BIDDEFORD – As Jim and Tanya Hodgkin walked down Water Street recently, their three daughters ran ahead to the door of the Joyful Harvest Neighborhood Center.

Knocking on the door, 8-year-old Isabelle Hodgkin said, “Is Joyful open yet?”

Isabelle has attended the nonprofit’s various programs regularly for the past four years. On this day, she was there for the center’s garden program. “It’s an excellent program,” said Jim Hodgkin.

In a neighborhood that he and his wife described as “harsh,” the center keeps school-age children off the street. Their three daughters participate in programs and their two young sons can’t wait to be old enough to visit.

“This place gives them a safe place to come,” said Tanya Hodgkin.

But a significant financial shortfall is threatening several programs, said Executive Director Shay Stewart-Bouley.

There’s a $20,000 shortfall in the annual budget of about $60,000, Stewart-Bouley said. The center’s after-school program will continue, but the center may have to cut evening programs like financial literacy for teenagers and cooking classes.

“Joyful Harvest is a full-service agency that runs on very little, but after over a decade, our future is not quite as joyful as it once was,” Stewart-Bouley said.

Joyful Harvest started as a church outreach program in 1995 and was incorporated as a nonprofit organization in 2001. The faith-based center focuses its programming on youths and families, especially residents in the surrounding neighborhood, which is primarily subsidized apartment housing with a lack of green space for children to play.

The center’s garden and small playground are an oasis, tucked between two apartment buildings. Just feet away, a trash bin is overflowing.

More than 300 children, most from families at or below the poverty level, participated in the center’s programs in 2010, said Stewart-Bouley. About 35 children come daily for the center’s after-school program, which includes a healthy snack, help with homework, and activities that range from playing in nearby Mechanics Park to craft projects.

The annual operating budget has increased by more than $20,000 in the past three years, but Stewart-Bouley said costs have risen faster.

Rent and utilities run about $1,200 a month, and the center has new food costs because donations from the Stone Soup Food Pantry have dried up. The center had to add to its staff when it had a drop in volunteers. Stewart-Bouley said she is paid for only about half the hours she works.

The budget is funded mainly by grants, donations and $15,000 from the United Way of York County. Donations as of this week totaled about $8,300, down from the $10,000 that the center received in the last fiscal year. The center plans a yard sale Oct. 1 to help close the gap.

The community garden has become part of the center’s summer program, which offers camp-like activities five mornings a week.

The Hodgkins’ daughters helped pick large, ripe tomatoes and zucchini, but appeared more fascinated by worms they found in the soil. A bucket with their harvest was nearly full, holding healthy snacks for the center.

Heather Rose, a volunteer, said that in the past two growing seasons she has seen the children, and even the surrounding neighborhood, take pride in the garden.

“There’s a sense of community built through the center,” she said. “Joyful Harvest is committed to the garden. … They follow through for the interest, safety and benefit for the kids.”

Before they left their children at the center, the Hodgkins said they would be sad if the center couldn’t afford to stay open.

“It’s part of their life now,” said Tanya Hodgkin. “It’s kind of like a second family.”

Staff Writer Emma Bouthillette can be contacted at 791-6325 or at:

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