The location stays the same, but there’s a new name for some familiar — and expanded programs — at 45 Granite St. in Biddeford, the home of  Apex Youth Connection, a name chosen by young people and unveiled late last month. Courtesy Photo by Alex Youth Connection

BIDDEFORD — More than 800 young people aged 8 to 18 from Biddeford and surrounding communities are aspiring toward the future, persisting through challenges and exploring the world around them.

And now the program that points young people down the path of success in their educational, work and community pursuits — for free — has adopted a new name that staff say more clearly defines the entity that used to be known as the Community Bicycle Center.

Welcome to Apex Youth Connection, launched late last month. Its name was chosen by young people, for young people.

The program’s motto is “aspire, persist, explore.”

The goal of Apex Youth Connection is to mentor youth: young people learn how to build a bicycle, how to run a business, and enjoy the big world outside, where they can explore their surroundings, say the five-member staff who work at the youth program at 45 Granite St.

An expansion, begun three years ago, which includes a program called Trek2Connect, continues, said Interim Executive Director Melissa Cilley. Adventures include outdoor experiences like camping, hiking and kayaking and excursions to college campuses and local work places.

The new name came after a survey showed young people weren’t connecting with Community Bicycle Center, said Cilley. People didn’t know what it meant, and some thought it was a bike shop. While there is one of those inside, the programs encompass much more.

Apex holds after school programs, school -based programs and summer programs, and has a youth cycling team, workshops, STEM classes and weekend excursions and field trips.

One focus that resonates in this era of an expanded economy and a shortage of employees is the work readiness program, which requires participants to show up on time, check in, get an assignment, and complete it, said Cliff Oliver, who operates the program that started in 2017. Now called the Apex Bike Factory, youth in two age groups — middle and high school — learn those skills, along with bicycle mechanics, customer service, salesmanship, photography and more. For the older youth, there’s an additional emphasis on job readiness, writing resumes and cover letters and getting references, he said. Those who take part earn stipends for their work.

This year, the young people repaired bicycles, checked their value online, and sold 22 of them at the Great Maine Bicycle Swap Meet, earning $3,278 to put back in the coffers and help support the programs.

Last summer, said Oliver, area bicycle shops were looking for bike mechanics, and because of their work at the bike factory, two young people landed summer jobs.

One young person told staffers because of his experience with Apex he knows what he wants to do once he finishes school.

“After this I want to go into the Navy and earn a degree in both mechanical and biomedical engineering,” Steven told the staff.

“Although Maine’s economy continues to expand vigorously, underlying demographic issues — specifically an imbalance of young, work-age people to older, near-retirement or retired residents — have been widely acknowledged as a substantial threat to the continuation of the state’s economic stability and growth,” said Cilley.

Apex Youth Connection has served 800 kids this year, up from 520 in 2018,  she said, at no cost to them or their families. Funding for Apex Youth Connection comes solely through grants and donations, she said. The average cost, per student, works out to $1.51 per day, and includes a healthy snack, as well as programming.

“Since 2001, we’ve served hundreds of kids on a shoestring,” Cilley said.

Kids who take part come from Biddeford, Waterboro, South Portland, Kennebunk and beyond.

The new name was chosen by students in grades three to 12 in Biddeford schools. They were given three words — apex, catalyst and ascent — and asked to pick one that sounded like a place they might want to visit. Apex won, and the additional works Youth Connection came naturally, because the center has always been about youth.

All programs have a community component, Cilley said, and youth have given back, by cleaning trails at Clifford Park, taking part in parades, volunteering at WinterFest and more.

“It’s about getting kids off screens and connecting with each other and the community,” she said.

Apex Youth Connection continues to accept bicycle donations, from 3 to 6 p.m., Mondays through Thursdays and 3 to 5:30 p.m. on Fridays.

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