Jamie Dorr, left, of Midcoast Community Alliance, and Donna Verhoeven of Merrymeeting Project announced a new partnership last week to reach more teens through after-school programming. Contributed

BATH — An expanded effort is being made to combat youth homelessness and increase suicide prevention through a partnership between Midcoast Community Alliance and the Merrymeeting Project.

The new partnership has allowed a case manager who previously worked for Merrymeeting Project to be rehired after grant funding from the Maine Department of Education fell through last fall, causing Merrymeeting Project to shut down.

According to MCA founder Jamie Dorr, the youth partnership has raised $30,000 of its $45,000 goal since efforts began last month to pay for Donna Verhoeven’s salary.

The funds will also pay for other expenses needed to help teens in need around the community, including enrolling students in driver’s education, getting copies of their birth certificates, paying for equipment for school sports and phone cards.

Verhoeven already works with homeless youth through her job as a case manager for Regional School Unit 1 and School Administrative District 75, Her responsibilities will now extend to Bath’s Teen Center at Bath Youth Meetinghouse & Skatepark on Old Brunswick Road. She said after-school programming will allow her to connect with a different population of students she does not often see during the school day.

“It is part of any natural development for youth to feel connected to the community,” Verhoeven said in an interview Aug. 21. “We’re here to offer any support that kids need, whether it is navigating them to support or getting them to participate in community events. It has always been my dream, that we can do much more to help students after school to open their hearts and minds and to offer them a sense of support with healthy community connections.”

The Merrymeeting Project began in 1995 as a way to help homeless students better navigate their everyday lives. Services were previously housed under Tedford Housing, RSU 1 and MSAD 75.

“The fact that the funding was lost and her position would be cut really left schools scrambling,” Dorr said during an Aug. 19 interview. “This is an incredible resource that we’ve had for over 20 years, so it was critical to be able to fundraise and ensure that she can continue to meet students where they are and help them with a number of resources.”

Dorr said, “I think the community is recognizing us as a fast-growing youth resource in the area.

“I love it because people will call to see what we can do for their children. We have a community that’s really committed to providing support to our youth.”

Midcoast Community Alliance was founded in July 2016 by Dorr after the community saw a number of youth suicides. At the time she was a volunteer at the Bath Youth Meetinghouse & Skate Park.

“The young people that we have lost to suicide always seemed to be happy and smiling,” Dorr said. “I had watched some of them grow up at the skate park and it was really alarming to me that we could have missed that as a community. I just wanted to work as a community to make sure that it didn’t happen again.”

There are over 30 organizations that work with Midcoast Community Alliance, including law enforcement agencies, local school systems, mental health care facilities, health care facilities, churches and community members. All volunteers that help out at the Teen Center are trained in youth mental health first aid, a program offered by the National Alliance on Mental Illness Maine and Midcoast Hospital.

While the Teen Center does not employ therapists or counselors, the staff is trained to connect teens with appropriate professionals to get them the help they need.

“It is an unbelievable group of people dedicated to making sure that our young people had a place to go or turn if they were feeling suicidal,” Dorr said.

“Just working with the kids is inspiring,” Verhoeven said. “Hearing their stories and the things that they overcome is incredible. I learn so much from them and this is an opportunity for the community to listen and hear what the kids need.”


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