John Bapst High School students Rachael Kiah, left, Natalie Sheehan, center, and Katelynn Bowker do their homework at the Bangor Region YMCA Teen Center Wednesday. They said they come to the center to do homework and sometimes play games. Credit: Gabor Degre

For years, teenagers have been coming to the Bangor Region YMCA to enjoy the youth programs offered there.

That created a challenge for kids who had to find somewhere to spend the hours between the end of school and when their activities were scheduled to start, often early in the evening.

For Rachael Kiah, Katelynn Bowker and Natalie Sheehan, it often meant spending a few hours at school or downtown at Bagel Central. They’re students at John Bapst Memorial High School who belong to the YMCA’s Interact Leaders Club, a program that provides them with community service opportunities.

But now, there’s a new resource for Bangor-area teens who find themselves with time to kill when school gets out.

The YMCA has opened a center for teens that’s free and open from 2 to 6 p.m. every weekday and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays. It includes a drop-in space on its first floor with couches, tables, board games and foosball. On the second floor is a meeting room with a small computer lab and a projector. All are contained in a section of the Isaac Farrar Mansion, a brick building on the YMCA’s campus at the intersection of Union and Second streets.

Credit: Gabor Degre

While the organization has previously offered programs for teens, the biggest change is the addition of a space that is open every afternoon and always staffed by at least two adults who are available to help with homework, provide snacks, mentor kids or steer them toward various resources, such as help applying to jobs or college.

The YMCA decided to open the teen center after conducting a community needs assessment that found Bangor lacked a safe space for youth to spend the hours immediately after school, according to Emerald Forcier, the organization’s director of development and community engagement.

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Coordinators particularly hope that the center will be inviting to kids facing substance use or mental health challenges and will connect them to help. The adult supervisors are trained in responding to mental health crises, according to Forcier. The center also hosts support groups and helps teens access clinical counseling

Organizers also hope that the program will more generally provide a space for kids to socialize, do their homework, blow off steam and learn new skills such as knitting and guitar. Kids do not have to sign up for a YMCA membership to participate, but some of the younger participants will have to get their parents to sign a permission slip.

“We want people to know that their kids can just show up,” Forcier said. “Every single kid is wanted here.”

Credit: Gabor Degre

Kiah, Bowker and Sheehan were the only teens there early Wednesday afternoon. They were tapping away on laptops as they finished homework and enjoyed that it was quiet. That’s not always the case, they said, particularly when younger teens are around. At 6 p.m., they planned to head upstairs to attend a meeting of the Interact Leaders Club.

They also said they appreciate playing the games that are available there.

“We play foosball, and it gets loud really quickly,” said Bowker, 17.

Other activities offered through the teen center include trivia nights, a computer gaming night, a baking club and Dungeons & Dragons on Saturdays. There are also more structured programs such as the Interact Leaders Club.

The YMCA helped open the teen center with support from a number of groups, including the city of Bangor and the University of Maine School of Social Work, which sends interns to help staff the center.

The organization also made a number of physical changes to the space, such as removing a red carpet that used to be on the second floor and tearing down a wall on the first floor.

That’s made it more inviting, said Kiah, one of the teens at the center on Wednesday.

“There’s a lot more space to move around,” she said.

Credit: Gabor Degre