Wettlaufer leaving downtown Lewiston community center

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LEWISTON — After nine years as the head of the Trinity Jubilee Center — Lewiston’s loose, come-as-you-are community center and soup kitchen — Kim Wettlaufer made few rules.

“It’s what makes the place what it is. Rules wouldn’t work,” Wettlaufer said, staring out at the folks who lingered in the dining area. Around the corner, Development Director Erin Reed rationed the tomatoes and apples for people who stood in line for their weekly bags of groceries. Outside, more folks stood and chatted as children toddled underfoot.

“It’s like a family, a little dysfunctional at times, but it’s a family,” Wettlaufer said. It’s a family that’s about to experience a kind of divorce.

Wettlaufer is stepping down as executive director.

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In less than two weeks, the 57-year-old Bates graduate plans to reduce his role to “volunteer.” Reed will step into his post. And Wettlaufer will use the time to do other work.

The former All-American runner plans to continue coaching the Lewiston High School cross country team. He’ll continue working as one of four partners who own a dozen Subway restaurants in the area.

And he’ll do his favorite work, being a dad to his 1-year-old son, Miles.

“I want to spend more time with him,” Wettlaufer said. When Miles was born, Wettlaufer cut his job to part time. But that never quite worked for either Wettlaufer’s family or Trinity.

Trinity needs a full-time director, he said.

Reed, who began volunteering here as a Bates College freshman in 2004, became the obvious choice for the job. At first, she turned it down.

“I was just intimidated by it,” she said. “Then I thought about it.”

She wants to be here for decades, she said.

“This is my place,” she said. “I love it here.”

She likes the busyness and chaos that sometimes fill the center, as it did Thursday when she handed out groceries to feed about 350 families.

According to its website, the Trinity Jubilee Center is a non-religious organization that provides hot meals, groceries, case management, a safe haven and support in negotiating life’s challenges. It opened in 1991.

“I always explain to people that this place wouldn’t exist, it couldn’t operate, if people didn’t believe in it, if they didn’t make it happen,” Reed said. “If people who lived in this neighborhood didn’t come in here every day and cook and clean and help each other, we’d have to close.”

During Wettlaufer’s years, the center, which rents space from Trinity Episcopal church, grew substantially. Since 2005, when he became the director, the center expanded to a seven-days-per-week schedule and saw its pantry swell from helping a few dozen families each week to its current numbers, averaging 300 or more each week.

Reed said she had no changes planned.

“(Kim) leaves big shoes to fill, but I’m excited,” she said. “I’m up for the challenge.”

And he’s not leaving. Wettlaufer plans to volunteer one or two days a week. He won’t have the responsibility of running the place anymore.

“He’ll still be around all the time but now he can just help people without the weight of being the executive director on his shoulders,” Reed said.

He’ll still talk to the folks looking for food, a ride or help filling out a job application.

And on the rare occasions, he’ll still take on the stern role of a father.

He never had a serious problem with people’s behavior in all of his years.

“Every time I asked someone to leave, they did,” he said. “And then I gave them a sentence of a couple days and they came back.”

Often, it’s just calming someone who is upset, as he did Thursday morning when a woman arrived and began yelling.

Wettlaufer rolled his eyes and grinned.

“I guess I have to be the warden,” he said.

dhartill@sunjournal.com

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