LEWISTON, Maine (NEWS CENTER) -- A Lewiston youth center received a big financial boost today from two local businesses: John T. Gorman foundation and Lee Autos. It's great news because the Tree Street Community Youth Center, which serves children whose families are below the poverty line, needs to grow its building.
Tree Street was the brainchild of a couple of Bates College students. It was actually a student project. Now, five years later, they've helped more than a thousand kids and have outgrown their space.
"I like Tree Street because they help us with our homework and we do fun activities when we're there," fifth-grader Ubah Abdi explained. When Ubah and her friends get out of school, their first stop is Tree Street, a second home for them. Many of the kids come from either immigrant or refugee families. Most are very economically challenged. Ubah wants to be a doctor, her friend Samantha, a nurse. "I like that people are always there for you even when the times are hard."
Tree street serves students from the Lewiston Auburn area---most, living in poverty. In 2011, when Tree Street opened up, many used it simply as a place to go after school. That service helped parents who were busy working multiple jobs. Now, five years later, Tree Street has become much more.
"I think we kind of dreamed of ways in which the center could grow and flourish and it's definitely leaps and bounds beyond probably anything we could have imagined," shared Julia Sleeper, who founded Tree Street while she was still a college student at Bates. “I feel it’s extremely important,” Sleeper said. “(The kids are) really working hard at their school work. Exploring new things and building their strengths and capacities to be contributors to the broader community. Beyond even Tree Street.”
And Wednesday afternoon, a cherry on top. Two big donations that will allow tree street to grow--significantly.
"On behalf of Lee Auto Malls, we are pleased to join your hometown heroes," Adam Lee told Sleeper, as he handed her a check for $50,000. “We are so pleased to help you get closer to your capital campaign goal for Tree Street.” Fifteen young people who receive services at the youth center flanked Lee and Sleeper, erupting into applause when Sleeper accepted the check. “It is really, really generous,” Sleeper told Lee.
Lee, who owns Lee Autos, is known for his generosity. He admits though that his gifts usually don’t exceed $1000. Tree Street, however, tugged at his heart. "When we first got a tour of the place I was amazed to see what they were able to do with almost no resources with a bunch of kids from the community," Adam Lee explained. “It started as an afterschool program to help them and to think in five years a few people with just a little bit of money were able to create a program with a 100 percent high school graduation rate, I truly think it’s the future of Maine,” Lee said. He looked at the graduation rate and the fact that 31 of the students are going to college and knew he wanted to play a larger role. “We realized this is something worth our investing in.”
Lee’s donation plus another $50,000 donation from the John T. Gorman Foundation will go toward helping even more kids at an expanded Tree Street.
The plan is to expand Tree Street's footprint by 5700 square feet---allowing for more classrooms, recreation space and a career aspiration center---the goal is to give these kids a step up and out of poverty. They have just $200,000 more to go in covering the $1.3 million needed for the project. “We've worked really hard over this year and for this sizable of a contribution from Lee Auto (and Gorman), it just really means a lot to us," Sleeper shared.
And, it would appear, to mean a lot to Adam Lee, too. The auto giant, who owns dealerships in Auburn and all around the state of Maine said that the entire state could learn a lesson from Julia Sleeper and her Tree Street Youth Community Center. “It’s a model of what could be done with the right attitude in any community,” Lee explained. “But this is downtown Lewiston, it's a tough neighborhood and they've turned things around and I really do believe this is the future of Maine."
Copyright 2016 WCSH