My Place Teen Center President and CEO Donna Dwyer says that while having the children back in the building has lifted spirits, she is concerned about the center’s financial ability to serve their needs. Chance Viles / American Journal

WESTBROOK — My Place Teen Center has happily reopened its doors to its young members after shutting down in March because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Meanwhile, a looming $300,000 budget shortfall and a donation dropoff has the organization worried about its future.

The center pivoted in the first days of the pandemic from an after-school haven for students to supplying thousands of free meals a month to Westbrook residents. The volunteer staff was cut back by “dozens” to six out of safety precautions, said Executive Director Donna Dwyer.

“We are working as hard as we can, sometimes 70-hour weeks, to help those we wouldn’t before,” Dwyer said. “We are serving the city. We are really worried about our future.”

The teen center has provided 28,082 free meals over the past seven months. It also offered meal delivery, which cost about $48,000 monthly, she said, including rental van costs. It switched to only curbside meal pickup in September, at a monthly cost of $18,000.

Evan Jewell goes over the inventory of meals before service hours at My Place Teen Center in Westbrook. The meals they hand out, Dwyer said, also come with food pantry staples and hygienic products. File photo

Dwyer estimates 20% of the MPTC’s meals went to elderly residents. Other meals went to people in financial need and the city’s homeless population, she said.

At the same time, financial donations dropped off considerably during the pandemic.


“We are not seeing donations coming in like we used to and that is concerning,” Dwyer said.

The city, for example, cut $60,000 in its My Place Teen Center funding as a result of the pandemic.

Those types of reductions amount to a third of the center’s budget and have outweighed any grant money received, Dwyer said. Even when things return to normal, she fears many funding avenues won’t come back.

“With this shortfall now, our budget for this next fiscal year … could impact programming,” she said.

She is happy the teen center has been able to reopen to youth, with mask requirements and social distancing rules in place.

“Over the pandemic, a lot of our kids have come back with anxiety and depression,” Dwyer said. “A lot of our youth we serve already have resiliency issues and that has been exasperated.”


Randy Mitchell said his two 14-year-olds could not wait to return to the center, which has helped them both with their school work and future job training.

“They love going there and the staff is super nice and very helpful,” Mitchell said. 

He said he likes the fact that even though his children have parents who “are open … and they can come to talk to us about anything,” the center gives them another avenue to do so if needed. 

He hopes MPTC’s funding problems don’t result in a permanent loss of its kitchen job training program, which his daughter thrived in, and its social events for the kids.

Mitchell’s employer was one of the previous MPTC donors that cut back on its yearly donation.

I think it’s a project and a resource that is very important. Even if its five bucks do what you can give back to the kids,” Mitchell said.

My Place Teen Center plans to continue its free community meals through December.

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