My Place Teen Center has been serving Cumberland County youth for upwards of 23 years, and are now expanding into Biddeford. Courtesy photo / My Place Teen Center

My Place Teen Center in Westbrook has seen nearly double the number of kids come through its doors since the pandemic began, expanded programming for older teens and young adults and added staff, all while opening an additional center in Biddeford.

Between 60 and 80 students a day show up at the nonprofit My Place Teen Center on Main Street for homework help, peer support, counseling, fitness classes, games, meals and job instruction programs. It also now offers “adulting” classes for ages 18-24 to help make up for what Director Donna Dwyer says is a lack of resources in the area for young people after they graduated from high school.

The adulting classes cover topics from mental health to banking and other life skills not necessarily taught in high school.

“During the pandemic, we saw people having a hard time and realized that age group really needs help. We had a former (participant) in that age bracket who had committed suicide and we felt something needed to be done,” Dwyer said.

MPTC has a remaining $300,000 to raise before July 1 for next year’s programming, which includes the adulting classes.

Muna Dore, 21, has been a member since she was 17, first doing her homework and socializing there. Now she uses the center as a safe place to connect with others while working on her job skills.

Dore said her big takeaways from the adulting classes she has attended were learning how to manage a bank account and about the potential negative impacts of social media.

“I never realized the bad effects from too much social media before,” she said. “It  got me thinking.”

As part of the kitchen training program, Dore serves meals at the center and has come “to appreciate that work.”

“When I couldn’t come over the pandemic it was depressing,” Dore said.

“You definitely see it build confidence,” culinary instructor Mac Waybright said.

Jake Mitchell, 15, has been going to the center for three or four years, he said, and enjoys his involvement with the culinary program.

“I recommend kids come down and try it; the staff is great and so is the food,” he said.

Regular programming and some restaurant work are available at the new, second My Place Teen Center location. The center is operating temporarily at the Saco Valley Shopping Center in Saco pending its move to a permanent home at a former church building at 75 Beacon St. in Biddeford.

Those programs are going well, but the permanent space will further address the resource cracks youth often fall through, Biddeford Mayor Alan Casavant said.

Biddeford has some challenging demographics in terms of poverty and things of that nature. Still, kids fall through the cracks, so having seen the Westbrook facility and seeing their programs and operations, knowing what they deliver, coming to Biddeford is really a perfect marriage,” Casavant said.

In the Biddeford school district, which has about 2,500 students, about 100 families struggle with homelessness, according to Assistant Superintendent Chris Indorf.

About 60% of kindergarten students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches, and about 30% of high schoolers qualify, he said. The number of students in need at the high school is likely higher, he said, because those students may avoid signing up because they have jobs or because older students are often too embarrassed to get the free meals.

The move into Biddeford is a $6 million venture, of which about $2.6 million has been raised. About $400,000 of the remaining $3.4 million needed will go toward further renovations, while the rest to be raised will cover programming, staff, furniture and other expenses, Dwyer said.

Dwyer is looking for funding to come in over the next few months to serve both locations.

I’m excited, and we are working to get more money to come together to make this come true,” Casavant said.

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