LEWISTON — When their twins boys arrived, Shawn Yardley, then a state child protective worker, and his wife, who had been a teacher, knew they couldn’t afford day care for two babies and a toddler.

She stayed home, they lived on one income, and for two years they qualified for the WIC — Women, Infants and Children — nutrition program.

“It really is a report back to the taxpayers on the investment you made in my family back in 1982,” Yardley, now CEO of Community Concepts, said Thursday in opening his breakfast talk to the Lewiston Auburn Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce at the Agora Grand Event Center.

Today, his oldest son has three college degrees — two from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology — and spent two years in the Peace Corps. One of Yardley’s twins is a teacher. The other is a pediatrician.

He’d argue it was money well-spent.

“It really is about making investments in people and that’s what we do at Community Concepts all the time,” he said.

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Yardley, who’s been in the job almost two years and commutes from Bangor, wove personal experience around social services and the idea of boosting community.

He grew up working in his grandfather’s store, worked at a paper mill out of high school and even once had a job as an elver fisherman, “before it became newsworthy and lucrative.”

He and his wife had a daughter after their twins; she went on to get a doctorate in molecular pharmacology. Thirteen years ago, as of Friday, they also expanded their family, adopting three girls, sisters ages 4, 5 and 8.

The oldest sister “had a lot of bad things happen to her,” Yardley said, but what still sticks out most for her from that awful beginning was being kicked out of a Head Start program for chronically having lice.

Head Start was the only place the then-5-year-old didn’t have to look after her little sisters and she could just be a kid, he said, a nod to the importance of that program. Something like being kicked out for lice wouldn’t happen today, he noted.

Moving to the topic of social services, workforce and poverty, Yardley said even he will sometimes catch himself asking, “‘Why do those people do that? Why did they not show up for work? Why did they quit their job?’ If you’re like me, a lot of times you’re not really waiting for an answer.”

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But there are reasons, he said. And society needs to listen.

It’s also not fair, Yardley said, when a family like his is clapped on the back for making the decision that mom should stay home with the kids, but when a family in poverty makes that same choice, it’s not considered a positive.

“What do we do about that? How do we work with them?” he said. “We have a lot of wounded people in our communities. If we don’t understand that, then how can we make sure that we can provide good training and the opportunities to be successful?”

He challenged local businesses to partner with groups like Community Concepts and help solve those workforce issues together.

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Shawn Yardley

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