Transformation Project behind, but optimistic

Ken Hawley, the director of the Transformation Project, needs $250,000 to plans to convert 907 Main St. into a cafe for the community and into housing for juvenile offenders who have transitioned out of Long Creek Youth Development Center.

WESTBROOK — With a quarter million dollars still needed, final renovations at the Transformation Project are expected to start next month, nearly a year later than expected.

Ken Hawley, the director of the Transformation Project, said he hopes construction can start by the end of January and that the organization can be operating by spring. The faith-based organization works to successfully transition juvenile offenders from Long Creek Youth Development Center into society.

The Transformation Project will house a few young men upstairs and there will be a cafe downstairs where they and other juvenile offenders will work. Hawley said he had expected the organization, located at 907 Main St., to be open by now.

“I honestly thought it’d be easier to raise funds with this vision,” he said.

In January 2017, Hawley had said he expected the organization to be open to the public and housing youth by spring. In July, he estimated it would be open by December. On Dec. 21 he said $250,000 is needed to start renovations in the building.

Discover Downtown Westbrook, previously called the Downtown Westbrook Coalition, was involved in the Transformation Project’s start, but there has been a “less concerted effort” lately. Executive Director Abigail Cioffi said that’s not because of lack of support. Rather, she said, the organization is waiting for an official fundraising campaign, such as a Kickstarter or Go Fund Me, so they can direct people to it.

“We’re still incredibly supportive of them and are excited for them to open,” she said. “It’s such a unique model. It’s a huge need and it’s a huge addition to a community to have a place for youth coming out of lockup.”

The project has raised a fair amount of money over the past year. In July it was the recipient of $10,000 from 100 Men Who Care, whose members meet quarterly to donate $100 each to a charity. Hawley said the Transformation Project also has $100,000 pledged from donors. He said all of the money will go towards transforming the empty space into an operational cafe with a kitchen and seating area, as well as apartments for the men.

Until the additional $250,000 is raised, Hawley said the pledged money won’t be spent. 

“We want the donors to know that the money they give us is earmarked for our build-up,” he said.

A lot of the work that’s already been done in the building, such as clearing it out and reconfiguring the layout, has been completed by volunteers and people working pro bono. Hawley said the project has “been given astronomical amounts of free labor.”

He said the architect, general contractor and subcontractors are in place and awaiting the green light to start working. Once the funds are secured, the cafe will be the first thing built. Hawley said it’s important for the community to see and interact with the young men who will be living and working there.

“This gives the community an opportunity to engage with these young people and I think this allows the community to help them transition successfully,” he said.

Hawley said the community will benefit from the program as much as the juvenile offenders will because it will help stop the cycle of incarceration. He said he hopes the cafe, as well as the theater space that will be built in the back of the building, will help changes people’s perspectives. Many people hold negative stereotypes of juvenile offenders, he said, and he wants to show that the young men can be productive members of the community.

“Our vision is to educate the community,” Hawley said. “I don’t think the community understands how valuable and precious these lives are.”

Cioffi agreed that the project will be mutually beneficial. She said the young men will also be involved in volunteer projects and community events in Westbrook where they will be able to interact with residents.

“I think the more the community can connect with these kids, the more they’ll see that these kids just need a little help,” Cioffi said. “Lack of connection is part of the reason they ended up in Long Creek in the first place.”

Once the cafe is built, construction will begin on the apartments and then the performance space. The Transformation Project will house two to three former Long Creek residents to start, but has room for up to eight people. The four bedrooms, as well as two bathrooms, a dining space and a living room, will be on the second floor. Housing will be available only to males who are at least 18 years old.

The second floor also has an apartment for a house parent who will be responsible for overseeing the residents. That person will live there full-time, but will be allowed to hold a day job. This person will help hold the young men accountable and help keep them on track. 

“I think the best way to help young people in trouble is to provide a home structure,” Hawley said.

Successfully transitioning the young men out of lock-up is very doable, Hawley said. He said he hopes other people understand the importance of the project and will welcome the young men into Westbrook.  

“I personally think these lives are worth investing in,” he said. “These people are worth it.”

Kate Gardner can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or Follow her on Twitter: @katevgardner.

Ken Hawley, the director of the Transformation Project, needs $250,000 to plans to convert 907 Main St. into a cafe for the community and into housing for juvenile offenders who have transitioned out of Long Creek Youth Development Center.