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My Place Teen Center

Home is where the heart is.

Grit. It’s what defines My Place Teen Center as an organization and where Donna Dwyer and her team focus with the kids who come to this after-school oasis. Hannaford has supported My Place Teen Center through the Bloomin’ 4 Good and Community Bag Programs.

Tell us about My Place Teen Center.

Opened in 1998, My Place Teen Center provides an after-school oasis offering year-round, free, positive youth development programming specializing in cultivating grit and alleviating hunger and trauma.  

We are at the forefront of some of the most crucial issues of our time.  We fight to keep kids safe from the devastation of the opioid epidemic; we combat poverty and food insecurity and we create authentic communities with kids from diverse backgrounds, teaching them to be good citizens and neighbors. Young people attending MPTC will have the academic, job readiness, and life skills necessary to lead independent adult lives filled with stewardship, courage, passion, and joy.   

Like most nonprofits, My Place Teen Center was created out of a need and in 1996 that need was youth suicide and the results of a drug and alcohol survey across the community. It was very alarming, and a small group of community members said that we need to do something about this. They started meeting and talked about how they could start a teen center for kids after school and during the summer months. Two years later, with lots of grassroots effort and elbow grease, they made this wonderful idea happen. That’s how the red doors opened.

People we have met say to us on a regular basis, every city and town needs a My Place Teen Center.

What sets your organization apart from others in your community?

Local control and local decision making are certainly one thing. We always have the kids foremost on our minds, and it is true that there’s something to be said that the more control and the more ability you have to impact change without sending it up the flagpole continually, the faster and the nimbler you can be in making immediate decisions, sometimes crisis-related decisions. There are a lot of benefits to be affiliated with a national charter, but we feel it’s a benefit that we can be quick; we can be nimble; we don’t have a cookie cutter program, so we are able to meet the kids exactly where they are and can be responsive to the ebb and flow of the community. In fact, during the pandemic, and within 48 hours from March 13 to March 16, from the Friday to the Monday, we decided we’re going to become a mobile food pantry. Fast decision-making. Responsive results.

Another thing is grit. Grit is what we focus on, but now more than ever in every aspect of our lives, collectively as a community, and certainly with kids who come from high risk, adverse childhood experiences, poverty, substance use and abuse, grit, in my opinion, and research speaks to this as well, is the number one factor. In the success indicators, you can be sharp as a tack, you can have a high IQ and you can come from affluent circumstances or easier circumstances. But if you don’t have grit within your character, if you don’t have the stubbornness, the resilience to keep on plugging, to be pleasantly persistent, then your success indicators really take a nosedive.

And so, grit is absolutely where we’re focusing with the kids. We know with 100% certainty that 95% of our kids come from really traumatizing backgrounds. Do you think that just academics is really going to get them far? Or do you think that it’s learning the grit to survive the weekend, the grit to find where the food is, the grit to be able to say that I want more in my life?

Even the teen center itself models what we want for the kids. We could have shut down in March 2020 and we would not have been chastised for shutting down. But we figured out that we have a kitchen, we have a cook, and we knew food was going to be a huge issue immediately. And so that’s the definition of grit as an organization. It allowed us to say find a way, there’s always a way, so find it.

People we have met say to us on a regular basis, every city and town needs a My Place Teen Center

Tell us a story that illustrates the good work you are doing.

Jake and Molly are twins that have been coming to us for about four years now. They come from a great family. Jake and Molly came here every day after school and then ate their dinner here because their parents were at work and their parents wanted them to be safe. Now they both have jobs. Molly works at a restaurant because she went through our restaurant training program here. The benefits to coming here after school versus going home and sitting on their laptop or iPhone are really great. They did something with their time here; they participated in our job skills programming, and it’s made a difference for them. A teen center like ours is so important in communities because they had a place to go to after school.

What is your greatest achievement or contribution to the community?

Within 48 hours, from March 13 to March 16, 2020, we pivoted from our mission to meet the surging and urgent demand for food and home care with Plan B. Six staff members prepared and delivered over 1,250 homemade, restaurant-quality dinners and 200+ snack/hygiene/household staples kits per week for nine months. We became a daily, mobile food pantry for 250 persons per day. We served anyone – kids, the elderly, people without transportation, people with disabilities, people who were immuno-compromised, those who experienced a significant loss of income, etc.  – without qualification – via our mobile food pantry and curbside pick-up – any age, from anywhere. We also handed out $7,425 in gift cards from Hannaford/Walmart/Target.

We are proud that we were able to not let our fears and anxiety hold us down and that we had the courage to say, “We can help. We know what to do, and we’re going to do it.” And we just did. We are proud of our work ethic and our ability to have impact on our community.

What do you want people to know about your organization?

First, we provide food – daily meals and snacks. Second, we are a teen oasis. And third, we instill GRIT via character development, academic support, health, wellness, mentoring, civic engagement, and life skills. The grit of a kid’s heart and will is IT. #tinySTRONG  

And to me, #tinySTRONG represents when you’re at your absolute lowest, and all around you the walls are closing in with despair and grief, but yet you still get up. You still find some way to go forward. When you are at your weakest, you’re actually at your strongest because you still find a way to survive and then eventually thrive.

When you are at your weakest, you’re actually at your strongest because you still find a way to survive and then eventually thrive.

How did you hear about the Hannaford Helps Reusable Bag and Bloomin’ 4 Good programs?

I was told about these programs by Cheryl Hinkson, Director of Operations for Hannaford and also on our Board, Hannaford Store Manager Doug Mercier and my dad Donald Pederzini. After a career with Gulf Oil, in his first retirement he was a realtor for 25 years, and then in his second, he bagged at the Buxton Store. And at the age of 77 he would often say to me, “I want to help the elderly with their groceries.”

How will you use the funds raised from these programs?

Always for our meal programs.

Is there anything you would like to add?

We awarded Hannaford our MVP of the Year award in 2020: 

Our MVP of the Year award honors Hannaford.

A hero locally. A hero nationally. Stepping up, and in, is clearly in your business DNA. Kudos for caring about your community, no matter the zip code, and demonstrating all heart. Congratulations!

My experience is that Hannaford is always thinking of their community neighbor, on the local level as well as the corporate level. Whether it’s giving out a deli platter, or cookies, or donating $5 or $50,000. For example, in 2013 Hannaford saved our decrepit roof from falling in when no one else would!

And Hannaford has a model where they don’t waste the food and they deliver it to food pantries and statewide. And across the Eastern seaboard where they’re involved, they have a wonderful reclamation program where they’re making sure the food doesn’t go to waste.

Hannaford is my gold star corporate entity that we just love to partner with.

Executive Director Donna Dwyer has been described as “a fireball that can’t be put out.” She’s been lighting up My Place Teen Center since 2011.