The Star-Herald

Boys and Girls Club looking to expand services with new community space

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — Even before the COVID-19 pandemic hit Aroostook County, the Boys and Girls Club of Presque Isle knew that it would need a larger space to help area youth and families access services, activities and community togetherness.

Starting this spring, the Club, an entity of the Aroostook Band of Micmacs, will slowly begin to welcome youth back to in-person programming thanks to its new building, which is being called the Micmac Safe Haven Emergency Center.

The $1.4 million project was funded by the Aroostook Band of Micmacs, Wabanaki Health and Wellness, CARES Act assistance from the U.S. Department of the Treasury and Boys and Girls Clubs of Border Towns.

Though most of the Boys and Girls Club staff offices will remain in the Micmac Wellness Center on 56 Micmac Drive, both the Wellness Center and Safe Haven will be connected through a corridor to allow easy access to each space. Safe Haven will primarily consist of a gymnasium that staff can divide into separate spaces for individual programming and allow for social distancing during the remainder of the pandemic.

Safe Haven will serve as the primary location for the Boys and Girls Club’s programs, including the 21st Century after-school tutoring, mentorship, recovery groups and parent support groups. With the larger space, the Club plans to expand its outreach into programs specifically for teens, including after-hours gym activities and mental health support.

In the future, the Club hopes to use Safe Haven as an overnight space in the event of a fire or other emergency that displaces community members.

To help expand its services, the Club recently received $500,000 in emergency funding from the Maine Department of Health and Human Services to address the increased mental health and substance use issues that have arisen during the pandemic due to increased community isolation. 

Though local data is currently unavailable, Cory Tilley, director of the Boys and Girls Club of Presque Isle, noted that in Maine the rates of suicide and substance use relapses have gone up sustaintially, especially among people who were seeking mental health or recovery support before the pandemic.

As part of the 18-month DHHS funding, the Club will hire three new staff members: a family care specialist, an outreach development specialist and a second transportation driver. The staff will offer a “holistic” approach that looks at an entire family’s needs and determines what specific services would best support their goals. 

“For some families, that might mean getting transportation to medical appointments or referrals to a local mental health provider,” Tilley said. 

Construction for the interior of Safe Haven is still underway but Tilley expects the building to be finished in early spring. In the meantime, the Club will continue bringing activities to Presque Isle area youth through its Boys and Girls Club on Wheels and virtual programs, and developing a strategy for bringing children and teens to Safe Haven for socially distanced programs.

The Club has traditionally served youth ages 5 to 18 and currently serves around 65. Tilley said that offering in-person programs again will allow the Club to better serve students who need or enjoy having a safe place to be around other students their age after school.

“In many families both parents are working and they want a safe place to send their kids after school. Some kids need the extra support through our tutoring program or just want a place to be with other kids,” Tilley said. “Families have been through a lot [during the pandemic] and we’re excited to have the larger space to accommodate everyone again.”

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