5 Libby Court, Waterville.

Anyone who hasn’t visited that address ought to.

It’s the South End Teen Center, where kids ages 12 to 18 go after school and where they are welcomed with open arms by people who are like family.

The three-story building is sort of like a house, too, with a living room, lounge, game room, computer room and kitchen.

And everywhere, the personality of teens is evident — in the bright purple living room with silver stars painted on the walls, to a staircase peppered with framed photos of former teen center members, smiling in their high school graduation caps and gowns.

Here, teens come to socialize after school.

They do homework, use computers, play games, read, watch TV or talk with friends and staff, acting just as might if they were at home. They also learn about making good decisions.

During the summer, they gather here to take trips to the ocean, water parks, lakes and other fun and interesting places.

“It’s kind of like a second home,” said Matt Anderson, 16.

A Waterville Senior High School junior, Anderson rode the bus to the center on a recent afternoon, popped into director Steve Soule’s office to say hello to him and staff member Dan Pierce, then climbed the stairs to the kitchen to make macaroni and cheese.

“I moved here from Portland a year and a half ago,” Anderson said. “This is one of the first places I found out about. I met a lot of cool people. It’s a safe place you can go to.”

Nick Bragg, 15, agreed. He said he plays basketball outside the center, even in winter. He also likes the Teen Stars program, which rewards members with pizza, gift cards and other prizes if they do good things like attend school regularly, get their homework done, do chores around the center and help people in the community.

“I’ve raked and swept at a nursing home. I’ve planted. I’ve cleaned up the skate park. I’ve cleaned the park down at the boat landing. I’ve repaired kids’ bikes,” Bragg said. “I’ve gotten the pizza three times.”

Bragg said he wants to be a welder when he graduates from high school; Anderson wants to be a graphic designer or architect.

They both are athletes and plan to play with police and firefighters March 7 as part of the Battle of the Badges basketball game to benefit the teen center. Tickets cost $4 for the 7 p.m. game at the Alfond Center on North Street.

They also encourage people to help the teen center get a $5,000 grant from Bangor Savings Bank, which chose it as a Community Matters recipient. The bank is giving the center $1,000 but will increase that amount by $4,000 if it receives the largest number of votes online. To vote, go to www.bangor.com/cmm

The teen center, a unit of the Alfond Youth Center, operates on about $130,000 a year, according to Michele Prince, community initiatives director for Kennebec Valley Community Action Program, which oversees the center.

It survives on grants, as well as funds from United Way of Mid-Maine and sources such as People’s United Community Foundation, Mid-State Machine Foundation and Bangor Savings Bank Foundation, according to Prince.

Funding the center is a challenge, especially with cuts being made to all sorts of programs.

“We have to be out there, looking for funding, every year,” she said.

While the teen center is neat and orderly, it is old and a bit worn. The tile floors in the kitchen and game room need replacing and a local church has offered to replace one of them.

Soule and Prince said they welcome donations and encourage other kinds of community participation at the center; for instance, if people have a special hobby or skill, they may come and share it with the students but should call Soule first at 873-5621.

The teens like being part of the community and claim a stake in it, said Soule, a retired school principal and teacher. They volunteer at National Night Out, an annual South End community festival; fix bicycles and give them to children at an annual bike swap; and take part in the yearly neighborhood spring cleanup.

They also care for people beyond their immediate realm. They wrote sympathy cards to survivors of the Newtown, Conn., school shootings and sent holiday greetings to soldiers serving overseas.

The teens work hard to get good grades, and several were listed on the honor roll this past quarter, according to Soule.

“We certainly know that for teens that stay connected to the teen center throughout high school, we have 98 to 100 percent of them graduate,” Prince said.

Open since 2002, the South End Teen Center is living proof that when you nurture and support kids, wonderful things happen.

Anyone looking for a worthy cause to support need look no further. It’s called “paying it forward.” And it’s a no-brainer.

Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter 25 years. Her column appears here Mondays. She may be reached at [email protected]

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