Rose McDonnell, program director for the 21st Community Learning Center in Bath, works with student Lucas Leathers as he pets a horse. The program is part of the newly-branded Midcoast Youth Center. Courtesy / Jamie Dorr

BATH — The Midcoast Community Alliance and the Bath Youth Meetinghouse and Skatepark have announced a new joint brand, along with a new fundraising effort that kicked off Oct. 22.

The alliance and park are now collectively branded as the Midcoast Youth Center. The move reflects new and ongoing work that both groups have done in collaboration, according to Jamie Dorr. Dorr is the founder of the alliance and volunteered at the park, but now serves as the new center’s founder and executive director.

“We’ve had these two different organizations, and we’re just combining them to better represent what we’ve become,” she said.

Little about the center’s current offerings is changing with its new name. Technically, the skate park falls under the center’s nonprofit status, whereas it was officially owned by the city of Bath before, but Dorr said that’s the most significant difference. The more notable changes, she said, are in the programs that both the alliance and the park started up over the past year, such as:

  • The Merrymeeting Homeless Youth Project, which helps provide local homeless youths with shelter, food, clothing and medical/mental health care
  • 21st Community Learning Center, providing after school programs for area youths
  • Meal programs for children the center services and provided by local restaurants, community members and local organizations such as churches

Bob Gray, the center’s youth program coordinator, said he was particularly pleased the center  is also now functioning as a distance learning center. For local kids, spending only part of the week in school due to pandemic restrictions, Gray said, the center is a place where kids can do their schoolwork online.

“For us, we’ve realized how important it is to have this resource for our community,” he said.

It’s no different for the kids from connecting to remote learning at home, Gray said, but at the center, kids can work without the distractions they might have at home. Some kids, he said, can tune out video games and other family members better than others.

“I think it’s made a huge difference for kids who might have struggled at home,” he said.

Rose McDonnell, program director for the learning center, said her program is funded by a grant from the Maine Department of Education. Geared toward middle school-age children, the program is designed to offer after school educational activities for underprivileged kids. The program aims to help them improve academically in subjects ranging from science and math to art to literacy, but its goal is also to help kids improve their social skills and ability to interact with others.

Dorr said the center is funded by the city, along with annual partnerships with other organizations, private donors, and grants such as the department of education grant that funds the learning center, but this week the center is launching a new fundraising drive. Called the “15 to 30” campaign, the drive is looking to raise $15,000 by Dec. 31. If it meets this goal, Dorr said, an anonymous donor has already pledged to match that with another $15,000. Dorr said the public can make donations by texting the phrase 15to30 to the number 41444.

Lawrence Kovacs, foreground, a science and math teacher at Bath Middle School, leads kids from the 21st Community Learning Center on a bike ride over the summer as part of the program’s physical activities. The center is part of the newly-branded Midcoast Youth Center. Courtesy / Jamie Dorr

McDonnell said the learning center only began in July, so it’s too early to see what academic impact it has had, but already she can see how it has helped the children socially. One 13-year-old girl, she said, had a hard time expressing herself when the center first started working with her, and she frequently got frustrated and angry.

“She often would sort of erupt and storm off,” McDonnell said.

But now, that same child talks about her feelings, and even asks about how other people are feeling.

“She’s just grown leaps and bounds with her behavior,” McDonnell said.

Another boy, also age 13, McDonnell said, initially had trouble communicating at all.

“He had a really hard time opening up,” she said. “He was shy, he was withdrawn.”

Now, she said, he laughs, makes friends much more easily, and wants to spend more time exercising. Dorr said the new rebranding helps acknowledge the development of these and other new programs over the past year, an important recognition given the difficulties caused by the coronavirus pandemic in particular in 2020.

“Certainly this year has thrown a few things at our kids,” she said.

Heather Nolan said her son, Zachary, 11, a sixth grader, has been using the learning center since the beginning of the school year and, she said, it’s had a positive impact.

“He’s doing a lot better there than when he was in school last year,” she said.

Zachary, Nolan said, works better at the learning center because there are fewer distractions. Zachary also said the calmer environment works well for him.

“When I do my schoolwork, other people are quiet,” he said. “I feel like it’s better for me.”

Overall, he said, the program has been great for him.

“I really, really, really like it.”

Sean Murphy 780-9094

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