Club member Kaiden Morin talks Thursday about how going to the center had improved his life during an event in the new downtown Augusta Teen Center of the Boys & Girls Club. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

AUGUSTA — Neither Ashlyn Flynn nor Kaiden Morin came to the Augusta Teen Center by choice, but both say they quickly grew to love the club and came to see the people there as an extended family.

Club member Ashlyn Flynn talks Thursday about how going to the center had improved her life during an event in the new downtown Augusta Teen Center of the Boys & Girls Club in downtown Augusta. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

That family is now raising money for a new, much more spacious home in a building donated to the club in downtown Augusta.

And they’re already $746,000 on their way toward a $1 million fundraising goal to set up their new building for teens, thanks in large part to a $500,000 grant from the Peter Alfond Foundation, and several other early, large donors.

Morin first came to the Augusta Teen Center, then and for now located alongside other Boys & Girls Club programs in the basement at the Buker Community Center on Armory Street, four years ago, through an alternative to suspension program. He said he’d been in and out of trouble and was facing juvenile detention but, through a diversion program he accessed through the club, he was able to reduce that punishment. Even after the time he was required to come to the teen center, he kept coming, on his own, and teen center officials helped him change his life for the better. He now hopes to open a teen center himself someday, to help kids like him.

“This place is really awesome,” he told a crowd gathered to kick off fundraising for the club’s move to 244 Water St. this week. “It’s like a second family to me, to everybody.”‘

Flynn, who also first came to the teen center because she was told she had to, not because she wanted to, said at first she didn’t talk to anyone there. Then she started opening up more and more, where she said she’d complain to Executive Director Charles Huerth about how horrible everything was, but that he had a way of making her see others’ perspectives, and she always left his office feeling a little better about herself and her situation.

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“I went there as much as I could, because I loved it there,” she said of the teen center. “When I wasn’t getting support at home, or at school, I got it at the club.”

Huerth said the new building has about five times the space as their spot at Buker, where they’ve served up to 400 teens in a year.

The building will provide more programming space where teens can be mentored and learn workforce and socialization skills that will help them succeed in their lives. If needed, teens can also receive counseling, including crisis and mental health services in a partnership with Crisis & Counseling Centers of Augusta, which will have staff in office space on the second floor of the building.

Club staff member Jasper Parrilli, left chats with Jared Mills, Augusta’s police chief and assistant city manager, during an event Thursday in the new downtown Augusta Teen Center of the Boys & Girls Club. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Huerth said he hopes the new location in the heart of the city’s downtown will bring teens into more contact with their neighbors, local businesses and residents. He said several downtown business owners and employees have already expressed interest in coming to the club to talk with teenagers and serve as mentors. And that as teen members of the club reach the age where they’re looking for jobs, the business owners can help counsel them on what to expect, and what will be expected of them in their first jobs.

He hopes the central location in the community will better connect the teens that come there with the community, and vice versa.

“My hope is we can help show adults there are better ways to work with teens, help adults work more in tune with their teenagers,” Huerth said.

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Board member Tobias Parkhurst, of Cushnoc Brewing, talks Thursday about how as youth he used to skateboard at the Boys & Girls Club in Waterville, during an event in the new downtown Augusta Teen Center of the Boys & Girls Club. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Tobias Parkhurst, a member of the teen center’s board of directors, said teens that feel connected to the community will be less likely to commit crimes there and more likely to be productive citizens. Parkhurst, a former professional skateboarder, said he and other teens appreciated being made to feel welcome at the Waterville Area Boys & Girls Club where, two nights a week when he was a teen, they let kids skateboard in the club’s gym. Parkhurst is also a co-founder of Cushnoc Brewing, which is across the street from the teen center.

Maeghan Maloney, district attorney for Kennebec and Somerset counties, said she became familiar with the Boys & Girls Club’s work with teens as a mentor there in 2013 and has been impressed to see teens come there who appeared to be heading for trouble instead turn their lives around.

Maeghan Maloney, district attorney of Kennebec and Somerset counties, speaks Thursday during an event in the new downtown Augusta Teen Center of the Boys & Girls Club. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

“Teenagers just need someone to be a mentor for them and a place where they can be themselves,” she said. “Teens are in development, so let’s give them a place to do that safely. That’s what this is. That’s why I’m so excited.”

In addition to the $500,000 matching grant from the Alfond Foundation, early significant donations have included: more than $100,000 from the club’s board of directors members; $50,000 from Kennebec Savings Bank; $25,000 from Kennebec Valley Federal Credit Union; $30,000 from Full Plates Full Potential; and $30,000 from the Redmond Family.

Teens who led tours of the building, donated to the teen center by Portland area developer Richard McGoldrick, who also owns and has donated other buildings in Augusta, said they’re looking forward to the move to new, larger space. The building is valued, by the city for tax purposes, at $663,000.

Jasper Parilli first came to the club as a member, then as a volunteer who helped others at the teen center serve and deliver hundreds of meals during the coronavirus pandemic, and is now a staff member there. Parilli said now it can be hard to deliver programming to teens due to the noise and cramped confines. Programs to be offered in the larger spot will include job skills. The plans have a commercial kitchen. Huerth said teens will prepare food for a digital cafe where food may be served to the public.

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“With more space comes more opportunity,” Parilli said.

Teens will also be able to access a drivers education simulation program to help teens learn how to drive.

Club member Hayden Carver, left, and other guests look at the view from the second floor window Thursday during an event in the new downtown Augusta Teen Center of the Boys & Girls Club. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Teens like Hayden Carver said he spends a good share of his time at the club, where his siblings also come, now playing basketball, in the Buker Center’s gym.

Teens won’t have that option at the new downtown location where there is no gym. But Carver and Huerth said there are city parks which have basketball courts, and a skatepark, within about a half-mile of the building, and the center is also near the starting point to the Kennebec River Rail Trail, and other recreational offerings.

Jacob Miller, who has been coming to the teen center for about three months, said while he’s there he hangs out with his friends, plays games, and helps clean the building and cook meals for others.

“It keeps me occupied,” he said of why he volunteers to clean and cook at the teen center, where he comes after school.

Huerth said the club is open to any teen who wants to come and, other than being in at least seventh grade, there is no restriction on who can use the facility. The club’s programming generally targets teens who are at risk, low income or low performing, and is available at no cost.

The 10,260-square-foot, two-story building served most recently as office space for the Maine Department of Health and Human Services and, before that, was a series of banks.

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