People Plus in Brunswick serving seniors, teens and 'busting at the seams'
BRUNSWICK — People Plus has come a long way since it began as the Brunswick Community Center for Senior Citizens in 1976.
Previously located at the former St. Charles Church at 6 Noble St., the center has been at a former school building at 35 Union St. for the past three years, with an expanded focus from its original mission to serve area seniors.
Membership has doubled to about 1,200, and programming has followed right along. In addition, a teen center, which began in 2004 and merged with People Plus in 2009, now serves about 100 teenagers every month.
Stacey Frizzle, executive director of People Plus, touted the growth at a recent Town Council meeting. She also had a chance to show off the center's new Nonprofit Business of the Year Award from the Southern Midcoast Maine Chamber of Commerce.
"When we look at where People Plus was a decade ago, from a very small grassroots organization, to now where we see 500-600 people a week," Frizzle told the council on Feb. 3, "... we're bursting at the seams."
With an annual operating budget of about $290,000, the center receives a third of its revenue from annual appropriations from the town. The rest comes from membership income, programming income and support from grants and fundraising.
And though the organization has been in better financial shape than it has in the past decade, Frizzle said it still has its share of difficulties from time to time.
"As a whole this organization is finding itself well received with support I don't think it has had for a very long time," Frizzle said in an interview, "but it's still a struggle to keep the staff paid properly and to keep the lights on."
Frizzle is the center's only full-time employee, with support from five part-time employees – including Frank Connors, a former newspaper reporter and former town manager of Bowdoinham, who has been credited with driving membership – and nearly 200 volunteers, who serve a variety of functions.
One of those functions is the center's Volunteer Transportation Network, which is supported by 25 volunteers who helps about 100 home-bound people a year in Brunswick, Harpswell and Topsham.
In addition, People Plus runs the "Good Morning Program," which is stationed at the Brunswick Police Station and provides a daily call-in service for older or disabled adults. A volunteer is there every day of the year.
"If they don't call in, we call them, and if they don't answer, dispatch goes," Frizzle said. "Through the Good Morning Program alone, one medical emergency is averted a month."
In addition, People Plus offers a variety of classes and other kinds of programming for older adults, including art classes and table tennis matches.
On a recent Tuesday morning, Connie Bailey was teaching an art class to nearly a dozen people, with a focus on using pastels as the class' monthly theme.
"Many of my students have spent their lives raising families, working jobs (and getting caught up in life)," she said, "so many of them are creating art for the first time."
For seniors, Bailey said, People Plus is another opportunity to learn something new and be involved with the community.
"Think about the things you wish you had done (when you were younger)," she said. "Once you reach retirement you finally have the time to pursue them."
Susan Thompson, who was sitting next to Bailey and working on her own pastel illustration, remarked on the sense of community created by the center.
"There's a very good atmosphere here," she said. "People feel embraced, connected. It's just good energy here."
But seniors aren't the only ones who have opportunities.
Upstairs at around 2 p.m. from Monday to Thursday, dozens of teenagers race up to the teen center.
"We'll always see our teen population serve a large number of at-risk youth," Frizzle said, "and we will always see that because that's the group that needs the program more than any other."
Teens can decompress from the day, play video games and ping pong, eat nutritious food, work on homework and engage in a variety of other activities.
Frizzle said that some of them "need a safe place to go" because they're often not in a home with a parent when they return from school and might find themselves lacking education guidance.
But teens from more well-off backgrounds also use the teen center, too, and when all of the teens arrive, any cliques that might happen in school are gone.
Those socioeconomic boundaries - "they are ideally gone the minute they walk into the teen center," Frizzle said. "It's an even playing field here."
And that's the kind of support that can help bookend the community, she said.
"I didn't realize how rewarding this job would be since I took this job three years ago," Frizzle said. "I have since learned that although the mission speaks to an engaged, healthy, independent community what that really means is providing people the tools, the outreach services to remain independent."