WATERVILLE — George Mitchell, who has helped forge peace agreements in the Middle East, headed national investigations and made his mark as a U.S. senator, said much of his character was formed at the Boys Club on Temple Street.
Mitchell, a Waterville native, was among the 300 people who attended the now Boys & Girls Club’s 90th birthday party Friday night at the Alfond Youth Center, where the club is now located.
“It kept us off the streets and it helped channel our young energy, which was important,” said Mitchell, keynote speaker at the event.
He said he worked at the club for his older brother, Robbie. “It was a much smaller building on Temple Street then and I knew it well because I was a janitor there. All of it was beneficial from my standpoint.”
“It feels great to be back, this is a great institution,” Mitchell said upon arriving.
Mitchell, 80, rose to national prominence as a U.S. senator from 1980 to 1995. Since retiring from the Senate, Mitchell has kept several other public positions, including taking a leading role in peace negotiations as U.S. special envoy for Middle East peace from 2009-2011. Mitchell was also the lead investigator for two Mitchell Reports, the first on the Arab-Israeli conflict in 2001 and the other on the use of performance enhancing drugs in baseball in 2007.
Whenever he comes back to Waterville, Mitchell said he’s reminded of what he learned growing up in the city and admitted that he gets nostalgic when he visits.
“I think about my days here, I love Waterville and loved growing up here,” Mitchell said. “I’ve said often that the values that stayed with me throughout my life came to me from my early days in Waterville.”
About 300 people showed up to the annual event, which featured dinner, a musical performance by several children at the club and a variety of awards, including the Youth of the Year, which was awarded to Waterville High School senior Cassidy Dangler.
The 1944 Waterville High School boys basketball team was honored on its 70-year anniversary of a New England Schoolboy championship.
Kennebec County Sheriff Randall Liberty and Dave Perry were given the Romeo J. Paganucci awards, while Jane Bickford and Jenny Breau received the Martha D. Paganucci awards. The awards are given to two men and two women who have devoted time and attention to increase the happiness of the youth at the Boys & Girls Club and YMCA. Perry is a master gardener at the Alfond Youth Center, Breau is a Colby College sophomore who serves as a mentor in the Colby Cares About Kids Program and Bickford has previously been a Boys & Girls Club and YMCA’s Board of Directors and co-chairs the Alfond Youth Charity Ball for the past 17 years.
The annual Appeal Awards Dinner is held to raise money for the Alfond Youth Center’s school program, camp scholarships and Kids’ Kitchen, which serves 40,000 hot meals to children annually, most of whom qualify for free or reduced lunch at school.
The goal of the evening was to raise about $200,000, which would double the previous year’s total. Alfond Center Chief Executive Officer Ken Walsh didn’t have the final dollar amount early Friday evening, but said he expected to be close to hitting the goal.
The Alfond Youth Center is home to both the YMCA and Boys & Girls Club and serves about 1,000 children a day at its North Street center. The Boys and Girls clubs merged in 1976.
The center is unique in being the primary location for both a YMCA and Boys & Girls club in a single facility, according to Walsh, who said it’s the largest Boys Club in the country.
The center offers a variety of athletic and aquatic programs, dance classes and preschool, after school and child care programs. There is also a bevy of fitness and summer camps provided.
The Boys Club was established in 1924 by Colby College student Frank Goodrich who created a committee to form the club along with fellow Colby student George Hawes.
In 1999, the Boys & Girls Club moved to its current location, the Alfond Youth Center, on North Street.