Teenagers (from left) Demetrius Ortiz of Presque Isle, Rylee Crowe of Mapleton, Jaxson Hill of Presque Isle, and Samuel Donohue, who recently moved from California, at the hiring event at the Teen Center located at 24 North St. in Presque Isle on Monday. Credit: Paul Bagnall / The Star-Herald

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — Aroostook teenagers will have a new, safe space to gather when the North Street Teen Center opens in Presque Isle next month.

The Aroostook County Action Program will open the facility at 24 North St. on May 1, spurred by input from local young people. The center will be staffed by teens and young adults.  

Although there is a teen room at the Sargent Family Community Center, young people don’t feel the space is their own because such a wide range of age groups use the facility, ACAP officials said. The North Street center will be a unique space inspired and led by teenagers.

“It’s the young people who determined that the current programming was not fitting the needs of all youth throughout The County or central Aroostook,” said Meg Hegeman, program coordinator for the Aroostook County Action Program.

Young people need time and space to hang out with their friends and create community, which is critically important, she said. 

When adults have spearheaded outreach for teenagers, such as dances, younger kids and tweens have often taken over what was meant for 16- to 17-year-olds, Hegeman said.  

The agency received a $1 million Maine Prevention Network grant and $20,000 from the Maine Youth Action Network to create the teen center and hire employees. About eight young adult workers and three ACAP staff members will run the facility, according to Hegeman.

Staff worked with a team of four County high school students for six weeks last summer to develop ideas for the center. Through an online platform called Gateway to Opportunity, part of the Maine Youth Action Network, the students talked with peers and the group developed ideas to improve social connectedness and food security for local teens.

The need is crucial in the area because teenagers don’t have much to do or a dedicated space to hang out, said Jamie Henderson, a Presque Isle High School junior who participated.

“We worked to create a plan to show how they could better interact with youth, and the teen center came from that,” Henderson said.

While physical activities are plentiful for younger kids at the Sargent Family Community Center, many recreational programs stop at age 13 or 14, the group found. That has led to a gap in services for those in their later teens, with the exception of high school athletes.

The group recommended the gathering place be targeted to ages 14 to 19, to be led by teens with ACAP providing oversight. The teens will let ACAP know what resources and activities they’d like to see.

“We are using that age range to resonate with the [teens] a little more,” said Jaxson Hill, a Presque Isle high school senior who became involved with the venture earlier this year.

The teens who were surveyed suggested having a study area, which would provide a quiet workspace and help with group projects for school assignments. They also wanted healthy food available after school and a place to socialize with friends. This would eliminate groups hanging out and potentially causing trouble at the Walmart parking lot, Hill said.

Some of the biggest hurdles were finding a location and creating a brand for the center, while organizing the space and designing a logo.

ACAP has leased the 24 North St. property, and the building passed its final inspection on April 13 by city Code Enforcement Officer Tim St. Peter, according to Hegeman. 

Henderson thinks the center will provide County teens something they’ve been missing.

“It will help with unity,” Henderson said. “It will definitely make people feel more connected if they have a space to go to.”

An open house for the North Street Teen Center is planned for May 23.