Sen. Eloise Vitelli receives an award at New Ventures Maine’s 45th anniversary celebration on Nov. 15. Duncan Persons photo, courtesy of New Ventures Maine

Sen. Eloise Vitelli has been named the 2023 recipient of the Merle Nelson Women Making a Difference Award by New Ventures Maine (NVME). The award was presented during NVME’s 45th anniversary celebration at the University of Maine at Augusta on Nov. 15.

The Merle Nelson Women Making a Difference Award was established in 2004 to honor the work of Merle Nelson, who in 1977 championed what she called the “economic fairness bill” designed to give women a “hand up, not a hand out.” Maine legislators Merle Nelson and Barbara Trafton sponsored the original Displaced Homemakers Program legislation.

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 NVME Executive Director Gilda Nardone, and former NVME Advisory Council member, Janice de Lima, Norway Savings Bank vice president.

“Eloise is a visionary and a risk-taker. She is also pragmatic, and she understands that change is not achievable and sustainable without building alliance,” Nardone said announcing the award. “She is an extraordinary strategic thinker, communicator, and collaborator who has both challenged and guided me to innovate and adapt over the years to our dynamic and changing economic and political climate. I believe she has done the same thing in the State Senate and in her own community and region, our state and beyond.”

Vitelli worked as an early childhood educator in Waldoboro, Nobleboro and Brunswick, as well as holding a training role developing curriculum and working with women entrepreneurs statewide while serving as director of programs and policy at New Ventures Maine for 38 years.


“Eloise has accomplished so much of benefit to so many people … she developed many of the NVME programs that provide guidance to aspiring entrepreneurs and people at life’s crossroads … programs that have a common theme of building self-confidence and self-reliance through practical learning,” de Lima said.

“This is an honor and a privilege. And I’m just so humbled to be here tonight to receive this award,” Vitelli said. “… I am so proud of every single one of the entrepreneurs that have been touched by the New Ventures training program over the years…there is an entrepreneur in every one of us, I firmly believe that — it just takes the empowerment and the opportunity to bring it out.”

Previous award recipients include Merle Nelson (2004), Ann Schonberger (2006), Betsy Sweet (2009), Mary Cathcart (2011), Mary Herman (2013), Mary Allen Lindemann (2015), Barbara Trafton (2019), and Gilda Nardone (2021).

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