LEWISTON – An Auburn man who combined his interest in helping people with the resources of his Hatch Road farm received the top volunteer award of the United Way of Androscoggin County on Wednesday morning.
“This is one busy man,” said Joleen Bedard, executive director of the local United Way chapter, as she presented the Geneva Kirk Award to Gabe Couture.
Couture gives countless hours of volunteer time to bring comfort and aid to those who are very young, in their golden years or somewhere in between, said Phoebe Lowell, program director for Catholic Charities of Maine’s SEARCH program, Seek Elderly Alone, Renew Courage and Hope.
“What I enjoy most is meeting so many volunteers who do so much good,” Couture said. “I am accepting this for all of them.”
Born in Lewiston in 1935, Couture was a teacher in Massachusetts and New York before returning to Maine in 1991.
“Gabe describes himself as addicted to junk auctions,'” Lowell said, but his bids often win items such as bags of stuffed animals for kids that he donates to charitable programs.
For SEARCH’s “Birthline” effort, Couture picked up, over time, more than 100 outgrown cribs. He took them to another volunteer for reconditioning and then made them available to needy new mothers, often using his own truck to deliver them.
Through the Refugee and Immigration Program of Catholic Charities of Maine, Couture helped Togolese families find furniture and set up apartments in Lewiston.
“His skills as a handyman were invaluable” for all kinds of yard work and home repair for the SEARCH program, Lowell said.
Couture makes his farm available for client picnics and to allow Androscoggin Head Start and Child Care youngsters to see farm animals.
When the house of a neighbor, who is a widow, was destroyed by fire, Couture worked with other neighbors and volunteers to build a new house to replace the uninsured one.
“He routinely gives eggs laid by his own chickens to the Good Shepherd Food-Bank,” Lowell said, “and he has been giving bread and eggs for 15 years to a person in need.”
Couture is a long-time volunteer and board member of the Maine Franco-American Genealogical Society. Much of his research is collected in a library at the Great Falls School building in Auburn.
He is also a member of the Stanton Bird Club and he often works with his chain saw to clear areas at Lewiston’s Thorncrag Bird Sanctuary.
The United Way’s Jim Phillips Award went to Judge John Beliveau, founder of the Family Drug Court in Androscoggin County.
Bedard said Judge Beliveau spends many hours reviewing cases and counseling families, and he also holds frequent dinners for foster parents.
Maine’s first lady Karen Baldacci addressed attendees at the awards breakfast held at L-A College Wednesday morning. She outlined many elements of literacy efforts around the state, emphasizing the success attained from introducing reading to children at an early age. She described a program through which physicians give a book to a child on each visit.