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Apex Youth Connection

Building connections through bikes.

Apex Youth Connection supports disadvantaged youth by providing a safe and supportive place where kids can go after school to explore a variety of social and recreational activities. Hannaford has supported this nonprofit organization through the Hannaford Helps Community Bag and Bloomin’ 4 Good Programs.

Tell us about Apex Youth Connection.

Our organization was founded in 2001 as the Community Bicycle Center. The founder wanted a way to connect kids with caring adults and provide mentorship through bike rides. From here, it turned into an open shop where kids could come to learn about fixing and building bikes.

Our organization was incorporated and became a 501(c)(3) nonprofit in 2005. It has gone through several different iterations. Today, we are known as Apex Youth Connection and are in a new phase focused on returning to the program’s roots.

Our facility is known as a real asset to the community. It has a bike shop that kids can come to after school. Here, they can learn to fix their bikes or even build a bike if they don’t have one. Our facility is also next to Clifford Park, a gem in the middle of Biddeford. We are very lucky to have access to this community park, which has wooded nature trails where kids can hike, bike, forage, and go on nature walks.

Today, our mission is to enrich the lives of youth through hands-on activities and outdoor adventure while fostering meaningful mentorships and creating an environment where every child feels safe and valued. This mission is certainly a need in our community, as it is in every community. The world today is very disengaged because of screen time and technology. So, Apex Youth Connection is finding a way to bring purpose and engagement back into kids’ lives. At the same time, the volunteers and adults who work here are also finding meaningful connections and a place to call community through this work.

What services do you provide to the community?

Apex Youth Connection mainly provides after-school programming from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. and summer programs for middle and high school students. We are specifically focused on that middle school age, hoping to reach the kids before they get set in their ways.

For services, we have our bike program and outdoor recreation. Our outdoor recreation includes a range of activities, including hiking, visiting different regional parks, and gardening. Our gardening program just finished creating a seed stand, and now, we are growing some plants from these seeds. Through this program, we have some container gardens that we will maintain throughout the summer. We also just finished a jewelry-making class.

Through all of these services, the kids are connected with caring adults. Ultimately, we want to be considered a youth-led model. We focus on what the kids want to be doing and hone in on what interests them.

We focus on what the kids want to be doing and hone in on what interests them.

What sets Apex Youth Connection apart from other nonprofits in your community?

Our bike shop sets our organization apart. It is a place where kids can do hands-on activities and learn a variety of skills. For example, they learn how to turn a wrench, take apart a bike, and put one back together.

Tell us a story about the good work of your organization.

Earlier this month, we had an open house to unveil our program and the new space. We invited the whole community, including our board, local schools, and other organizations that partner with us. We had close to one hundred people attending and were really impressed by the turnout. At least half of those who came were kids.

One of our board members, who is also the local middle school principal, has been a big cheerleader for getting our organization back up and running. Throughout the last several months, he has given me many pep talks about how needed an organization like Apex Youth Connection is for many of his students.

At the open house, we were looking around at the crowd, and he said, “You know the kids I told you about, the ones who I thought could use a program like this? They are all here today.” He pointed off in the distance to a girl who was smiling, and he said, “I haven’t seen that girl smile in three weeks. Look at her now.”

Moments like this are so empowering and uplifting. I’ve witnessed several of these over the last several months, but this is one that comes to mind.

As another quick story, our lead bike mechanic instructor, who is 21, started coming to this program when he was 14 years old. He had moved to the area from Florida a few years before. As a disadvantaged youth, he began coming to Apex without caring at all about bikes, but he kept coming back.

Before he knew it, he had the bug. He loved bikes and was learning all he could about them. Last fall, when we were trying to reinstitute the program, he showed up and said, “I want to see the place come back to what I remember as a kid.”

At the time, he worked as a mechanic at a local bike shop, one of his first jobs. He was also going to community college. Yet, he still wanted to make time to help get this program up and running.

Today, he works with us almost full-time. He’s still going to college but wanted to return to help reinvigorate the program. He remembers what it did for him. Not only did Apex Youth Connection foster a love for bikes, but it also provided the foundational skills he needed for that point in his life. There couldn’t be a better spokesperson for the organization than someone like him, who has gone through the program and wants to see it continue.

We’ve had nearly a dozen other kids come back to visit us, wanting to see everything now that Apex Youth Connection is back up and running. One, specifically, is in the National Guard and just came back from Afghanistan. So, these kids have grown into young adults with successful careers. It’s really neat to see them coming back to help out.

What is your most outstanding achievement or contribution to the community?

We are proud of the excitement that resurrecting this organization is bringing to the community. In March, we started with an average attendance of about five kids a day. One month later, attendance went up to 13 kids a day. Now, we serve upwards of 20 to 25 kids a day. We had a goal of providing programming to 150 unique kids throughout the year, and we are hitting this goal within the first five months of the year.

We had a goal of providing programming to 150 unique kids throughout the year, and we are hitting this goal within the first five months of the year.

There’s no pressure on the kids to come to the program. It’s a drop-in program with no required registration or fees. Kids can show up even for just a half hour if they want to. But we are finding consistency with the visits, showing that kids are really enjoying the program and coming back to be part of it. This really is a testament to the staff and volunteers who connect with the kids. It takes the whole team to pull this off.

What do you want people to know about Apex Youth Connection?

We provide youth with a healthy after-school environment at no cost. By creating this safe place for them to simply show up, we are meeting the lowest barrier that we can. We are finding that once this basic need is met, the kids are capable of doing a lot more.

We have a place for everyone. We might have 25 kids here on a given day. Maybe 10 are in the bike shop working on fixing bikes or riding on our pump track, a small mountain bike course. There might be eight outside playing basketball, pickleball, or four square. Seven others are likely doing art. We have space to provide ample opportunities for kids.

We have a place for everyone.

How will you use the funds you’ve received from the Hannaford Helps Community Bag and Bloomin’ 4 Good Programs?

When kids come to Apex at the end of the day, we know they will want something to eat, so we will turn around and use these funds at Hannaford. These funds help us provide healthy after-school snacks. For kids here who may need extra nourishment, we also work with the local food pantry and other organizations that drop off food.

Additionally, a big part of our general operating expenses is paying our staff. The funds may also be used for this.

Is there anything you’d like to add?

There are a lot of exciting opportunities ahead for expanding the reach of Apex Youth Connection. There’s a big movement to keep youth centers open late, so we are really working on keeping the lights on as late as possible. We are simply making sure kids have a place to be. To do this, we are looking at opportunities to expand into other areas. The exciting part is that Apex Youth Connection can continue to make a difference in a number of different ways.

Interview with Michael Chapman, Executive Director

Published July 10, 2024.