Teens in one of the academic programs at My Place Teen Center in Westbrook pause for a pose. Contributed / MPTC

My Place Teen Center’s CEO is worried for the children and their heightened needs amid the pandemic.

That’s why, after expanding its mission and serving 35,000 pandemic meals over nine months to anyone in the community in 2020, the center is back to focusing strictly on kids, especially those dealing with depression and pandemic-related stress.

“The stressors among the kids are more elevated than we’ve seen in our history, which we think is absolutely due to the pandemic,” CEO Donna Dwyer said. “It’s due to the isolation. It’s due to the lack of structure sometimes. Most of our kids lost ground academically, so we are helping with homework, but we are also concerned about their mental health and emotional well-being.”

Dwyer

Founded 23 years ago, the nonprofit at 755 Main St. provides peer support and counseling as well as job training and academic help for teens ages 14-18. It expects to open another teen center in a few weeks at a temporary location in Saco to provide the same programs in York County.

Dwyer said the Westbrook location has counted some York County youth among the 499 kids that pass through its doors each year.
Now those young people are coming to the teen center with more needs, she said.
“They are more turning to their phones as a source of everything,” Dwyer said. “They are more inward now than outward. It’s difficult to get them to do things not on their phone, but then that phone can be the source of their fatigue, depression and anxiety.”

Dwyer said older teenagers are hurting, too, and depression and suicidal ideation have become “common” among them. A new program at MPTC, Adulting 101, has been designed for 18- to 24-year-olds who have aged out of other programs.

“A young lady, 18 years old, was visiting us on almost a daily basis. They were going to be on our team,” Dwyer said. “We watched out for them, but we found out after Christmas this young woman committed suicide. We were two weeks from enrolling her in this program, which would have provided a lot of support and nurturing.”

Ashley Clark, a Westbrook parent who has three children attending My Place, said the center has been a “good lifeline for her kids”
during the pandemic

They had that extra time to get out and be around somewhat normalcy,” Clark said, calling the center “an excellent resource, just continuing the support and leadership and letting kids know that they have somebody if they don’t have someone at home.”

Pre-pandemic programs are back in full force, Dwyer said, including the restaurant job training program and academic, civic engagement, youth leadership and life literacy programs. The center also serves free meals to the kids.

Funding is always a concern. Even now, without the added expense from providing the community meals, Dwyer said they are still pushing to raise $100,000 by July 1 to avoid a shortfall.

Meanwhile, My Place will soon move into temporary space at the Saco Valley Shopping Center on 4 Scamman St. in Saco, while it awaits renovations on its permanent site, the former St. Andre’s Church in Biddeford. It needs to raise $500,000 for that work, which Dwyer estimates will take 18-20 months.

About another $500,000 will be raised to get the teen center at the renovated church up and running, Dwyer said, and $800,000 needs to be raised on top of that to round out next year’s programming at both locations, although funding for programming at the temporary space in Saco has already been secured.

The organization has wanted to expand to York County for a few years.

“York County was borne out of a feasibility study conducted in 2017 and lots of conversations with Biddeford champions, including the mayor. Expansion of our business model has been part of our strategic plan since 2016,” Dwyer said.

To learn more or donate visit myplaceteencenter.org.

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