LEWISTON — In 2011, Tree Street Youth was a two-room summer youth program tucked into a building at the corner of Howe and Birch streets. Employees were founder Julie Sleeper, four interns and eight high school leaders.

Today, Tree Street Youth comprises Sleeper and 12 paid staffers, four interns and 25 high school leaders.

Wednesday, Sleeper and members of the group’s board unveiled a massive expansion to turn the youth education program’s operation into a major youth center downtown on Birch Street.

“Here we are five years later — we now own the entire facility,” Sleeper said. “We’ve expanded our program tremendously, now serving between 120 and 150 youth per day and almost 600 youth every school year.”

It’s all part of a $1.3 million fundraising campaign and expansion. Once stuck in the corner of the building, the program will expand into the entire structure, take over an old painting contractor’s warehouse next door and demolish the northernmost building.

The warehouse will be renovated into a modern space for sixth-graders and older with a multi-purpose gym and auditorium, a gaming area and study spaces. The northernmost section will become an outdoor play area for older kids.


The youngest elementary school-age students will stay in the original space, which will be expanded, renovated and modernized.

Sleeper said she hopes to have everything finished and ready by January 2017, when the kids return from winter break.

“We hope to have the construction done around Thanksgiving,” she said. “We’ll give the kids some time to get in and hang out in the space, and then come back and implement new programming for the kids when they come back from break.”

Betty Robinson, chair of the fundraising campaign, said the group has already raised $800,000 of its $1.3 million goal. That includes $150,000 in support from Geiger. In response, Sleeper said the group will name the new community center the Geiger Center for Learning and Leadership.

Geiger CEO Gene Geiger said it’s a natural fit for his organization.

“Education does not begin or end with the school bell,” Geiger said. “Beyond school is where Julia and her staff carry on and have a real impact.”


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