AUGUSTA — A fund for a workable commercial kitchen in the Augusta Boys & Girls Club is stalled in triple digits.

But the enthusiasm for the project from among the 15 members of this year’s Kennebec Leadership Institute abounds.

The class, which is a program of the Kennebec Valley Chamber of Commerce, has taken on the challenge as part of its class project.

The hoped-for result is a community use kitchen, one where the club members can learn the finer points of cooking, baking and nutrition and which other community groups could use outside of club programming time.

The site is on the ground floor of the Buker Community Center, which houses the club but has no functioning kitchen except for a refrigerator and sinks. The commercial kitchen that fed the students of Buker Middle School is long gone, as are the stoves and sinks that were in the former home economics classroom. The school closed in 2003 as a cost-cutting move.

“We have a very discombobulated kitchen,” said Darren Joyce, the club’s program director. “We’re in cold cut mode right now.”

Earlier this week, Justine Arrigo, 14, put a piece of provolone cheese atop a round slice of turkey, slapped some mayonnaise on the bread and had her second sandwich of the day. The first was peanut butter and jelly.

If the club had a workable kitchen, she said, “I would cook everything I want to eat. I would cook brownies.”

After making her sandwich on a table, she ate it while sitting on an overstuffed couch that bumps up against a counter with two double sinks. Nearby was a bureau without a bottom drawer that appeared to hold kitchen supplies.

Arrigo said she likes the teen center because she can hang out there with her friends. She’s giving back, too. She and a friend, Zackary Peaslee, also 14, have volunteered to help with Kids Day in Capitol Park, a chamber project.

Joyce reminded Peaslee of the kitchen improvement project that was envisioned, and Peaslee nodded. He said he would cook there if the range worked.

“I can kind of cook some things, like mac and cheese,” he said.

Peaslee is a regular attendee each day after school. The club is open to all students in grades 7 to 12 and runs from noon to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday during school vacation week. Normally the Teen Center’s after-school program runs 2 to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. There’s usually even a late bus run by the Kennebec Valley Community Action Program.

“We’re open to any kid who can get here,” Joyce said.

Watching the teens assemble the sandwiches were leadership class members Alison Paine, of GHM Insurance Agency, and Mei Ling Cheung, from Central Maine Power Co.

Cheung already has drawn up the plans for improving the kitchen, which is the first thing visitors see as they enter the club area. She envisions newer cabinetry, formerly at North Park and to be donated by Kennebec Savings Bank; a separate hand-washing sink; large countertops on casters, so they could be part of a teaching kitchen; a commercial dishwasher; and dishes to replace the paper plates.

Members are donating an oven and a microwave.

“It all depends on funding,” she said. “The first priority is getting the (range) hood and vent system so they can cook.”

A new stove already has been located, but it won’t be brought in until the vent hood and fire suppression system are installed. In the meantime, the four burners on the out-of-service range have been removed, and the oven door hangs on precariously. Among other problems, it couldn’t maintain its heat.

“We’re looking for things that are easy to clean and that will be durable, because it’s all teenagers that will be using them,” Cheung said. Still on the “wanted” list are thick rubber mats for the kitchen floor.

Paine had been out earlier in the day soliciting donations for the project from home improvement stores.

The project is set for completion in early May, at some point before the 15-member leadership class graduates.

Heather Pouliot, resource development and communications manager for the United Way of Kennebec Valley, said the kitchen improvement is one of the more ambitious projects selected by a leadership class. Others have been a 2011 capital campaign for the expansion of Lithgow Public Library in Augusta. Last year’s class did a food and backpack program for the Children’s Center.

Pouliot said the idea of doing the kitchen project originated with Tobias Parkhurst and Matt Tardiff, both members of the teen club’s board of directors.

This year’s class chose to do this project based on need and accessibility.

“We found it was going to be way more than we thought,” Paine said.

A news release about the project says it needs community support, particularly for its fundraising goal of $25,000. Donations can be made online at a GoFundMe site called “New Kitchen for Boys & Girls Club.” As of Friday, it had received $685 in donations. The United Way chapter, which is the largest funding source for the club, also has received funds specifically for this project.

“If we get things done in our time line, Cooking Matters is signed up to be in here during the summers,” Joyce said. Cooking Matters is a program that offers teens nutrition and cooking lessons as well as education about healthful eating habits.

The club has two full-time and several part-time adult employees and hosts a number of programs for teens, including an alternative-to-suspension program for Cony middle and high school students as well as a Boy Scouts of America Venture program and a Diversion to Assets program that is a way for teens who have committed an offense to avoid the court system.

The club also houses an emergency food pantry for teens in crisis and provides other support, Joyce said.

More information about the club and its programs is available at www.augustateencenter.org.

Betty Adams — 621-5631

[email protected]

Twitter: @betadams


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