Freeport Teen Center faces financial crisis, seeks more funding from RSU 5

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FREEPORT — As he lined up a billiard shot Monday, Sam DiFazio talked about what the Port Teen Center means to him.

“There’s always something to do around here,” the 16-year-old said. “You never get bored.”

Finding something to do almost got much tougher when a $20,000 budget shortfall made the future very dim for the gathering spot in the basement of the Freeport Community Center.

The possible closing of the center this fall will not occur because of a $5,000 contribution from the town and a $10,000 contribution from L.L. Bean. Center coordinator Evan Kumagae said a $5,000 budget gap still needs to be filled.

“We are breathing a little easier, but we are in a perpetual state of fundraising,” he said.

Open for 3 1/2 hours until 6 p.m. on school days, the center serves a core of about 45 middle and high school students, Kumagae said.

The basement space has pool, Foosball and air hockey tables; board games; a game area and a sitting room. While not everyone may feel like doing homework, Kumagae said there are quiet areas for study, too.

Beyond daily activities, the center hosts Friday night dodge-ball games at Mast Landing School, trips throughout the year and summer activities.

For two years, Kumagae has coordinated the activities at the center, as a leader, taskmaster and sometimes a peacemaker. He said his decisions may make some youths stay away for a time, but almost all come back.

“They vote with their feet,” he joked.

New to the center is a corner filled with wrestling mats and pillows – a spot for members to safely burn off energy. Colin Richard, an eighth-grader who has been coming to the center for two years, said the area is good for mediating disputes.

“We’ll say, ‘let’s take it to the mat,'” he said.

Kumagae said the center tries to be self-sustaining on an annual operating budget of $65,000. The annual Sitting Pretty auction, where wooden furniture or canoe paddles are painted and sold, is the primary fundraiser; it raised $16,500 this year.

Over the five years the center has been open, budget shortfalls have been covered by contributions from Regional School Unit 5 Recreation and Community Education reserves.

Russell Packett, the director of recreation and community programs, said the department made a five-year commitment to help sustain the center. In that time, the department has contributed about $100,000 to center operations, but it decided to step back this year.

Packett said the decision is driven in part by the fact the teen center has been unable to show it can consistently raise enough funds to also attract grants to offset costs.

Kumagae said he planned to approach the School Board for additional funding at the community budget meeting Wednesday night at Freeport High School.

Kumagae has a teaching certificate and is studying for a master’s degree at the University of Southern Maine, but said the teen center is better suited to him than a traditional classroom.

“What is often undervalued is this is a space designed and meant for teens and their development,” he said.

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

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Port Teen Center Coordinator Even Kumagae, left, said the financial crisis that almost forced the center to close this fall has eased. “We are in a perpetual state of fundraising, he said. Sam DiFazio, 16, right, said he has been coming to the teen center for two years. “There is always somethign to do here, you never get bored,” he said.

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Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.