Big Support For A Small Community
Maine community wins State Farm Neighborhood Assist grant
Julia Sleeper learned of the negative stigma associated with the “tree streets” in Lewiston, ME, when a college professor advised her not to visit that section of town. People there were considered dangerous.
However, Julia did not listen to her professor’s warning. What Julia found were low-income residents, looking to improve their lives and the lives of their children.
In 2005, Julia began an outreach program, helping local students with homework. As needs grew beyond homework assistance, a group of individuals discussed the possibility of starting a summer youth program. In July 2011, Tree Street Youth Center opened to provide low-income youth the opportunity to learn and grow in a nurturing environment.
As the Center’s initiatives increased, so did the need of financial support. In early 2013, Julia submitted an application for the State Farm Neighborhood Assist grant program. Out of 3,000 applicants, the Center was selected as one of the Top 200. With the help of the community and Lewiston agent Lisa Laliberte, the Center received enough votes in the crowdsourced program to win one of 40 $25,000 grants.
“What I have learned from the grant program is it is not the size of the community, but rather, the size of the heart of the community that makes winning a grant possible,” said Laliberte. “Neighborhood Assist empowers individuals to identify issues in their communities and provides funding to help create a positive impact.”
Each day, the Center serves between 120-150 youth grades K-12. Nearly all youth at the Center live at or below the poverty level. Services include academic/tutoring support, safe space mentoring, arts and cultural enrichment, leadership programs and college prep support. So far this academic year (Since September 2014) they have served 365 different youth with new students joining weekly.
“Since receiving funding from State Farm we were able to double our enrichment class offering, while providing both volunteers and staff with proper supplies and space,” said Sleeper.
All enrichment classes are offered to youth at no cost to families and are open to all students at the Center.