WATERVILLE — Area police officers say they daily meet with children who have witnessed violence, are homeless or are ignored at home.
Until now, there’s been little they could do to respond. Waterville, Faifield, Oakland and Winslow police, along with Kennebec County Sheriff deputies, can now give free memberships to the Alfond Youth Center to children through a new program aimed at redirecting kids to mentoring services and positive activities.
The youth center was recently awarded a $5,000 grant from Walmart along with an anonymous $5,000 matching grant to start up the membership program.
Representatives from the different law enforcement agencies said at a press conference Wednesday afternoon that they have high hopes for the program, which is a collaboration of the mentoring services at the youth center and the officers knowledge of which children are in need of the program.
The youth center already offers free transportation to and from the after school program, and the membership program removes any cost barrier to joining, said Ken Walsh, the center’s chief executive officer.
Walsh said he is unsure how much the program will increase membership, but said the center will be able to meet the need with enough staff and resources.
The program now has 180 children attend their after school program, and a total 1,000 at the club on a daily basis, he said. They serve about 40,000 hot meals per year and 96 percent of kids in the after school program are on reduced or a free lunch at school.
Oakland School Resource Officer Sgt. Tracey Frost said he knows about 10 students off the top of his head who he will be offering the passes too.
He said this will be a priority of the school resource officers to identify kids who need help and connect them with the memberships.
“There are a tremendous amount of kids that go to our school district that lunch may be the only meal they get that day,” he said. “When they go home they might not have heat.”
Waterville police Chief Joseph Massey said police officers now have something more proactive to do in these situations.
“Officers at night that respond to calls like a disturbance call or a family fight call are in a position to have a lot of contact with children who would be receptive to receiving one of the cards,” Massey said.
He said police officers know best the children who are at risk of becoming delinquent. The program, he said, would be a way for children to see police not as people who get them in trouble but people who offer help.
“There is going to be a positive interaction between the police and the youngsters … We could already stop and talk to them and now we can go one step further,” Massey said.
Kennebec County Sheriff Randall Liberty said he expects the program will have a large scale positive effect in the community.
“In law enforcement we peace keep and we make arrests, but a large part of what we do is social work,” Liberty said. “Hundreds and hundreds will benefit.”
Kaitlin Schroeder — 861-9252 firstname.lastname@example.org