Building relationships: Oliver Place, Bath community provide support for at-risk teens

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BATH — If it weren’t for Oliver Place, Cori Mullins said, she might not still be in school.

The 17-year-old, who has been at the residential treatment facility at 55 Oliver St. since last summer, is a senior at Morse High School. She goes to school day and night to ensure that she will graduate on time, and the Oliver Place staff keeps on her to study.

“I wouldn’t be able to have even been in school still if it wasn’t for these guys,” she said last week.

Oliver Place started in 1997, following in the footsteps of the now-closed Bath Children’s Home. It is licensed by the state, and its residents, between the ages of 14 and 20, are referred to the six-bed facility by Children’s Behavioral Health Services.

Ellen Hurd, clinician at Oliver Place, said the residents have “pretty significant mental health issues that are not able to be maintained in the community without this kind of service, but they don’t meet the level for psychiatric hospitalization.”

Depression and post traumatic stress disorder are two issues seen at the facility.

Oliver Place creates an environment that is more home-like and less institutional, and it provides 24-hour therapeutic support. It is staffed every hour of the day and has a counselor there at all times, Hurd said. The residents are provided with individual and group therapy, as well as family therapy.

The youths learn skills that are important as they become adults, like meal planning and budget management, she said, with a major focus on daily living skills.

“What we would have learned growing up in a home, where we had chores, and we had responsibilities around the house,” Hurd said. “… We have the same expectations for the residents who live here.”

The community surrounding Oliver Place plays a large role in the lives of the residents, helping them learn job skills. Their wide array of volunteer activities includes time with City Arborist Tom Hoerth, work with the Salvation Army during the holidays, and participation in the DARE police craft fair, the Making Strides cancer walk and Heritage Days parade. They also do jobs like raking leaves for neighbors.

“It really means something, that people know our kids, and like our kids, and our kids consistently step up to the plate,” Hurd said. While they can at times exhibit behavior problems at Oliver Place, she added, “out in the community they go above and beyond and act like upstanding community members. … And the community really responds, and reinforces that. Which is treatment.”

The youths tend to stay at Oliver Place up to four months to a year. They are discharged when they no longer meet the criteria for that level of care, Hurd said, “which is that they’re able to manage their psychiatric issues outside of this environment.”

Oliver Place offers a Home and Community Treatment program for discharged youths, governing their transition back to their own home or their family’s home.

“We stay involved,” Hurd said. “And we provide therapeutic and case management services in the home. … It provides a nice bridge to get them through that period of time right after discharge, which can be an unstable time.”

While Oliver Place gets state funding, donations from a variety of sources help make the facility look and feel more like a home, staffers said. Those donations put presents under the tree at Christmas and are so numerous that some gifts are set aside to be given to the youths on other occasions, like birthdays.

The donations also help Oliver Place’s resident dog, Madison. Neighbors drop off their bottles, and the redemption money goes toward Madison’s food. The Veterinary Clinic in Brunswick offers free services to the canine.

Having spent time at other group homes, Mullins praised Oliver Place’s family-oriented atmosphere. “They build relationships in the community,” she said.

And those relationships may provide the greatest therapy of all.

Oliver Place’s community involvement “provides a place of belonging, it provides opportunities to build relationships,” Hurd said. “… In our little micro world of (Oliver Place), we’re able to provide that, but sort of in the macro community world, we’re able to provide that, too.”

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 or alear@theforecaster.net.

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Mjay Giddings, standing, a resident at Oliver Place in Bath, watches as Direct Care Counselor Kimi Hall, left, Assistant Director Andrea Babbin-Wood and resident Cori Mullins play a board game.

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A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.