BATH, Maine —
The Bath Youth Meetinghouse and Skate Park is an afternoon hangout that would make most teens jealous and leave parents wishing they had something similar in their own communities.
Brightly colored walls at the old armory in Bath house the teen center that is attached to Maine's largest indoor skate park. Teens have no shortage of entertainment choices from scootering and skating to shooting pool, watching TV, playing board games or computer games, or just enjoying a slushy at the Park Cafe.
The teen center has undergone a large redevelopment in the last year mainly due to the vision of one woman. Jamie Dorr is transforming the skate park from a cool hangout to a community center that provides serious support.
On average 70 students from middle school to early high school attend the teen center daily. In 2019 the center saw 480 different kids, ranging in ages from 5 to 24, who visited close to 7,000 times. The after-school programs run by the Midcoast Community Alliance, that Dorr founded and now runs, is geared for middle school and high school-aged kids. But Dorr says they will never turn anyone away.
Dorr was a long-time volunteer at the skate park which her older son frequented when, in 2016, a young person, who she had watched grow up at the skate park, died by suicide. Dorr was shocked. She says the young man was always smiling, was popular and well-known.
"It was devastating ... It was just time to do something about it," said Dorr.
Dorr met with a small group of people from the community to discuss the challenges facing their youth. That was the first meeting of the Midcoast Community Alliance (MCA), and by 2018, the group was a non-profit that had collected community partners from police, the local schools, the recreation department, Midcoast Hospital, local churches and the National Guard.
Dorr quit her job as a web designer to volunteer full time as she dove into researching and community organizing.
"Our kids are so important, and right now they don't feel that they are important. And to me, that is something that we just can’t keep going the same way."
She found kids in Sagadahoc County have higher rates of suicide ideation, depression, anxiety, and substance abuse than other teens in Maine. Dorr was surprised that, as a parent of two teen boys, she didn't know this.
"We’re now this huge, thriving community of volunteers."
The teen center offers tutoring, and art classes, a member of the National Guard comes in once a week to teach team building, a local fitness instructor gets the kids physically active, and even with all those options, organizers continue to look for ways to expand. There are free snacks and free hot meals provided three times a week because the center is open until 8 p.m.
When a teenager is struggling, the MCA forms what it calls wrap-around committees to try and find solutions. Recently, Jamie heard from one of the center's young visitors who had tried to quit vaping without success. Turning to one of the partnerships she had built, Jamie called Midcoast Hospital for help and now the teen is working with a tobacco prevention specialist to try and quit.
"We're figuring it out as we go," Dorr explained about her efforts to meet the needs of kids in Bath and surrounding towns who also come to the teen center.
And the work Jamie Dorr has been doing hasn't gone unnoticed. In December, the New England Patriots named Dorr the Difference Maker of the Year for her volunteer efforts and awarded the Midcoast Community Alliance $20,000.
The attention is great for the non-profit, but for Dorr, who used to consider herself an introvert, it means they might be able to hire another employee and ultimately help more teens.
"I want every student to understand that they matter, that they have a purpose, that they have something to give to their community, and if they're hurting or struggling with a mental illness...they aren't alone. I want them to know that there's always more options than taking their own life."