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Updates Set for Teen Center

Originally Posted: Thursday, December 12, 2013 9:22 pm

By Andrew Rice arice@keepmecurrent.com

WESTBROOK – My Place Teen Center, a growing resource for Westbrook children to receive hot meals and after-school services, is in the process of raising more than $463,000 for renovations to its aging building, located at 755 Main St.

The center, which celebrated its 15th anniversary in May, hopes to replace siding, renovate interior walls, and overhaul its kitchen.

So far, the center has raised $210,000, thanks in large part to $100,000 in grants from both the Cornelia Warren Community Association and Hannaford. In addition, the contractor, Kevin Whitney of Mod-Set Inc., of Topsham, is donating $100,000 in labor and materials, cutting the $563,000 job cost down to $463,000.

Almost half way to the goal, Donna Dwyer, executive director, said she hopes all renovations can be completed by fall 2014.

The 146-year-old building, which is the former United Methodist Church, was updated for its transition to the center in 1998. But the building hasn’t had any significant renovations since then, despite the center’s growth.

Dwyer, who has been executive director of My Place since June 2011, said Monday that ever since she came on board, it was apparent that the building needed serious renovations.

For the past two-and-a-half years, she has been working on construction bids and securing grants for the project. She hopes that the two grants will make it more attractive for additional organizations to support the project.

The first major improvement, to the building’s aging roof, was completed three weeks ago. Dwyer said it was a timely fix just before winter weather hit.

“According to the contractor, we were one significant snowstorm away from a real problem,” she said.

Dwyer said that although the Cornelia Warren Community Association has provided funds to the teen center in the past, the organization was willing to match the grant provided by Hannaford, as well as to provide My Place with a fundraising challenge in order to gain matching funds for a new van.

“We transport between 1,500 and 2,000 pounds of food a week, and we also give kids rides home at night,” she said. “But we’ve been limited in what we can do.”

The Cornelia Warren Community Association, named after the late daughter of Samuel D. and Susan Warren, was established in 1925 from a trust left by Cornelia Warren, who died in 1921. During her lifetime, Warren provided many gifts to the city, and the association has continued to fund projects, including renovations to the Westbrook Community Center in 2010.

Eric Blom, a spokesman for Hannaford, said Tuesday that the Hannaford Charitable Foundation focuses its giving on donations that will make a difference in communities, especially if the chosen organization impacts youth or education.

“We felt that the work the teen center is doing with young people is incredibly valuable,” he said. “The teen center is obviously a strong contributor in the community in both these regards.”

Last year, My Place Teen Center served 14,000 meals, including meals for teens and the center’s weekly public supper, and while the service is supported by other local organizations, the building’s kitchen isn’t keeping up with growth.

“The kitchen has become inadequate for the current level of need,” Dwyer said.

Dwyer added that on average, the center is feeding between 30-40 kids every night, on top of roughly 150 served every Wednesday. The kitchen has only one stove and a collection of aging refrigerators. James Tranchemontagne, owner of Westbrook’s Frog & Turtle restaurant, who cooks meals and hosts culinary classes at the center on a weekly basis, said Wednesday that while the building’s kitchen has been reliable, it can’t meet the need.

“The unfortunate reality is that more and more people seem to be going into poverty, and the needs are greater and greater,” he said. “As far as renovations, the next logical step would be to have a kitchen that can produce to the need that we have.”

Other phases of the renovation to come next will be repairs to the cracking “horsehair plaster” that makes up the walls on the main floor, where teens lounge on couches or play pool and other games. Dwyer said work on the walls is set to begin on Dec. 17, with work on the foundation to follow. Dwyer said the kitchen makeover will have to wait until more funding is in place.

According to Dwyer, My Place receives roughly 16 percent of its funding through the city and the United Way of Greater Portland, while more than 80 percent comes from grants, and individual and corporate donors.

The center also recently received $5,000 grants from Disability RMS and the Morton-Kelly Charitable Trust.

“When we apply for funding, ‘no’ means ‘yes,’ ” she said. “I just have to keep trying because I have 522 kids propelling me to keep on trying despite the odds.”

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