Seeking sustainable funding

Coalition offers place for at-risk youth to land

By Beth A. Birmingham | Mar 08, 2019
Courtesy of: Kim Bernard Three youths play a board game at The Landing Place in Rockland.

Rockland — The Landing Place, a program of Knox County Homeless Coalition, was created as a center to provide at-risk youth the support they need to live healthy, meaningful lives through positive activities, people and pathways to a more hopeful future.

Comments on TLP from clients:

"I don't feel judged here. I can just be in whatever mood I'm in, and nobody makes me feel bad about it, and they give me space when I need it." 13-year-old

"We can just be ourselves here ... we can't really be that way in school." 15-year-old

"Sometimes I just like to chill out and relax for a little while. I just feel like I can be myself here." 13-year-old

"It's pretty cool if you think about it ... people just helping each other out and having a chill time together." 16-year-old

"The staff seems to really care about us. They're easy to talk to and they really listen to what you're saying." 15-year-old

Led by Joseph Hufnagel, former director of Wayfinder School’s residential program in Camden and New Gloucester, TLP opened in August 2017 and presently reaches up to 300 youth per month between its youth center at 61 Park St. in Rockland, which is open for high-risk youth two days a week, and its outreach efforts to area schools, administrators and community partners.

Privately funded at the start by a team of donors who committed to five years, TLP is looking forward to its program's earning the support of the funders needed to allow it to become sustainable  for the long term.

"Our goal is to create sustainable, replicable programming that will not only help our Midcoast youth, but also youth around the entire state and beyond," said Stephanie Primm, executive director of KCHC.

"We serve, on any given day, upwards of 150 children between our family case management efforts, and TLP and other collaborative programming," Britta McCollom, director of outreach, said.

McCollom, a native of Midcoast Maine, brought more than 10 years of nonprofit and youth services experience to the program. She also serves on the Board of Directors for Trekkers, a program TLP partners with, tapping Trekkers' graduates as mentors and possible interns.

"We are excited to continue to work alongside each other to help steer all kids and their families who need us in a positive, hopeful direction, keeping them engaged in school, sports and healthy social and 'future' possibility-envisioning activities," Hufnagel said.

The Landing Place experience starts with after-school programs -- most often beginning with attendance at the youth center.

"We intentionally have created a low-barrier, safe space for our high-risk youth to feel safe in just ‘being,'" McCollom said, adding that there are very few requirements of program participants, other than safe and respectful behavior and following the basic rules around those things.

"We use the time together with our youth and our staff to build trust with the kids," she said. "During this special time, we offer anything from arts and crafts, woodworking, pottery, weaving, sledding, ice skating, hiking and more."

Hufnagel said the program has a solid foundation of four key pieces: the youth center, community outreach, case management services and shelter solutions.

"We are trying to figure out what the needs are while servicing youth from Waldoboro to Thorndike," he said, explaining the program is steadily growing, with youth from age 12 to 16 showing up on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 2:30 to 6 p.m. for camaraderie. Older youth, ages 16 to 24, receive more case management outreach services, which typically occurs on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays as the staff visits area schools.

While at the center, the youth are always offered snacks, a hot meal, and can access anything from the “store” -- such as hygiene products, clothes, shoes, winter coats, etc.

At the end of the afternoon, TLP staff transport teens home, which often leads to their earning the trust of parents and being able to identify needs for support for the entire family.

"All youth are at-risk, but we are working with the high-risk youth with a variety of adversities, whether it be food insecurities, substance abuse, mental health issues," Hufnagel said. "They all have the commonality of needing to belong and feel a sense of compassionate mentorship."

He said TLP has no stigma attached to it, as it isn't just a place for the poor or homeless ... "We welcome all youth. With all the heartache they are going through, we try to keep this place real, but lighthearted too," he said.

"Within a week or two of them coming, we know their story," McCollom said. "it's not just about the kids -- it's a whole family approach."

The staff is trained in trauma-informed best practices and works alongside licensed clinical social workers and mental health specialists to bring highly insightful listening skills to the kids and their families.

The center is located right next door to OUT Maine and across the street from Trekkers. The three organizations' proximity allows staff to collaborate in providing youth a safe space to be, and at a higher level share the mission of providing safe and welcoming space for youth to be who they are.

"We are able to meet the kids where they are, get to know them and then often collaborate and share in supporting youth, dependent upon areas of specific need," McCollom said, noting that OUT Maine is a well respected program, for its educational statewide outreach, as well as localized programming.

"We are grateful for the partnership and our opportunity to collaborate with them to provide maximum support for our kiddos," Primm said.

During the early stages of planning, TLP organizers reached out to New Beginnings in Lewiston as well as Preble Street in Portland – two statewide youth programs delivering best practice programs aimed at risk youth.

"We visited these programs as well as a couple others to learn as much as we could about how we wanted to model our program," Primm said. "Once we were ready to start developing and implementing our program, we sought out New Beginnings for some organizational mentorship."

Seeing youth as the greatest natural resource for the future, TLP believes young people must be protected.

"We all must work hard to give our youth a clear path to a hopeful future," Hufnagel said. "Our community has been simply amazing. Everyone from the YMCA, CMCA, Steel House, the schools and educational leadership, to churches and volunteers providing warm suppers, have played a huge part in making sure this is a community effort and one that will be sustainable for years to come."

Recently TLP hired a shelter solutions coordinator to help establish more than one solution to the needs of the youth, with one goal to keep younger children in their current environment, instead of uprooting them.

Hufnagel said research shows older youth are couch-surfing. "Affordable housing around here is challenging for anyone, so we started researching this transitional living situation and hope to have it implemented by 2020," he said. TLP has at least four apartments for independent living that will be available, following the model of New Beginnings.

"The exponential effect that TLP community partnerships have had on our families is only just beginning," McCollom said. "As we move toward making our host homes available to unaccompanied minors who need an immediate short-term safe place to stay, our efforts will continue to expand throughout the Midcoast region, positively affecting entire families and their communities."

The ultimate goal is to break the cycles of poverty, abuse, hunger, homelessness and lack of hope and help the entire family move into hopeful, independent and productive futures.

For additional information, to volunteer, or become a host home, contact McCollom at bmccollom@thelandingplaceme.org or Hufnagel at jhufnagel@thelandingplaceme.org.

Courier Publications reporter Beth A. Birmingham can be reached at 594-4401 ext. 125 or via email at bbirmingham@villagesoup.com.

Coalition offers place for at-risk youth to land
Remnants of drawings and conversations cover one of the walls at The Landing Place in Rockland. (Photo by: Beth A. Birmingham)
One of several rooms at The Landing Place, where area youth are welcome Tuesday and Thursday afternoons. (Photo by: Beth A. Birmingham)
Britta McCollom is director of outreach at The Landing Place. (Photo by: Beth A. Birmingham)
Joseph Hufnagel, director, shows the backyard, where youth enjoy outdoor activities and cookouts in the warmer months at The Landing Place in Rockland. (Photo by: Beth A. Birmingham)
Snacks are prepared for youth who drop in at The Landing Place in Rockland. (Courtesy of: Kim Bernard)
A couple of boys enjoy creating an art project at The Landing Place. (Courtesy of: Kim Bernard)
Youth enjoy some cuddle time with lambs on a recent outing with the staff from The Landing Place. (Courtesy of: Kim Bernard)
Comments (1)
Posted by: Richard McKusic, Sr. | Mar 09, 2019 16:49

YEA, glad to see we are watching out for our future! Our local young people are fortunate to have so many fine resources available.



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