Brianna Guptill started going to the Boys & Girls Club in Portland five years ago, when she was in eighth grade. At first it was just a place to hang out in the summer whenever she wasn’t taking care of her younger siblings while her mom was at work.

Then she joined the basketball team, and the cooking club, and the Keystone Club community service group. She knew the club’s activities were better than drinking, doing drugs, shoplifting and other “inappropriate things” that might get her into trouble. She grew to be a leader among her peers, which was recognized this year when Guptill was named the 2016 Local Youth of the Year for the Portland Clubhouse.

Over time, the clubhouse on Cumberland Avenue became a refuge for Guptill, who is now 18 and a graduating senior at Portland High School. The club has proved to be even more important in recent months, after she moved to a friend’s house to escape an increasingly chaotic home life.

“I come here every day right after school and stay until 9,” Guptill said last week at the clubhouse. “A lot of kids who come here, their home life isn’t the best. For me, the club is a second home.”

Guptill exemplifies the young people who will benefit from a recently completed $3 million fundraising campaign by the Boys & Girls Clubs of Southern Maine, which includes clubhouses in Portland, South Portland and Auburn. The nonprofit organization also operates satellite clubhouses at the Riverton and Sagamore Village public housing complexes in Portland.



The Great Futures Campaign responded to recent growth in overall club membership, which increased 6 percent last year alone, from 2,700 members in 2014 to 2,850 members in 2015, said Annie Messinger, spokeswoman for the clubs. Membership among teenagers, ages 13 to 18, increased 9 percent during the same period, from 1,183 to 1,288 members, she said.

One reflection of the clubs’ growth is their Healthy Meals program, which served 91,000 meals and snacks in 2015 – 34 percent more than the 68,000 meals and snacks served in 2013, Messinger said. The Portland clubhouse – where average daily attendance has increased from about 125 members five years ago to more than 200 members today – serves about 130 meals per day.

“The good news is that we’re growing,” said Kathy Coster, board president of the clubs. “The flip side of that is we always need more resources, more staff and more volunteers. And we need to grow our partnerships with other youth service organizations. That’s how we’ll serve more kids.”

Volunteer mentor Jeremy Law of Cape Elizabeth works with children in the Exploration Station science and technology learning program at the Boys & Girls Club in Portland. Kelley Bouchard/Staff Writer

Volunteer mentor Jeremy Law of Cape Elizabeth works with children in the Exploration Station science and technology learning program at the Boys & Girls Club in Portland. Kelley Bouchard/Staff Writer

The $3 million is funding a new education director hired to expand academic success programs at each location, as well as a youth resource coordinator at the Auburn/Lewiston Clubhouse, technology center staff at the South Portland Clubhouse and a part-time grants coordinator who will bring additional resources to the overall organization, said Bob Clark, chief executive officer of the clubs.

Educational programs introduced under the Great Futures Campaign include a debate team, an academic bowl and a Power Hour after-school homework assistance program designed to build reading, writing and math skills, Clark said.

Transportation provided by the clubs has been a significant driver of membership growth. To further that effort, Evergreen Subaru donated $25,000 toward the purchase of a new van for the Auburn/Lewiston Clubhouse, and the former Sunrise Rotary Club funded the purchase of a new van for the South Portland Clubhouse, Messinger said.


The campaign also funded repairs to the swimming pool at the Portland clubhouse, the creation of dedicated teen space at the South Portland clubhouse and security improvements to the front entry and reception areas at the South Portland and Auburn/Lewiston clubhouses, Messinger said.


Christian O’Brien, 18, is the 2016 Local Youth of the Year for the Auburn/Lewiston Clubhouse and was named the 2016 Maine State Youth of the Year by Boys & Girls Clubs of America. He’s a graduating senior at Lewiston High School and plans to study physical education at the University of Maine at Presque Isle.

“The club has given me my life today,” said O’Brien, who now works part time as gym coordinator at the Auburn/Lewiston Clubhouse. “A lot of teens travel down the wrong path. All of the staff and volunteers and mentors who have helped me through the years have been great.”

Brianna Guptill doesn’t work at the Portland Clubhouse, but she puts in plenty of hours as a role model and goodwill ambassador, helping staff members dole out snacks, assisting other members with their homework and negotiating squabbles between younger kids.

“I feel like some of the kids think I work here,” said Guptill, who works weekends as a clerk at a nearby Rite Aid Pharmacy.

Guptill plans to attend Southern Maine Community College and hopes to work with children in the future, possibly at the Portland Clubhouse. She won a $1,000 alumni scholarship from the club that just might help her get there.

“Brianna has overcome a lot of circumstances in her life,” said Jen Pierce, unit director of the Portland Clubhouse. “What makes her special is her drive to be successful. We want all these kids to be successful. This club has to be a place where they can fulfill their dreams.”


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