The Kennebec Valley Organization (KVO) was created in 2005 by a diverse set of sponsoring organizations, including the Episcopal Diocese of Maine, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland, the Maine Conference of the United Church of Christ, and the Central Maine AFL-CIO Labor Council, concerned about the wave of plant closings, resulting job loss, and out-migration of young people from the predominantly industrial Kennebec Valley.
Since then KVO has built a broad and successful organization of religious congregations and labor organizations, and individual leaders which has had a significant impact on the people, institutions, and communities it represents. KVO organizes with the poor, the working poor, and their allies to bring about changes that will make Valley communities better and more just for all.
KVO leaders’ most recent accomplishment is to have linked volunteer driving networks, congregations, labor unions, and direct service organizations to win the bipartisan support of our state legislative across blue/red lines to support LD 1248, which would provide first-ever public funds for resources to help volunteer driving networks carry out their critical role in helping isolated seniors and others gain access to healthcare, food at supermarket prices, and other resources.
In recent years KVO has played a key role in statewide alliances by winning critical bipartisan legislative votes from the Valley that have led to: a) an increase in the state minimum wage from $7.50 per hour to $12.00 per hour by 2020; b) an additional $2 million in state Head Start funding over gubernatorial opposition, benefitting hundreds of Valley children and their parents; c) an increase in home healthcare workers’ wages; and d) funding for the construction of elder congregate housing.
KVO also brought the two Valley hospitals together with KVCAP to win increased funding for local transportation, and brought SEARCH (Seek Elderly, Alone, Restore Courage and Hope) to the Valley, an organization that matches volunteers with area elders to help lessen the effects of isolation many elders deal with. KVO’s early work led to NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) training for first responders from 11 Valley police and sheriff departments.
KVO is a member of the InterValley Project (IVP), a cooperative community organizing network made up of KVO’s sister organizations across New England, that provides onsite support for leaders and organizers, as well as regional leadership institutes and monthly organizer meetings. IVP also raises common funds for use by member groups in programs such as the IVP New Organizers Program through which its member groups are diversifying their staff to reflect the racial and ethnic make-up of their communities and encourage the development of organizers from their own communities.
Governance of KVO
KVO is an organization of congregations, labor union locals as well as the Friends of KVO, which provides a way for individuals to join and participate in KVO. Its member organizations are grouped into two regional chapters. Chapter meetings are held as frequently as needed to take action on issues of immediate concern.
KVO’s governance system is structured to build leadership and create issue campaigns based on the ongoing engagement of scores of leaders from our member groups. The KVO Executive Council, made up of four officers and two chapter and two issue team representatives, meets monthly to make strategy decision, shape the budget, and hire and oversee the work of a Staff Director/Lead Organizer. Its decisions can be reaffirmed or overturned by a twice per year Delegates Assembly, made up of representatives from each KVO member institutions. A yearly KVO Issues Assembly reviews current campaigns and considers proposals for new issue priorities, based on a listening campaign in each member organization held prior to the assembly.
Membership in KVO
KVO is an organization of congregations, community, and labor organizations. These are represented in KVO through delegates who participate in KVO’s Annual Convention, Delegates Assemblies and elect officers to oversee the day-to-day work of KVO. Organizations pay annual membership dues based on their size.
With the dramatic increase in the numbers of elders in the Valley and the outflow of younger Valley citizens who move on after high school to college or work out of the area, the Valley’s elderly population as a proportion of the total is among the highest in the nation.
The flow of recent immigrants into Augusta and Waterville is particularly important to counteract the loss of elders and young people.
With the loss of skilled, union-represented manufacturing jobs over the past two decades, the growing number of poor single parents and their children is striking.
KVO’s organizing combines these three constituencies and their local and statewide religious, labor and community allies.
KVO issue campaigns grow out of our listening campaigns, which KVO conducts regularly with its member groups. Each member group encourages the participation of its own constituents in these listening campaigns. These meetings identify potential new leaders, issues and build relationships among leaders through sharing and listening to each other’s stories. KVO public actions and annual conventions, through direct organizing (i.e., holding meetings to explain the urgency of the issue), as well as through leadership institutes hosted by KVO are other ways that we reach and gather our community.
Underlying KVO’s explicit social change goals is the implicit goal of strengthening communities by bringing diverse people together around their common values, teaching them how to gain the power to organize for justice by learning leadership and organizing skills, and sustaining and strengthening a powerful and diverse regional community organization. The religious diversity of our membership forces us to truly focus on that which unites rather than divides us.
Specific KVO campaigns also target economic institutional injustice, empowering community members to take an active role in redressing inequities that have been entrenched for lifetimes and longer. In prioritizing our work, we place an emphasis on projects that restore dignity and political power through leader-led organizing campaigns—while winning jobs, affordable housing, and critical health care and other services. Our successful organizing, which connects people across ethnicity, class and geography, builds community at a time of growing separation in American life.