WATERVILLE — Eighty-five percent of the more than 250 children who daily attend the Alfond Youth Center’s licensed, accredited after-school program are food insecure, attend the program free of charge and receive a free hot meal and a snack.

Aside from providing 85,000 meals and snacks to children annually, the nonprofit Alfond Center sends home with children 125 backpacks  with children every Friday.

Waterville Mayor Nick Isgro listens to a discussion Tuesday of the importance of the after-school programs after a tour of the Alfond Youth Center on North Street in Waterville. Morning Sentinel photo by Michael G. Seamans

And while Ken Walsh, the center’s president and chief executive officer, is excellent at fundraising, the money that the center garners goes right into programs for youth, with that money essentially disappearing as quickly as it comes in, according to Scott Jones, who on Monday became the president of the center’s board of directors.

“There is this perception that we have a lot of money,” Jones said Tuesday. “There actually is no extra money in the budget.”

Jones was speaking Tuesday afternoon in the board room of the center on North Street, where Mayor Nick Isgro and City Councilor Jay Coelho, D-Ward 5, had just taken a tour of the center led by Chrissy Johnson, child and youth development director, as well as center members Maya Veilleux, 12, her sister, Isabella, 9, and Mayleigh Crews, also 9.

“All the money we raise, it’s going right back out, and we could use so much more,” Jones said.

The entire City Council had been invited for the tour, but most were at work Tuesday and unable to attend. Walsh, Jones and outgoing board President Margaret Griffin, accompanied the tour guides. Patrick Guerette, chief operating officer, joined the group for the meeting in the board room after the tour.

The tour included a visit to Adventure Playland, a large room where children were playing on inflatables, an art room where they were working on a mural, a dance room and a greenhouse where children learn how to grow vegetables and flowers with help from Mike Owens, greenhouse and garden coordinator, and 28 Colby College student volunteers. As part of the program, children learn how to grow food and maintain healthful eating habits.

Ken Walsh, center, CEO of the Alfond Youth Center, meets with community leaders Tuesday during a tour of the facility on North Street in Waterville. Morning Sentinel photo by Michael G. Seamans

The Alfond Center is undergoing a $6.12 million construction project to develop a family wellness center that will include a teaching kitchen, a community indoor track, and nutrition and youth wellness programs for seniors, adults and children. The wellness center is scheduled to open in June if all goes according to plan. The Alfond Foundation donated the $6.12 million needed for the effort. Others also have supported the effort, and their names will be announced at the dedication ceremony.

The center’s annual budget this year will be about $4 million, with the wellness addition, according to Jones.

Walsh sees the wellness project as part of a larger revitalization effort taking place in Waterville that includes a new Colby College residential complex downtown, a hotel about to be built by Colby, plans for an art and film center on Main Street and other initiatives. Millions of dollars are being infused into downtown by Colby and others.

“We’re part of it. We’re glad to be providing this type of service to the community,” Walsh said of the renaissance before the tour.

With the largest licensed child care program in the state for one site, the Alfond Center’s mission is to give children a safe place to grow, thrive and succeed while not in school.

Walsh said the Alfond Center works with the city in many ways, including with the Parks and Recreation Department, but it wanted to have a dialogue with the council and the city about what else the center can do to help support the community. Partnerships, he said, develop unity within communities.

Recreation activities, he said, can be an economic engine; and it is in Waterville, with the Quarry Road Recreation Area, the Purnell Wrigley Baseball Field, which is the only licensed replica of Wrigley Field, located in Waterville, and other attractions. They bring community together and draw people from outside who stay in area hotels and eat in the restaurants, according to Walsh.

From left, Waterville Mayor Nick Isgro, Patrick Guerette, program director, and Chrissy Johnson, child and youth development director, sit in on a conference Tuesday with Ken Walsh, Alfond Youth Center CEO, after a tour of the additions and new amenities at the facility on North Street in Waterville. Morning Sentinel photo by Michael G. Seamans

Isgro said he thinks what is unique about the Alfond Center is that it is a nonprofit serving a lot of underprivileged kids and it also serves every socio-economic level in the community. The center, he said, has a lot of talented people on its board.

“I’m an easy sell here, guys,” Isgro said.

Coelho, whose children attended the center and whose youngest attends the after-school program, agreed.

“I’ve been getting sold for years,” he said.

The Alfond Youth Center early this year paid a little more than $27,000 to the city as part of a building expansion permit fee the city previously had discounted. The money was paid after Isgro and residents Paul Lussier and Julian Payne complained about the discount at a Jan. 2 council meeting, with Isgro arguing that giving the youth center a building permit fee discount sets a precedent, and Lussier saying taxpayers are entitled to fair and equal treatment.

Lussier, the city’s Planning Board chairman and a developer, said at that meeting that he was not speaking on behalf of that board when talking about the building permit.

City Manager Michael Roy previously had decided to charge the youth center 10 percent of the total building permit fee of $30,700 for the wellness center expansion, as it had done with the homeless shelter. Roy acknowledged afterward that the fee discount should have been a council decision, and he apologized.

Walsh said during that time that costs for construction of the addition had escalated over the past year because of increased steel and other prices, and the center asked the city to consider a discount but was not sure if it would be granted.

The Alfond Center, which also has pools, a martial arts dojo and other activities, opened in 1999 and is a combination Boys & Girls Club and YMCA — the only combined club in the country. The center also hosts Camp Tracy, a summer day camp that has a two-thirds-scale replica of Fenway Park that Cal Ripken Jr. dedicated in 2007 to the late Harold Alfond, who proposed combining the YMCA and Boys & Girls clubs.

 

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

Twitter: @AmyCalder17

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