AUGUSTA — United Way of Kennebec Valley has invested $90,000 to advance three nonprofit programs in Kennebec County.

The Innovation Fund, established in 2021, supports new, creative solutions and approaches that aim to lead to breakthroughs in UWKV’s priority area — health, education and financial stability — and help redesign the future of the Kennebec Valley.

“Local nonprofits work hard to support our most vulnerable neighbors,” said Courtney Yeager, executive director of UWKV, according to a news release from the organization. “But the day-to-day intensity of their work leaves little time and resources to test innovative approaches that could broaden impact or improve service delivery. United Way’s Innovation Fund intends to support nonprofits as they aim to fill a void or better the systems in which they operate.”

The three selected recipients address entrenched issues with novel solutions that are more effective, efficient and collaborative than current solutions. Additionally, these programs align with the community-wide goal-setting initiative, Impact2032, by offering steps toward financial stability.

The first recipient of the Innovation Fund, the Augusta Teen Center, has been awarded $30,000 for its Edge Program, a program with the objective to give Kennebec County teenagers the skills and training that will allow them to explore different job and career options before entering the workforce.

The Edge Program, which is geared toward teens in ATC’s Diversion to Assets and Alternative to Suspension programs, will match youth with local businesses that will teach and grow basic workplace skills that they may not otherwise have the opportunity to develop. Community partners in Augusta may support the program by offering host sites, mock interviews and resume assistance.

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“With the employee shortages that so many local businesses are experiencing, here at the ATC, we are hoping to help,” said Charles Huerth, executive director of the ATC. “The ATC is thrilled to have received funding support from the UWKV Innovation Fund to help give local teens the edge they need to become the amazing employees our local community is seeking.”

The second recipient, South Parish Congregational Church, responds to the needs of Southern Kennebec County’s homeless population during the coldest months of the year. SPCC was awarded $30,000 from the Innovation Fund for an Emergency Overnight Warming Center.

This project seeks to address one piece of a much larger housing crisis by creating a low-barrier emergency overnight warming center located at SPCC and operated by a center director and team of trained seasonal staff.

The center will benefit not only individuals seeking assistance, but the providers who work with them by establishing an effective, efficient and less costly way of ensuring that individuals have a safe place to sleep at night.

“The Overnight Emergency Warming Center in Augusta is something that the community has needed for a number of years, and South Parish has unutilized space in the building that is perfect for the Center,” said Nathan Richards, pastor of SPCC. “Over the last couple of winters, I didn’t have an answer for people who came in the evenings with no place to go except for back out into the freezing temperatures,” Richards continued. “A team of skilled and passionate individuals is behind this project, and we are incredibly grateful to UWKV for providing support so we can bring it to fruition.”

Northern Kennebec County is also experiencing a critical need for overnight shelter during the winter months. To that end, Mid-Maine Homeless Shelter and Services was awarded $30,000 to operate a warming shelter from Nov. 1 to March 31.

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The shelter operates its 48-bed shelter at full capacity, which allows the organization to serve approximately 20% of those requesting services. The additional warming center will provide that critical overnight shelter to the people who need it most.

The shelter meets the immediate, life-preserving housing needs of the most vulnerable population in Kennebec County. This includes people who are survivors of domestic violence and human trafficking, those who identify as LGBTQIA+ and people of color, all of whom are disproportionately impacted by housing insecurity.

In addition to a safe place to sleep, the overnight warming shelter will provide bathrooms, showers, food and access to professional case management, housing navigation and programs like Rapid Rehousing, setting these individuals up for long-term success.

“We are thrilled to be recognized by the Innovation Fund and look forward to partnering with the United Way to help ensure no one is left unsheltered in the greater Kennebec Valley,” said Katie Spencer White, chief executive officer of the shelter. “The statewide housing crisis is unprecedented, and we’re excited to capture our expertise in delivering low-barrier emergency shelter so that communities across central Maine can provide a safe place for all of our friends and neighbors in crisis.”

For more information, visit uwkv.org/innovation.

 

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