LEWISTON — The Auburn-Lewiston Boys & Girls Club is opening a teen center in the Lewiston Armory this spring in a bid to expand services and improve access to middle and high school students in need.

The organization provides meals, activities, and academic support for 60 K-12 students daily in its Auburn clubhouse on Second Street. But its program has outgrown the space.

The armory was at the top of the list for the expansion, clubhouse director Gary Violette said. Just a stone’s throw from Lewiston Middle School, the site boasts three basketball courts, outdoor recreational fields, and 1,600 square feet for activities and academic support.

The armory will be easily accessible for Lewiston students, he said. Middle school students can walk, and a bus will drop high school students off every day. Auburn students will be brought by club vans each day.

“It’s a fabulous location for us, and we’re really thankful for the city supporting us in the armory,” Girls & Boys Club of Southern Maine CEO Brian Elowe said.

The new location will enable the organization to expand its teen program, both in numbers and program offerings. Beyond the recreational and arts activities, staff will also provide career and college support.

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The organization’s service to the community goes beyond its work as an after-school program. When schools adopted hybrid education models last year, the Boys & Girls clubhouse in Auburn provided daytime support for remote-learning students.

“(The purpose of the club) is really fundamentally to help the kids who need us the most, and to make sure that they graduate from high school on time with a plan for the future,” Violette said.

Deanna Tabor, a junior at Lewiston High School and a longtime member of the Girls & Boys Club, said she can’t wait for the new clubhouse. She’ll miss the younger students, all of whom she knows by name, but she’s eager to meet new people as the program grows.

“There’s so many middle school students that love basketball and don’t really have nowhere to go after school,” she said. “There’s so many kids that just walk home, and a lot of kids walk past the armory … we’ll have, like, 10 times the teens that we have here.”

Tabor has been a clubhouse member for 11 years and was chosen as the Boys & Girls Club of Southern Maine youth of the year candidate in 2020. She plays hockey for the Lewiston High School Blue Devils and sharpens her culinary skills as a student at The Green Ladle, a culinary arts program at Lewiston Regional Technical Center in Lewiston.

The clubhouse, though, is special to her, and she believes in its mission to help local kids.

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“In my opinion, it definitely keeps you off the streets,” Tabor said. “Because honestly, during the summertime I’m always walking the streets if the club’s not open. I’m hanging out with friends. And I see what happens, I see people all the time doing drugs or, like, yeah. Honestly, if it wasn’t for the club, like who knows what it’d be like.

“(The clubhouse) feels like home,” she added.

The expansion is part of the Boys & Girls Club of Southern Maine’s plan to double the number of kids they serve over the next five years, Elowe said. Seventy percent of their 3,000 members are below the poverty line, and Lewiston-Auburn youth are especially in need of support.

Before COVID-19, one in five of their members attended the Auburn clubhouse, he added.

“There’s 40,000 kids in Maine that are unsupervised in the afternoons, and half of those kids live in the territory that we operate in (Southern Maine),” Elowe said. “Part of that, it’s about expanding into new areas and looking for opportunities to partner with the cities to provide the services.”

In 1995, Auburn asked the organization to establish a club in the city and provided a space, Violette said. The organization pays the city a $1 each year in rent.

The teen center will be open five days a week from 2 to 7 p.m. during the school year, with additional programming in the summer.


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