WESTBROOK — The Mission Possible Teen Center and A Company of Girls in Portland are two of 17 after-school programs scrambling to fill a funding gap after learning that they wouldn’t be getting any help from the state.

The Department of Health and Human Services last month notified the programs, which each previously received between $28,000 to $41,000, they would not get any funding this year through the Fund for a Healthy Maine.

The cuts represent a $654,000 savings and were made in response to a $2 million cut to child-care services provided through the Fund for a Healthy Maine — part of an effort to close a $83 million shortfall in the DHHS’s budget.

The Fund for a Healthy Maine was created by the Legislature in 1999 to allocate the state’s tobacco settlement payments.

Therese Cahill-Low, director of the DHHS’s Office of Child and Family Services, said the department had warned the programs in March that funding for after-school services for 12 to 15 year olds had been targeted for elimination, but there was still some hope it could be restored.

“That was probably one of the hardest cuts I had to be a part of making,” she said.

Dawna Gregoire, director of operations at the Gardiner Area Boys & Girls Club at 14 Pray St., said the state funding cuts will affect her organization with assistance given to families through the Child Care Subsidy Program, also known as the voucher program. It has lost about $40,000 in grant funding for 12- to 15-year-olds.

The organization is not a Head Start program and so it doesn’t rely on federal money to pay for its operations. The club is licensed to serve up to 200 children, ages six weeks to grade five, plus teenagers, making a total of about 280 youngsters there during a day.

The funding reduction is sure to mean that fewer families will be able to send their children to the boys and girls club, Gregoire said. No one is directly losing their subsidized funding; however, new families will be put on a waiting list that could put subsidies on hold for many months, maybe even a year, Gregoire said.

“It will definitely reduce the number we’re able to serve,” she said. “We expect some families will get together and neighbors will watch kids, and that’s not always the best situation. But it is a ripple effect; everybody has to scramble around.”

Cahill-Low said she believes there’s a lot of value in the programs.

Their executive directors agree.

Jen Roe said she’s still working to figure out how to save all of the programming provided by A Company of Girls, which offers theater and arts-based after-school activities for girls between 8 and 18 years old.

The planned expansion of programs in an effort to reach more girls cannot happen because of the loss of $28,000 of state funding, she said. Summer programming has already been cut due to a lack of money, said Roe.

“Our hopes are that all of this will lead us to be strong and more supported within and by our community,” she said.

The Mission Possible Teen Center in Westbrook, which lost $40,000 from the state and $10,000 from the city this year, has already had one community member step up to the plate in response to the cuts.

James Tranchemontagne, owner of The Frog and Turtle restaurant, is offering $10 gift certificates in exchange for a $50 donation to the teen center.

For a $300 donation, Tranchemontagne will prepare a four-course tasting menu, with wine pairings, for a party of four. His goal is to raise $5,000 by the end of the month.

Tranchemontagne believes a small investment in the teen center is a boon for society in the long run, as the center has proven to turn at-risk teens into productive adults.

The year-round program, which is for 10- to 18-year-old children, provides snacks and meals, homework help, a hangout space and more to 500 kids annually. Dwyer said 50 to 70 kids show up daily at the former church building on Main Street.

She said, it’s a place to see friends and play pool for some, but for many others, it’s their only option for dinner or a refuge from a troubled home life.

Dwyer said the center gets plenty of donated food. It needs reliable funds, like the money that came from the state, to pay the utilities and staff, who have taken pay cuts and don’t go on vacation so their co-workers aren’t over-burdened.

On Thursday afternoon, dozens of kids were there playing pool, coloring and eating snacks that they bought at the center’s store with points that they’d earned from doing chores around the building.

Ten-year-old Taylor Carlsen and her 13-year-old half-brother, Zeke Stubbs, were playing games on computers. They don’t have a computer at home.

They said they found out about the teen center last winter and have been coming a few times a week ever since.

Both said they get teased in school, but look forward to coming to the center, where bullying isn’t tolerated.

“I can trust my friends here. I don’t have to deal with people picking on me,” Zeke said. “It changed my life.”

 

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