Mainebiz Special Editions

Work for ME 2022

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Page 41 of 63

W O R K F O R M E / S P R I N G 2 0 2 2 42 H o s p i t a l i t y / R e t a i l F or years, a nonprofit in a renovated church in Westbrook has served as a beacon for children and teenagers in Cumberland and York counties needing a space to safely be themselves when school isn't in session. Some come for tutoring or other resources, while others simply need a hot meal and a place to do homework. But one program at My Place Teen Center aims not just to fulfill these kids' current needs and build up their confidence but to help build a foundation for potential success working in restaurants — a goal shared with Maine's restaurant industry, desperate to find ways to attract and retain workers after aspects of the pandemic upended the ability to find consistent, in- terested employees. Teens and children in the program are taught valuable, hands-on techniques for working in the kitchen, like knife skills and measuring ingredients, al- though volunteers help knock out much of the cutting while students are still in school. The nonprofit also tries rein- forcing positive "soft skills," like communication and problem- solving, useful both for working with customers and coworkers. Together, they help create and serve themselves a full, nutri- tious meal, often with produce and food products donated by Maine farms or foodmakers. While any child can come to My Place Teen Center, the non- profit primarily aims to benefit at-risk youth, which Donna Dw- yer, the organization's president and CEO. The center's programs are aimed at any child without "an appropriate adult role model in their life," Dwyer says. She adds that many of the kids in the program face "more excessive risk factors beyond that," including poverty, health issues, chronic hunger and in- secure access to housing. The restaurant training pro- gram has evolved over the past few years. "It's been in some version of itself for five years, but its best version of itself really came with- in the past two to three years, it evolved," says Dwyer. That's in part because My Place Teen Center has hired professional chefs — like Mac Waybright, the nonprofit's youth culinary program instructor — to both help feed the kids and teach them best kitchen practices. Jack Richards, a 15-year-old Westbrook resident, has been spending some time at My Place Teen Center and participating in the program for about two months. So far, he has learned how to make chicken with rose- mary and balsamic vinegar, as well as meatballs with sauce, from scratch. Richards has trouble sleeping through the night, often falling asleep during the school day. When he started attending the training program, he worried it would interfere with his trying to catch up on sleep after school. Things have changed now. "It's nice to actually have something to do instead of lay- ing down the whole day," he says. P H O T O / T I M G R E E N W A Y Donna Dwyer, president and CEO of My Place Teen Center, says teens today face a range of challenges, but training them for jobs increases their chances of success. SKILLS KITCHEN build confidence B Y B R I D G E T R E E D M O R A W S K I A nonprofit offers training for restaurant jobs

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