From Mary Jerome, Rising Junior at Notre Dame

Mary Jerome is a rising junior at Notre Dame, who chose our center for her Summer Service Learning Program (SSLP). Below are her final reflections about her time at MYC.

Description of the mission/purpose of my SSLP site:
The Midcoast Youth Center offers emotional support and mentorship to the youth currently living in Bath, Maine. The main focus is on mental health and educating the youth on how to create and maintain healthy habits. While MYC really does do it all (academic tutoring, providing food for families that need some help, igniting passion and supporting diverse interests, and stressing the importance of physical activity) – the most important thing the center does is offer a home of unconditional love to any child, teen, or young adult that walks through the front doors. The staff are all incredible, and it is not hard to see why there are so many kids that frequent the center on a daily basis. In a nutshell, the mission of MYC is to act as a safe haven full of joy and healthy activity for youth who may not otherwise be able to experience such things.

My primary responsibilities included:

Encouraging the youth, creating lesson plans for the summer learning program (which is awesome and provides free summer math lessons, asset-building activities, fun field trips to the beach, and all the scooting and skating a kid could possibly want), and simply acting as a caring adult every day. My secondary responsibilities included never losing a game of HORSE while at the center, trying to impress the ten-year-olds by scootering down a three-foot high ramp (and failing), and running up hundreds of pool and ping pong tournaments. 

Advice for future students considering or planning to go to the same site:

  1. Just know that the teenagers you hang out with will probably end up becoming your best friends, so try not to be too sad when your SSLP has to come to an end.
  2. Try skating/scooting at least once – you will get a lot of clout from the kids.
  3. The staff at MYC are the best around, so take advantage of your time there and learn from them!
  4. DO NOT play Olivia Rodrigo or Taylor Swift in the skate park because the kids will start a protest to play only rap.
  5. Open your heart, and this time will change your life:)

Interaction with my Notre Dame Club:

Huge thank you to the ND Club of Maine for allowing me to connect with MYC. I am forever grateful for all your support. 

Section II: SSLP Summary 

  • Briefly describe, in 1 to 2 pages double-spaced, responding to the five journalistic questions: who, what, where, why, and how? Who (meaning, briefly describe the demographics) received services from your site? What services does your site provide? Where is the site located (not just city and state, but anything significant about the location)? Why does the need exist that your site responds to? How does your experience impact you going forward — what might you do to carry this experience and learning with you? 

The Midcoast Youth Center is a part of the Midcoast Community Alliance which was founded by Jamie Dorr. This incredible woman founded the Alliance because she saw a problem with the youth in her community who were suffering with their mental health: they felt as though they did not matter. Scattered in every nook and cranny of the center is the short and sweet mantra “You Matter”. MYC serves ages 5 to 24 and mainly works to obliterate the stigma surrounding mental health, advocate for those in need, and expand awareness and access to support within the local community. As an outsider walking into unknown territory, I was immediately embraced by the entire center, and I had to constantly remind myself that I did not live in Bath like everybody else – they made it easy to forget that we came from two very different places – not just in terms of location. 

The Center also provides free (delicious) food and snacks to all who enter, and local community members cook up tasty meals three times a week. There is a specific elderly man who would come in twice a week with the most delicious cookies and pastries I have ever tasted in my life. I took it upon myself to become the (un)official “taste-tester”, and I must admit now that I definitely had an unhealthy amount of that rhubarb cake he brought in. I have no regrets – it was irresistible. This nice man is just another example of how the center has inspired local community members to interact more with the youth living right down the street. These small actions all flow together to help the youth understand that they are valued members of their community; they matter. 

The Midcoast Youth Center is located in Bath, Maine. One of the coolest things about the center is that it is attached to the largest indoor skating park in the state of Maine. This is so awesome because kids who may not have been drawn to the center are pulled in by the sick ramps and the half-pipe room, and they slowly become engulfed by the warm embrace of the youth center without even realizing it. Another bonus is that the kids and teens get inspired by some truly awe-inspiring local skaters that do tricks you would think were impossible. I tried to learn the names of the specific tricks, but to the chagrin of my friends at the center, I still get an ollie and a kickflip mixed up. Easy access to the skate park gives them a great physical activity to work on that is an alternative to typical school sports that are not a great fit for all kids. There is also a basketball hoop outside, but fair warning, it may be a little slippery from the tears of all the fifteen-year-old boys that I beat in HORSE for eight weeks straight.

