The Midcoast Youth Center surpassed its initial fundraising goal – then set a new one – to support the growing needs of local students as the deadline to donate ticks down.

The nonprofit’s “25to50” campaign began last month when an anonymous donor pledged to match all donations the youth center receives up to $25,000 before the end of the year. All the money raised will go toward supporting the youth center’s offerings at a time when demand for the center’s services has spiked, especially from local youth experiencing homelessness, according to Midcoast Youth Center Founder Jamie Dorr.

As of last week, the center had received nearly $45,300 from 79 donors in the community alone. Now, the center hopes to raise $50,000 from the community, which would total $75,000 with the matching donation.

“In a year that keeps giving one challenge after another, these donations help us know we can continue to provide services and support to the people who need it the most,” said Dorr. “Our center serves such a wide variety of people and you never know who’s getting what level of support. It destigmatizes asking for help. We have a very diverse group of young people and families that come in and it creates a beautiful, caring community for one another. We’re so grateful the community recognizes and supports that.”

Dorr said the money raised will also help the center hire a part-time community outreach coordinator in the new year to help find and assist local youth in need, particularly those experiencing or in danger of homelessness.

The center, based in the Bath Youth Meetinghouse and Skatepark, welcomes local students ages 10-24 and provides a host of resources, free of charge, such as after-school programs, adult mentors, homework clubs and activities, snacks and hot meals, as well as clothing and school supplies if needed. The youth center also connects students in need with any resources outside the center students may need, such as healthcare, mental health support or substance use treatment.

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Each day, an average of 45-50 local students visit the center every day, according to Dorr. In 2020, the center served 550 local students.

The anonymous donor said they offered the matching donation to support the organization they feel “is relatively young but has already made a mark on this area.”

“We grew up in Bath and feel very sorry for the young people that are facing the challenges they’re facing,” the donor said. “We’ve been very impressed by the work the organization has already undertaken, but we know there’s still a long way to go to eliminate the problems our young people are facing today. Everyone benefits when people rally around a cause like this.”

Rebecca Trask of Phippsburg said the youth center is “probably the best thing to happen” to her two middle school-aged boys.

“If you’re a parent who’s busy, you know when they leave school and walk there, they’re fine,” said Trask. “I don’t ever worry about them there. When you can’t be there, you know there’s a nice person there to make sure everything is ok.” 

Aside from being a safe place for students to go after school, Trask said the additional help the center provides students and families in need is “seamless.”

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“When the kids are in there, you can’t distinguish who’s in need and who’s not because they’re all together,” said Trask. “Everyone is treated the same. It warms your heart. The center is a huge asset to the community. If you had a child or family member who needed something, that’s where they’d go to get it, and if the center couldn’t give it to them, Jamie would find some way to provide for their needs.”

Though many students visiting the center after school may simply need a snack, help with homework, or a caring adult to talk about the day’s events, Dorr said the youth center has seen a rise in youth experiencing homelessness that need help.

When the center helps students experiencing homelessness, that could be anything from buying new clothing and personal hygiene supplies for the student to taking them to medical appointments or to get a haircut.

Since the academic year began, the youth center has identified 41 local students experiencing homelessness, said Dorr. By the end of the school year, she estimated that number will rise to between 50-100 students, a record high for the center, but Dorr knows the center isn’t reaching everyone who could need help.

Dorr said she was aware of 193 students experiencing homelessness in Sagadahoc County between 2017-2019.

According to the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, Maine had an estimated 2,552 public school students experiencing homelessness during the 2018-2019 academic year. Of those, an estimated 428 homeless youth in Maine are unaccompanied. The council also estimated there were another 139 young adults ages 18-24 experiencing homelessness in Maine during the 2018-2019 academic year.

Donations can be made by texting MYCMATTERS to 41444, mailing a check to Midcoast Youth Center, or visiting midcoastyouth.org. The deadline to donate is Friday, Dec. 31.

If a community member would rather donate items, Dorr said the center accepts gift cards to stores like Target, Walmart and Walgreens, which are used to purchase clothing, personal hygiene items, and fill other basic needs students might have.

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