While the Youth Empowerment Supports program at the Mid-Maine Homeless Shelter in Waterville has been up and running for only about a year, it’s already being recognized as a success for the stability and opportunities it is providing area youth who are in need of assistance.

Since April 2017, the YES program has aided homeless youths ranging in age from 18 to 25 by providing a stable living environment and opportunities to build life skills so that they can pursue education or employment — and one day live independently.

David Sovetsky, the director of YES, and Betty Palmer, the executive director of the shelter, say they are impressed by how far the tenants who occupy the 12 apartment units on the second floor of the shelter have come in just a year.

“It’s really just amazing to see them go from zero — from homelessness — to working and going to school,” Palmer said in an interview at the shelter Monday morning.

Sovetsky said the primary goal of the YES program is to provide the tenants with an environment where they can find success — something they previously lacked.

“I think a lot of the kids didn’t have the same opportunities that I remember a lot of my peers having,” he said. “It was kind of expected that you were going to go to school, one way or another. I don’t think these guys had that expectation, so a lot of those opportunities were missed. So we want to put that in place for folks growing up in poverty, give them that middle-class opportunity.”

That opportunity for success that the YES program provides homeless youth is what distinguishes it as one of the Mid-Maine Chamber of Commerce’s two Community Service Projects of the Year. The other recipient is the Alfond Youth Center.

“Imagine the helpful impact a team could have on homeless youth if able to educate and positively shift their direction at a young age. Well, that is exactly what the Mid-Maine Homeless Shelter’s Youth Empowerment Supports is working towards,” said Kimberly Lindlof, president and CEO of the chamber. “With its extremely low recidivism rate, our community is pleased that Mid-Maine Homeless Shelter has embarked upon this bold initiative to house and care for homeless youth in our region.”

The program will be recognized and honored at the annual awards ceremony on April 26, at the Kennebec Valley Community College campus in Fairfield.

“We’ve been an organization for almost 28 years, and I think this is the first time this organization has been honored by the chamber,” Palmer said. “It’s a really huge honor for those who laid the foundational blocks and that (the shelter) is continuing to grow.”

Sovetsky said he’s enjoyed watching the tenants make the second floor of the shelter their home over the past year, as they cook together in a shared kitchen and common space, clean and take care of their spaces and celebrate birthdays, holidays and special occasions together — a tradition he said many of them missed out on growing up.

“For those who get employment and do well in school, they celebrate that together. They’ll have a cake and a dinner in the (community room),” he said. “I don’t think it’s something they’ve experienced in the past.”

In addition to schooling and work, the program provides courses on cooking, growing produce, budgeting and managing money and how to be a good tenant. The tenants also get retail experience operating the shelter’s store several days a week.

Many of the tenants who moved into the shelter last year are still living there. Palmer said they will leave and move on whenever they feel they’re ready to live independently.

“The one thing we’ve learned is that we haven’t even begun to meet the need,” Palmer said. “If we could have built three more floors, they would have been filled easily.”

Palmer hopes the community sees this effort as just the beginning of their work.

“Our youth and young adults are doing great things, but sometimes it takes just a little bit of assistance to do it. It’s really hard to do it on their own. They need just a little bit of help.”

Emily Higginbotham — 861-9239

[email protected]

Twitter: @EmilyHigg

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