WATERVILLE — The Alfond Youth Center on North Street cares not only for children, but also for the community, and it has developed programs promoting economic growth in the city.

It built a two-thirds replica of Wrigley Field, sanctioned by Major League Baseball; created a greenhouse with aquaponics and hydroponics learning laboratories for children that supplies food for the center’s kitchen; and is developing a family wellness center made possible by a $6.12 million grant from the Harold Alfond Foundation.

For its efforts, the Alfond Center is being honored with one of two 2017 Mid-Maine Chamber of Commerce Community Service Project of the Year Awards. The other recipient is the Youth Empowerment Supports program offered to homeless youth through the Mid-Maine Homeless Shelter in Waterville.

Alfond Center officials will receive the award April 26 at the chamber’s annual banquet and awards ceremony to be held at Kennebec Valley Community College in Fairfield.

“We are honored,” Ken Walsh, president and chief executive officer of the Alfond Center, said Tuesday in a phone interview. “We’re honored to be part of the community. We’re honored to be part of the great movement of the Waterville renaissance. There are so many different partners in the community, and the Alfond Youth Center, I think, was one of the initial organizations that looked at collaborations and partnerships, especially with the merger of the YMCA and Boys & Girls Club.”

The Alfond Center opened in May 1999 as the only combined Boys & Girls Club and YMCA facility in the country, and youth membership skyrocketed from 1,200 to more than 8,000, according to chamber officials. The number of communities served increased from 33 to 191, and two new clubs were chartered in Maine.

“Led by Ken Walsh with the longtime generous support the Harold Alfond Foundation and many, many community leaders, the team at Alfond Youth Center are like a bunch of energizer bunnies.  They keep dreaming of more opportunities and a better future for the youth of our region, and then they execute and make it happen.  It’s so fun to watch it grow and expand its services.  What a treasure for our region,” Kimberly Lindlof, the chamber’s president and chief executive officer said.

Under Walsh’s leadership, the Alfond Center completed renovations to the baseball field on Mathews Avenue and built the Wrigley Field two-thirds replica. As a gift to the city, the field, dugouts and new playground are completely accessible, according to chamber officials.

“In its inaugural year the field hosted the 12U District Five and the 11U New England Regional Tournaments,” chamber officials said in a statement. “Fourteen teams, their families and fans settled into Waterville for the week-long tournament, stayed in area hotels, ate in restaurants and shopped in local stores. This tremendous economic boon will hit Waterville with even greater force at the 2018 12U Maine State and 12U New England Regional Tournaments being held at Purnell Wrigley Field.”

Walsh said Fran Purnell, for whom the field is named, spent 48 years building youth baseball programs and working with the Waterville Parks and Recreation Department to create the unique, licensed field.

Nominees for the chamber’s Community Service Project of the Year must enhance the community and promote economic growth for the well-being of the area. The nominee also must encourage further development in the region and be a nonprofit or not-for-profit 501(c) or 501(c)6.

“You can’t talk about the AYC without recognizing its visionary leader and CEO, Ken Walsh; and you can’t talk about Ken without talking baseball,” the chamber statement says.

The Alfond Center in 2017 also built a new greenhouse, a 42-foot-diameter growing dome with solar power, aquaponics and hydroponics learning laboratories and year-round growing beds.

“The low footprint, highly efficient space provides an incredible STEM workshop as well as the opportunity for food insecure youth to feed themselves,” the chamber statement says. “Fresh produce, planted, tended and harvested by AYC youth, is used in the Kids’ Kitchen to prepare 50,000 nutritious meals and snacks served annually to over 200 youth daily and fill the over 120 Weekend Meal Supplement Backpacks that go home every Friday afternoon during the school year.

In January, Harold Alfond Foundation Chairman Greg Powell announced the foundation was giving the Alfond Youth Center a $6.12 million grant to develop a whole family wellness project. About 75 youth advocates, city officials and others turned out for the announcement at the Alfond Center, where the project was unveiled.

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

Twitter: @AmyCalder17