cloutier were named volunteers of the year; she helped establish a ukulele camp, and his law firm does pro bono work for Strive.

Bangor Savings Bank, which teaches classes about money management to Strive members, was named business of the year.

Program Director Whitney Wildes presented the award for “volunteered” of the year (meaning someone who was given a nudge to offer up their time) to her sister, Anna Wildes, who volunteers most Wednesday and Friday nights.

Distinguished service awards were presented to auction organizer Donna Roggenthien and to The Lunder Foundation, which awarded Strive a multi-year challenge grant for $300,000 in 2019.

Amy Paradysz is a freelance writer and photographer based in Scarborough. She can be reached at [email protected]


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