Liz Cotter Schlax is known for building community. It's her role as the President and CEO of the United Way of Southern Maine, and it's also in her veins. Having grown up in Maine, she understands the unique assets and challenges of our great state. I'm honored to know her and to feature her in the Maine Women's Project.
My name is Liz Cotter Schlax. I'm the President & CEO of the United Way of Southern Maine.
I have worked my whole career building community and that’s what I’d like to be known for.
The first word that comes to mind to describe Maine / Portland is authentic.
One Mainer who has inspired me is Senator George Mitchell. He’s from my hometown of Waterville, so he was someone I’ve heard about for so much of my life. Not only did he ably serve the people of Maine and our country as Senator and then Senate Majority Leader, but also he was instrumental in brokering peace in Northern Ireland. He has done important things for the world, as well as for our country and state. I think we need to care about what’s going on in other parts of the world and to understand that international events have important local ripples and sometimes, waves.
How to effectively use our vast resources to address our big challenges is one thing confronting Maine and Portland. People are struggling right now. And we have great ability to tackle these issues. But we need to come together intentionally and in partnership to thoughtfully direct our resources to solve challenges like hunger, homelessness, widespread poor youth mental health, and access to quality, affordable child care.
Portland / Maine’s greatest asset is the diversity and talents of our people. We have such varied experiences and talents among our population. How can we harness those to improve our community and state?
There are many ways that I hope that we grow over the next five and more years. We need to stop digging into entrenched positions and put a lot more focus on our shared values and interests. I believe that we all want people to be safely and affordably housed. We all want kids to grow up safe and with a quality education that prepares them for independent, happy lives. Every person benefits from a strong community, so every person needs to see themselves as an integral part of building and maintaining a strong community, with whatever resources they can bring to the table. The responsibility is on all of us—government, the nonprofit sector, businesses, philanthropic organizations, and the people of our community. And these diverse voices at the table—people from different perspectives, offering solutions with a shared purpose—are essential to addressing the complex challenges we’re facing.
What are your favorite local spots?
The variety of arts venues at all levels inspires me. That includes galleries and museums for the visual arts, local artisans, and the performing arts venues from high school, college, community theater, and professional music and theater offerings. Supporting the arts is one of my favorite things to do in Maine.
My favorite outdoor spot is Morse Mountain! It’s a wonderful little hike with a beautiful private beach at the end. We have some great memories there with our family and friends.
What are your thoughts on what makes women’s leadership unique and how Maine women can work together to create impact?
I think that women leaders tend to be good listeners and can bring together varied perspectives to get a job done by building and valuing relationships. I love working with so many caring leaders—many of them women—in our region, for the benefit of everyone who lives here.
Maine is home to me because I am lucky enough to have grown up in Waterville. Like many young people, I left the state when I was eighteen. Over the years, I thought about coming back, but I believed the myth that it’s not possible for two working spouses to build careers they care about. Then I had the opportunity to come back to Maine to lead our local Portland-area United Way and my husband was also able to continue in his professional career as an engineer. I am so lucky that my children have had the opportunity to grow up in Maine, as I did.