Cheryl Golek wants to draw on her experience with poverty and social services to effect change in the Legislature.
Harpswell Neck Democrat Cheryl Golek hopes to use her firsthand experience with poverty and social services to effect change in the Maine House of Representatives.
Golek is one of two candidates for the Democratic nomination in Maine House District 99, which encompasses Harpswell and part of Brunswick. A primary on June 14 will determine whether she or Great Island financial planner Sheila Menair runs in November.
Stephen “Bubba” Davis, of Cundy’s Harbor, is the only Republican candidate. All three hope to replace term-limited Rep. Jay McCreight, D-Harpswell.
Golek grew up on Thomas Point Road and Perryman Drive, in the Cook’s Corner area of Brunswick. “I come from generational poverty,” she said.
She attended Brunswick High School but didn’t graduate. “I spent several years on the streets as a young teenager,” she said.
She entered the workforce at the age of 12. For years, she labored at a variety of low-income jobs — farmhand, convenience store clerk, newspaper delivery driver, restaurant worker.
She had two children in her early 20s and became mired in the social services system. “I understand the ins and outs to all of that and all the broken steps in the ladders to try to climb out of poverty,” she said.
“Climbing out of poverty and figuring out how to get an education and establish a career is difficult,” Golek said. Advice to “pull up your bootstraps and tighten your belt” oversimplifies the problem, she said.
Golek did make the climb, however. She credits hard work, luck and “a lot of good people” for her change in circumstances — as well as social services, despite the problems with the system.
“I would never be where I am today without a lot of help from the social service system,” she said.
As a result, she knows from experience that social services can help people escape poverty and that flaws in the system — like the “welfare cliff” that occurs when a person finds a job and immediately loses benefits — can keep people in poverty.
“We have to allow people to earn money, acquire things and save in order to get out of poverty,” she said.
For Golek, who is deaf, an advocate with vocational rehabilitation services helped her obtain her GED diploma and her first set of hearing aids, “which changed my life,” she said.
Golek would like to see “individual support plans” for people in poverty. “Not everybody’s poverty-related issue is the same,” she said.
Golek already advocates for people in poverty, on issues like health care and affordable housing. As a member of the Maine Equal Justice Partners’ Circle, she has learned “how to use my voice to create change in Augusta,” she said.
She has testified before legislative committees and served on the Legislature’s Commission to Increase Housing Opportunities in Maine by Studying Zoning and Land Use Restrictions, which issued a report in December.
The report suggests eliminating single-family zoning restrictions statewide, among nine recommendations. Golek believes it will “bring some needed affordability to housing in our state.”
Golek’s advocacy goes back earlier, to the early 2000s debate about a proposal for a liquefied natural gas facility on Harpswell Neck. Golek said she sided with fishing families who opposed the plan.
“I was very proud of being a part of the grassroots community that closed the door on a liquefied natural gas facility being built in our town,” she said.
Golek has completed candidate training through Emerge Maine, a program that recruits Democratic women to run for office; and the Maine AFL-CIO, a federation of labor unions.
Golek first moved to Harpswell in 1986, into a trailer on Basin Point Road. She was working at Estes Lobster House in South Harpswell, where she met her partner of 27 years, Johanna Wigg. Golek returned to Cook’s Corner for a time before relocating to Harpswell permanently around 1995.
Golek and Wigg founded The Vicarage by the Sea in 1998.
The building on Curtis Cove was previously a bed-and-breakfast run by Wigg’s mother. Golek and Wigg, a social gerontologist, transformed it into The Vicarage by the Sea “with the hopes of creating social change for those living with memory impairment,” Golek said.
“We live here 24/7 with our clients,” Golek said. She does a little of everything at the business, from personal care to development of individual support plans.
Golek has two adult sons and two young daughters. She enjoys family outings and outdoor activities, like boating, fishing, camping and gardening.