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Bath youth center launches fundraiser to help growing number of students in need

Midcoast Youth Center Founder Jamie Dorr said all donations will go toward supporting the youth center’s services.
BY KATHLEEN O’BRIEN TIMES RECORD 

The Midcoast Youth Center in Bath launched a fundraising campaign with a $50,000 goal, which it hopes to meet in order to help local students as the center has seen the need for its services rise during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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

“The pandemic continues to present a lot of challenges for families and youth,” said Dorr. “What we’re finding now is that need has spiked and we need additional staff that can help provide case management and support to ensure everyone is getting what they need when they need it.”

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 art classes, 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.

In 2020, Dorr said the center served 550 local students.

While the center has continued helping local students through the pandemic, Dorr said the center’s numbers, particularly youth experiencing homelessness, declined. She said this is likely because students were not in school, which made it difficult for school personnel to identify who needed help.

“We think a lot of people went without support they might have needed,” said Dorr. “Now that everyone is back in school full-time, it’s only November and we’re already at the same level as we’d see in a full school year. We expect by January or February, our numbers will surpass what we’ve seen in past years.”

Since the academic year began, the youth center has identified 24 high school 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 said she knows that’s not the entire picture.

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.

“People might not realize the sheer magnitude of need that exists in our community unless they’re on the frontlines,” said Dorr. “Years ago, I had no idea how many kids were facing a great deal of adversity. Now that I see it, I know how meaningful it is and how we can come together to help these young people and show them how much they matter to this community.”

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.

“Sometimes we see kids who don’t go to school because they have no place to take a shower or don’t have clean clothes,” said Donna Verhoeven, youth outreach coordinator for the Merrymeeting Homeless Youth Project. “We make sure that those barriers are removed so that they can feel confident in walking through those doors. If we can level the playing field for a student to be able to connect and move forward, it gives them hope. As they gain those pieces of material items and personal connections, it helps them feel comfortable enough to connect with more opportunities and even open up more to additional support.”

Donations can be made by texting MYCMATTERS to 41444, mailing a check to Midcoast Youth Center, or visiting midcoastyouth.org.

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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