MPTC fundraising targets expansion to Biddeford

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WESTBROOK — Two decades after starting a program to provide a safe after-school space for area youth, My Place Teen Center’s new fundraising campaign earmarks funds to open a second location in York County.

My Place Teen Center’s $6.5 million campaign includes plans to convert 9,800 square feet on the bottom floor of the former St. Andre’s Catholic Church in Biddeford into a center for youth 10 to 18. It hopes to open that site by July of 2020.

My Place Teen Center President and CEO Donna Dwyer said $350,000 is needed to install a commercial kitchen and outfit the Biddeford center. She said $5.5 million is needed to fund the Westbrook center between now and July 2020 and the Westbrook and Biddeford locations between then and 2023. The capital campaign also includes $650,000 to operate two vans, covers maintenance upkeep at the two facilities and creates a reserve account as well. 

Dwyer said $2.7 million toward the effort is allocated through grant funding the center regularly receives. The rest, she said, must come from additional grant, foundation and individual contributions.

“We are reasonable assured and can confidently say, we have $2.7 million in funding so far,” Dwyer said.

The Biddeford site will be modeled after the Westbrook operation, which provides upwards of 70 children a day free year-round academic and life skills programs and dinner. The two locations, while laid out differently, cover approximately the same footprint.

“Expansion has always been part of our strategic plan, so we are thrilled to partner with Biddeford’s mayor and Housing Authority to bring year-round, no-barrier services to a new city,” Dwyer said. “The positive relationship developed with city leaders and a similar demographic and landscape between both cities makes this an easy leap for our organization.”

Biddeford Mayor Alan Casavant said a My Place Teen Center in his city will supplement other programs there aimed at meeting the needs of teenagers.

“Biddeford already has some entities that deal with teenagers and they do a great job. I think My Place Teen Center will complete the circle and bring other activities and programs that fulfills the needs of additional teenagers,” Casavant said.

Casavant said 17% of Biddeford families live at the federal poverty rate and 62% of children in the school system receive free or reduced lunch. Homelessness is also a growing concern, he said, because rapid development in the city is driving rents up.

“When you look at that level of poverty and everything else families face, often times there are kids that need mentoring or need food because they are food insecure. Donna’s programs deliver that,” Casavant said.

The expansion into Biddeford, which is scheduled to be completed by July 2020, is, according to a press release, part of My Place Teen Center’s attempt “to counterbalance the devastating effects of poverty, food insecurity and the opioid epidemic with protective factors and safe environments.” 

“We see Biddeford as an area that could benefit from the type of programming we provide at My Place Teen Center,” Dwyer said. “My Place Teen Center has the programming in place to provide a safe place where teens can gather after school, learn about themselves and their role in the community, eat a warm meal and feel safe and loved.”

Discussions with Biddeford began in 2014 when My Place Teen Center was approached by city officials there about how they could replicate an operation of like My Place Teen Center. Three years later in 2017, the discussion shifted to how Biddeford officials could help the center open a location in their city.

St. Andre’s Church closed in December 2010.  The former rectory houses a high school alternative education program. Its convent and school have been converted into housing. My Place Teen Center will be operating in the space for free through an arrangement that still needs to be ironed out with Biddeford Housing Authority, the owner of the property.

Dwyer said that arrangement is expected to be some sort of long-term lease or an arrangement where My Place Teen Center would own the space, but the housing authority would still own the building.

Michael Kelley can be reached at 780-9106 or mkelley@keepmecurrent.com or on Twitter @mkelleynews

My Place Teen Center, at 755 Main St., Westbrook, provides academic and life skills programming for youth and wants to set up a second location in a former church in Biddeford by July 2020.

Westbrook’s My Place Teen Center has embarked on a $6.5 million capital campaign to expand programming to a second location at the former St. Andre’s Church in Biddeford.

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