Supporters of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Southern Maine gathered at Bunker Brewing in Portland on June 14 for an event featuring two auctions that raised nearly $90,000 for the nonprofit.

The 40th annual Spring for the Kids fundraiser was smaller and more casual than the dinner auctions held at the clubs’ headquarters on Cumberland Avenue for decades, before transitioning to online events in 2020 and 2021. Bunker Brewing provided an indoor-outdoor venue, with food trucks Maiz, Portland Pie, A&C Soda Shop and Cinnamon Girl as safer alternatives to the buffets of years past.

“We have such a wonderful community of supporters, and this is the first time we’ve been able to get together in person with people who care about the kids and the organization,” said Brian Elowe, who became chief executive officer on March 20, 2020, just as Maine was going into pandemic lockdown.

“We went to online learning in two days, and we spent an entire year being hybrid learning sites for the days when kids weren’t in school,” Elowe said. “We have also served more than 150,000 grab-and-go meals. In Maine, 40,000 kids – half of them in southern Maine – are unsupervised in the afternoons. Our mission is to make sure we’re serving more and more of those kids.”

Through its three clubhouses in Portland, one in South Portland and one in Auburn, the nonprofit serves 3,000 youths ages 6-18. Members pay just $5 a year, and no boy or girl is turned away because of an inability to pay.

“These clubs are a place for kids to go do physical activities, get after-school help and get a meal,” said board president Chris Cimino of Falmouth. “There’s a real need for what we do.”

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Board member Mohamed “Mo” Awale talked about how critical the club was for him growing up in Portland in a family of Somali immigrants.

“As a child of a single, immigrant mother, the odds were not in my favor to attend university,” Awale said. “She couldn’t help me with homework or help me find scholarships. My mother is a great woman, but what she couldn’t do, the Boys & Girls Club did.”

Awale was named Portland campus Youth of the Year in 2013, and his mentors at the club helped him secure a Promise Scholarship to attend the University of Southern Maine. A 2017 graduate with a bachelor’s degree in political science and a minor in economics, he works with Progressive Insurance and does stand-up comedy.

“Had I not attended college, the statistics would have been against my four younger siblings to attend,” Awale said. “Representation matters. Not only did I graduate from USM, but three out of four of my siblings attended university. I’m proud of that. I’m indebted to this club, and I truly believe that this club is the best investment for a good future for our community.”

Amy Paradysz is a freelance writer and photographer based in Scarborough. She can be reached at [email protected].


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