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October 23, 2018

Two central Maine nonprofits merge, creating one of region's largest employers

Penquis CEO Kara Hay has been serving as the CEO of the Charlotte White Center under a management agreement signed in November 2017. The two agencies announced they will merge, in a move to strengthen and expand services for individuals and communities they serve.

About Penquis; Charlotte White Center

Penquis has 400 employees and an annual budget (including subsidiaries and affiliates) of over $50 million. It helps, on average, more than 17,000 individuals annually and has been recognized for program quality and innovation, most recently receiving the 2018 Nonprofit of the Year Award from the Bangor Region Chamber of Commerce and the 2018 Rural Community Transportation System of the Year from the Community Transportation Association of America. The Charlotte White Center serves more than 500 individuals each year and employs more than 300, contributing more than $9 million in payroll into the local economy.

The merger of two central Maine social service agencies is expected to strengthen and expand resources for individuals and the communities served by the agencies.

The Charlotte White Center, headquartered in Dover-Foxcroft, will be merged with Penquis, Maine's largest community action agency, under the Penquis name. The merger will be finalized Jan. 1, 2019, according to a news release.

Together, the organizations serve 18,000 individuals annually and employ close to 700 people in Knox, Penobscot, and Piscataquis counties, making the unified agency one of the largest employers in both Piscataquis and Penobscot counties. The combined organizations bring close to $65 million in grant and philanthropic income to the region.

Penquis CEO Kara Hay has been serving as the CEO of the Charlotte White Center under a management agreement signed in November 2017. In the release, she said merger benefits include greater diversification of funding and services, economies of scale in services and systems, decreased administrative costs, and a continuum of services that support a wraparound approach or "no wrong door" to service delivery.

The merger is expected to provide a more integrated system of care that will enhance access to services, and provide future opportunities for the organization to add stability, be creative in creating solutions, and expand services.

Cynthia Freeman Cyr, president of the Charlotte White Center board of directors, added: "The comprehensive suite of services to be offered under the Penquis name will have a much greater impact than what either organization could accomplish on its own. The merger allows the Charlotte White Center's name to stay intact and grow within Penquis."

Longtime partners

Courtesy / Penquis
Courtesy / Penquis
Penquis, Maine’s largest community action agency, will merge with the Charlotte White Center on Jan. 1, 2019.

Reached by phone, Hay told Mainebiz the two organizations have worked side-by-side for years to improve access to services.

Hay said she came on as Penquis's CEO when longtime CEO and President Charlie Newton retired in 2014. Newton had been head of Penquis for 27 years, the Bangor Daily News reported at the time.

In 2016, after nearly 38 years at the helm of the Charlotte White Center, CEO Richard Brown announced he would retire. The Bangor Daily News reported that Brown was hired in 1979, starting as a cook and van driver. He was one of the last employees who personally knew the center's namesake, Charlotte Hudson White, who served in the Maine House of Representatives from 1962 to 1973 and devoted much of her time to increasing services for people with disabilities.

Before announcing his retirement, Brown "asked if I'd be willing to have a conversation with him," Hay recalled. "He realized we had been close sister agencies for a long time and there might be synergies. It was a perfect time to have those conversations."

The boards and leadership teams of both agencies began to think about aligning services "in a way that would create no wrong door for the community," she said. "The more doors you have, the harder it is to access services."

Aligning services and increasing efficiencies would free up money from administrative support and allow more to go to the people in need of services, she said.

The process of integration began a year ago when Penquis took on White's management in order to provide stability through Brown's retirement, she said.

The merger will allow capacity to increase across services and geographic regions, she said.

"The opportunities are limitless," she said. "We've brought 300 staff into Penquis and a great amount of expertise. Because of that, we think our capacity will grow pretty substantially."

Creating a 'one-stop shop'

Hay said the two social services agencies want to be "a one-stop shop."

"We're striving for anyone to be able to walk through our door, share their story and get access to any service they need," she said.

She anticipated the merger could mean more private foundation money and federal and state funding. It will also eliminate risk for Charlotte White Center services, which primarily depended on Medicaid.

"One big cut to Medicaid would have impacted their financial health," she said. "Penquis has diversified funding sources, which allows us to get through difficult funding times."

Penquis, established 51 years ago, provides a broad range of services that increase financial security, reliable transportation, stable housing, school readiness, and healthy, nurturing environments for youth and families.

Founded 39 years ago, Charlotte White Center provides residential, outreach, and counseling services to people affected by cognitive or developmental disabilities, behavioral or mental health challenges, domestic violence, or acquired brain injuries.

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