WESTBROOK – The Mission Possible Teen Center in Westbrook and A Company of Girls in Portland are among 17 after-school programs that are scrambling to fill a funding gap since learning that they won’t get any money from the state this year.

Last month, the Department of Health and Human Services notified the programs, which each previously received $28,000 to $41,000 a year, that they won’t get any money this year through the Fund for a Healthy Maine.

The cuts are part of an effort that closed an $83 million shortfall in the DHHS budget this spring. Lawmakers cut $2 million for child-care services provided through the Fund for a Healthy Maine, with $654,000 coming from after-school programs.

The Fund for a Healthy Maine was created by the Legislature in 1999 to allocate the state’s settlement payments from the tobacco industry.

Therese Cahill-Low, director of the DHHS’s Office of Child and Family Services, said the department told programs in March that funding for after-school services for 12- to 15-year-olds had been targeted for elimination, but there was still hope that it could be restored.

“That was probably one of the hardest cuts I had to be a part of making,” she said.

Cahill-Low said she believes there’s “a lot of value” in the programs. Their executive directors agree.

Jen Roe said she’s still working to figure out how to save all of the programming provided by A Company of Girls, which offers theater- and arts-based after-school activities for girls 8 to 18 years old.

An expansion of programs that was planned to reach more girls cannot happen because of the loss of $28,000 in state funding, she said. Summer programming has already been cut for lack of money, Roe said.

“Our hopes are that all of this will lead us to be strong and more supported within and by our community,” she said.

The Mission Possible Teen Center, which lost $40,000 from the state and $10,000 from the city of Westbrook this year, has already had one community member step up to the plate in response to the cuts.

James Tranchemontagne, owner of The Frog and Turtle restaurant, is offering $10 gift certificates in exchange for $50 donations to the teen center.

For a $300 donation, Tranchemontagne will prepare a four-course tasting menu, with wine pairings, for a party of four. His goal is to raise $5,000 by the end of this month.

Tranchemontagne says a small investment in the teen center is a boon for society in the long run, because the center has proven to turn at-risk teenagers into productive adults.

The year-round program, for 10- to 18-year-old children, provides snacks and meals, help with homework, a hangout space and more to 500 kids a year.

Donna Dwyer, Mission Possible’s executive director, said 50 to 70 show up daily at the former church building on Main Street.

For some, she said, it’s a place to see friends and play pool. For many others, it’s their only option for dinner or refuge from a troubled home life.

Dwyer said the center gets plenty of donated food. It needs reliable funding, like the money that came from the state, to pay for utilities and the workers, who have taken pay cuts and forgo vacations so their co-workers aren’t overburdened.

On Thursday afternoon, dozens of kids were at the teen center, playing pool, coloring and eating snacks that they bought at the center’s store with points they earned by doing chores around the building.

Ten-year-old Taylor Carlsen and her 13-year-old half-brother, Zeke Stubbs, were playing games on computers. They don’t have a computer at home.

They said they found out about the teen center last winter and have been coming a few times a week ever since then.

Both said they get teased in school but look forward to coming to the center, where bullying isn’t tolerated.

“I can trust my friends here. I don’t have to deal with people picking on me,” Zeke said. “It changed my life.”

 

Staff Writer Leslie Bridgers can be contacted at 791-6364 or at:

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