Unsung Hero: Jim Elkins of Scarborough, an ear for solving problems

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SCARBOROUGH — Jim Elkins is a rarity in today’s ego-driven, more-is-better, loudest-is-best culture. He’s the kind of guy who really listens to what you have to say. Really. Listens.

He came to Maine in 1975 by way of Ohio, where he grew up and went to college, and Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York, where he held a series of jobs. Each job tapped his abilities to engage people and solve problems.

Elkins held several counseling-oriented jobs in central Maine, before establishing his own private practice. When his wife Kathy took a job as a curriculum administrator in Wells, they moved to Scarborough and Jim continued his work as a career counselor.

“I tried to help people learn about themselves, make sound choices and find career satisfaction,” he said. In addition to serving individual clients, he was hired by a relocation firm to assist the spouses of executives when they changed locations. He conducted much of his business over the phone.

Around eight years ago, Elkins learned about Project GRACE, a Scarborough organization dedicated to “improving the lives of our neighbors by identifying both those in need and those willing to share their gifts, and coordinating the interchange in a compassionate, confidential manner.” The organization also works with its donors to provide back-to-school items and gifts or food during the holidays.

He contacted Project GRACE to offer his assistance and started out by helping deliver holiday items to families in need. In due time, he determined that his skills could be best put work answering incoming phone calls from Scarborough residents seeking assistance.

“Most calls concern the need for short-term financial assistance for expenses such as fuel, utilities, rent and food,” Elkins explained. “When people are in a real crisis, we serve as a referral agency.” His leadership skills soon led to his appointment as chairman of the granting resources committee, which handles those requests, and as a member of the board.

Mary Rollo, former executive director of Project GRACE said Elkins “is an unbelievable resource for us. His knowledge of different agencies is critical when dealing with people over the phone. We have many terrific volunteers, but Jim is in a category all by himself.”

Because of his fine work with Project GRACE, Elkins was the first-ever recipient of the Scarborough Terrace Assisted Living Senior Service Award. The award was designed to honor active adults 62 and above who are making a difference in the community. Under the terms of the award, the charity receives $500 and the honoree also receives $500. Not surprisingly, Jim Elkins turned his $500 award right over to Project GRACE.

Elkins is also on the Portland Regional Chamber board of directors, and he has been on several committees for United Way, an organization he has served for a dozen years.

Ever humble, he was reluctant at first to be interviewed.

In explaining his devotion to Project GRACE and other organizations, Elkins said simply, “I like to make an impact.”

Sidebar Elements

Jim Elkins at the Portland Regional Chamber on Congress Street, where he is a member of the board of directors. He is also chairman of the granting resources committee at Project GRACE in Scarborough.

Unsung Heroes

One in a series of profiles by Brunswick writer David Treadwell about people who quietly contribute to the quality of life in greater Portland. Do you know an Unsung Hero? Tell us: heroes@theforecaster.net.