The staff, volunteers, board of directors and of course, the kids, help make My Place Teen Center what it is. Individual stories combine to create a shared narrative which promotes growth, understanding and fosters bonds that last a lifetime.
We would like to share just a few of the many, many stories that help shape My Place today, and the area’s leaders of tomorrow…
Kaelyn, a 12-year-old from Standish, has been coming to MPTC since she first found out about the teen center when she came to one of the weekly community dinners served at MPTC.
“I just love it here,” she says, citing the staff and the other kids as reasons why she has been a fixture at MPTC every day after school for two years.
“If I weren’t here, I’d be sitting at home, bored.”
While she knew a few of the other kids before she started coming to MPTC, she has made a lot of new friends, too. She’s also uncovered some abilities she didn’t know she had through new experiences like hip-hop dance classes. “I learned that I was good at dance,” Kaelyn says with a smile.
Kaelyn wants donors and supporters of MPTC to know what a difference their gifts make.
“It gives kids a great place to have fun, do homework, be safe, and be themselves!”
Matt became part of MPTC in 2007 through a summer program designed to assist incoming sixth graders with the transition into middle school. Matt was recommended to participate in this program through the school’s social worker.
Upon first meeting, Matt presented as a bashful and quiet adolescent despite his large size. Matt’s physical development surpassed his peers so that he looked much older than he really was. Many perceived him as being strong and confident, but in reality he was much more child-like and immature.
Matt was part of a bike building program that sold the assembled bikes on eBay. Each participant was given a $75 gift card to Walmart. Instead of using the card to purchase the iPod he wanted, he gave it to his mother to use for necessary household items. Matt’s mother expressed her gratitude to the staff at the center for instilling good values in her son.
Matt has many interests including football, bowling, basketball, lacrosse, baseball, computers, video games, and listening to music. Yet, coming from a single-parent household of low socio-economic status, that adversity alone could divert him from making healthy choices or following his dreams. But Tobey stays strong and makes positive choices despite seemingly insurmountable challenges in his life.
At the MPTC Award Gala in September, Lexi Dearborn received the 180 Degree Award for the teen who has done the most to turn her life around. “I cried in front of hundreds of people,” Lexi jokes as she recalls the moment when she received the award.
Lexi admits that as a young teen living in Kennebunk, she spent time getting into trouble with her friends, though she liked school well enough. That changed when she and her mom moved to Westbrook, where her high school experience was not good and she ended up dropping out. Lexi started coming to the teen center to hang out and volunteer.
She notes that Donna Dwyer had a strong, positive influence on her from the start. “Donna liked my work, but she was not ok with the fact that I wasn’t going to school and that I was going down the wrong path,” Lexi says. They made a pact that led Lexi to earn her Graduate Equivalency Diploma (GED), gain confidence, making lots of new friends in the process.
“I wasn’t helping anyone,” Lexi says of the time before she found MPTC. “Now that I’ve helped myself, I can help others. I like being a role model.”
Lexi is now a staff member at MPTC, providing homework help, working on social and life skills, playing games, and helping new kids feel at home. She feels that the most important thing she and the staff do is helping teens find their own voice and solve their own problems. “I love connecting with and caring for people,” says Lexi. “I like showing the older kids how to turn [their lives] around. Once you start, it just clicks.”
Lexi says one of her career goals is to be like her mom, Tina, who is MPTC’s Director of Operations. “I like to stay busy.”
“MPTC kept me out of trouble and got me to finish my education,” says Lexi. “Today, I feel like a completely different person.”
Sarah became a member of MPTC at the beginning of the 2009 school year and was recommended to participate by a teacher whom she has a special bond with. Her teacher connected her with us as she found that Sarah needed extra support and guidance along with some positive role-modeling.
Upon first meeting Sarah, she presented as a tough, angry, yet sweet adolescent who was clearly in need of guidance. Sarah comes from a broken home and lives with her grandparents.
Sarah is subjected to a lot of bullying and harassment about her weight and overall appearance. In defending herself, she becomes quite hostile and is physically violent. The staff demonstrated alternative coping skills and role-modeled appropriate behaviors for her to emulate. Staff also connected Sarah with a mentor who spends a few hours with her each week to assist with increasing self esteem and providing positive reinforcement.
We have seen great improvement in her behavior and attitude since becoming a part of MPTC. We are proud of the steps she has taken and the work that she has done to better herself.
Hamza has been coming to MPTC for four years. A 16-year-old from Westbrook, Hamza says he found out about the teen center from a friend. “I thought it was pretty cool and I might as well hang out here,” he says.
He likes the variety of activities and the chance to hang out with his friends. “I have things to do here,” he says, noting that his favorite activities are playing basketball and video games. He also enjoys MPTC outings such as trips to Funtown in the summer.
“Here you feel like you’re part of a family,” says Hamza. “You don’t get left out. They really care about you and push you to create a positive future.”
Cherise started coming to MPTC when she was in the sixth grade. She is currently a junior in high school and has been to eight different schools in different towns since starting kindergarten. She seems to always end up back in Westbrook, which is where she calls home. When the staff first met Cherise, she was shy, nervous, and very fidgety. But, one thing was very clear, she wanted comfort and love, and to her, coming here, was like a having a real home and a real family.
To this day, in fact, Cherise still calls MPTC her real home and her second family. Tragically, Cherise’s mother and step-father have both struggled with drug addictions, jail-terms, and have been in and out of her life, leaving her with little parenting continuity or adult supervision. Her step-father has been emotionally abusive to her and physically abusive towards her mother. Cherise’s father has struggled with keeping a stable home and finding a balance with spending time with Cherise and his girlfriend whom Cherise states “is very jealous of me” and will not allow Cherise to have one-on-one time with her father.
Cherise and her family have been homeless on numerous occasions – living out of cars, couch surfing, and staying in motels. In fact, her current home, a motel, is the site of where her mother attempted suicide two years ago. That means that Cherise is staying in an interstate motel with her family in the very same location where Cherise discovered her mother half-dead from an overdose. One day this fall, Cherise very tremulously and quietly informed us that her family had not eaten for three days and asked if we could provide them with food and some other household items. And, her step-father, a week before Christmas, was arrested for outstanding warrants. Despite all this incredible turmoil, Cherise is a bright, shiny star and a delight to have around!