Mental Health is a nationwide crisis that extends far beyond MYC and Bath, Maine.

A tendency for anxiety or depression mixed with a hard home life and the stress of maneuvering the highs and lows of middle or high school is a recipe for disaster. MYC works tirelessly to remind the youth in the community that there will always be a safety net to fall back on when life gets hard or throws them impossible curve balls. The majority of the youth at MYC have a handful of ACEs (Adverse Childhood Experiences), and this enormously increases the likelihood for mental and physical health problems later in life. I am just glad that MYC exists to intervene early and often to remind the youth that they are not just victims of life; they are unique, beautiful, and multi-talented people with so much light to offer the world. 

This experience has added such depth and beauty to my life that words typed up in a word doc could never do it justice. The question posed in the prompt was: How does your experience impact you going forward? When I think of the word “impacted”, my mind conjures up a type of hit and run situation which remains for a while but then fades from memory. My time at MYC fits better with the analogy of a one-way getaway car. This SSLP offered me a way out of the mundane life of putting my head down and working for my own prosperity, and it transported me to a land where you must raise your head up and see that all humans are intertwined, and the only thing we should be working for is the justice and prosperity of others – especially the marginalized. I will carry everyone I met during this experience with me in my heart for now and forever, and I would not trade that weight for anything. The teens and the kids at MYC have each slowly and surely stolen pieces of my heart, and I am so lucky to be the victim of such a sneaky and subtle robbery. This is not the last MYC will see of me, and it would be my absolute honor to be a cheerleader on the sidelines, cheering them on in whatever they decide to pursue. The MYC youth are all so very special and admirable, and I cannot wait to see their wildest dreams come true. 

Section III: SSLP Capstone and Course Theme

  • In 1-2 pages double-spaced, briefly describe how and why you created your SSLP Capstone. Which course theme or themes are most relevant to your SSLP Capstone? Explain the most important lesson you drew from the SSLP course syllabus and readings, citing at least two specific course readings. 

I created a set of eight drawings that represent the eight weeks that I got to spend at Midcoast Youth Center. These drawings are inspired by the graffiti-esque brightly colored art that decorates the inside of the adjoining skatepark and the multitude of stress relief coloring books that are stacked upon the side tables at MYC to help promote good mental health. Each piece is unique, but they are all connected by the same theme of brightness. Once they are all placed side by side, they create an eclectic art installation that fits together in a beautiful, unexpected way. Each drawing represents a week at the center: there is never a dull moment, and although no two weeks are identical, they are highlighted by joyous laughter and blinding displays of kindness and compassion.  While seemingly very different and random from one another, they are all tied together. Similarly, each teen at the center is very different from one another, but they are all connected by human dignity, and at MYC, they are encouraged to come together and celebrate one another in all their beautiful individuality.

The theme of common human dignity tying us all together resonates the most with my capstone project. From the Welcome Table reading: “CST affirms the undiminishable worth of every single human life, no matter a person’s race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, physical or mental ability, education level, criminal background, or any other attribute.” Every single individual matters, despite being composed of such contrasting experiences and colorful attributes (just like the drawings!). We are all in this together, and MYC makes sure each teen and child knows that they, just like art pieces hanging in a museum, are worthy of praise and admiration. 

In an attempt to further explain the beauty of all creation, Father Boyle uses the term Firme in his book “Tattoos on the Heart” to describe the gang members he works with. Firme means “could not be one bit better.” This is precisely how I feel about the kids I got to spend my summer with at MYC. Each one is perfect in their own lovely way, and the staff at MYC make it their mission to shout this undeniable truth for all to hear.

Sometimes mental health struggles and feelings of hopelessness make you want to hide away from the world, but it is my hope with this Capstone Project to show that every single person deserves to be celebrated for their unique beauty and human dignity. MYC has taught me above all else that being different is the best part of being a human. Each person we connect with and allow into our hearts adds a stroke of color to the canvas of our lives, and my friends at MYC have added a bright splash of golden love and acceptance to my life that will never tarnish.

I am sad that my time at MYC has to end, but I am mostly just humbly grateful that I was allowed to share life with so many amazing people. As Winnie the Pooh (a bear WAY ahead of his time) wisely said: How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.