Shared from the 10/6/2016 Coastal Journal eEdition

Bath Youth Meetinghouse & Skatepark launches Teen Essentials Bags for homeless youth

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Contributed photo Morse High School students in Maria Morris’ Jobs for Maine Graduates class fill Teen Essentials Bags on Sept. 27, at Bath Youth Meetinghouse & Skatepark, in an effort to help homeless teens.

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Contributed photo

BATH — With the sound of rolling, wooshing skateboards in the background, a group of teens from Morse High School gathered at the Bath Youth Meetinghouse and Skatepark, in front of tables laden with shampoo and soap, packages of tissues, deodorant and small snacks on Sept. 27.

The students, part of Maria Morris’ Jobs for Maine Graduates class, rolled up their sleeves and dug in, filling nylon knapsacks with donated goods, creating 65 emergency support packs for homeless teens.

Jamie Dorr, president of the Friends of the Bath Youth Meetinghouse and Skatepark, came up with the idea for Teen Essential Bags when she realized teen homelessness is a concern in the Bath area, as it is throughout the Midcoast.

Dorr helped a Morse High teen in Bath find a stable living situation last year, and she and her husband gave the student their own version of an essential bag. She later read an article about the issue, and it “tugged at her heart.”

Dorr spoke with Morse High staff, and realized the depths of the problem. “I knew right away I wanted The Bath Youth Meetinghouse and Skatepark to do something on a greater scale. Our board of directors was quick to approve this program and get behind the effort.”

When she mentioned her idea to Kimberly Gates of the Bath Area Food Bank, Gates told her about two women from Small Point Baptist Church who were doing something similar, and they were looking for someone to take over the program.

“They donated all of their supplies to us,” Dorr said, “about 20 plastic totes full of supplies.”

That generosity continued when Liz Wyman of Camden National Bank donated drawstring bags. Dorr said she has received donations from Shaw’s, as well, and a community member is interested in donating $5 gift cards to fast food restaurants on a regular basis.

Essentials Bags will soon be available to law enforcement, schools and other supportive community organizations. She is looking into a grant with a manufacturer of personal hygiene items, and hoping for community donations of gift cards for emergency meals, at places like Subway and McDonald’s. Essentials Bags also contain information on resources, such as the Merrymeeting Youth Project and United Way’s “211” help pamphlets.

Dorr is also collecting clothing – gently used – which may be donated by contacting her. Essentials Bags and clothing will both be available at the Bath Youth Meetinghouse and Skatepark.

The number of homeless children in Regional School Unit 1 rose from 26 in 2013 to 53 in 2015. The number has fallen slightly to 39 in 2016, with 64 percent (22) of those being high school students at Morse, according to guidance counselor Amber McGowan.

Teens in this situation make the difficult decision to leave home due to a variety of factors that make for unstable living environments, from LGBT issues to substance abuse and mental health issues.

One job of homeless youth “liaisons,” such as McGowan, is to coordinate services for these students, such as support from Donna Verhoeven and the Tedford Shelter’s Merry-meeting Youth Project. “Donna meets with our identified students regularly and coordinates services including MaineCare and SNAP, and often provides additional tangible supports to the student,” McGowan said. “She also works to identify housing options.”

School counselors like McGowan also help the student focus on what comes after high school. If it’s college, counselors relay the student’s situation to admitting schools, and assist in setting up support services and even advocate for financial assistance as needed.

There are over 100 homeless children and families in Brunswick, Maine School Administrative District 75, and RSU 1, and more than 40 of those are “unaccompanied” teenagers.

High school staff work with teens to make sure they know about the food and clothing banks at their local high schools or other community outlets. Food is provided by Mid Coast Hunger Prevention Program and the Bath Area Food Bank, and is a lifeline for many families who struggle with food insecurity.

For more information, or to arrange to distribute the bags or make donations, contact the Bath Youth Meetinghouse and Skate-park at 443-8750, or email board@bathskatepark.com.

A forum on successful community models that assist homeless youth will take place at the Topsham Public Library at 6 p.m. Oct. 20. The forum is presented by St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Brunswick, in conjunction with St. Charles/All Saints Parish, and the Ad Hoc Homeless Student Housing Group.

Lorry Fleming is a Coastal Journal contributing writer. She can be reached at: lorryfleming@gmail.com

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