Student mentors partner with South End Teen Center

Most students on the Hill have not ventured far beyond Main Street and Kennedy Memorial Drive, but a small group of volunteers visit the south end of Waterville every week to interact with local youth at the South End Teen Center (SETC). “The south end in general is not a very often visited area of Waterville, as it’s mostly residential…. The perception [and] experience of Waterville that we get from Mayflower Hill is very different from the reality that those who have lived in the area their whole lives experience,” Thomas Gregston ’16 said.

According to the Kennebec Valley Action Program website, the SETC is open to young people in the greater Waterville area and aims to provide a secure and caring environment for teens to spend time with their peers after school. Working in collaboration with the Alfond Youth Center and the Waterville Area Boys & Girls Club, “essentially, [the SETC] is intended to provide a safe and supportive spot for teenagers, many of whom would be home alone otherwise, from after school until 5pm,” Gregston said.

On their website, they list some of the services they offer: structured programming to help youth make safe and healthy decisions, daily after school snacks, entertainment, homework help, a full computer lab, community service projects, special events, field trips, and life skills development.

Furthermore, the SETC provides Waterville students with healthy relationships. Mentors from Colby, like Gregston, often play rousing games of basketball, knock-out, jenga, and chess, and can even take SETC teenagers onto Colby’s campus in an attempt to unify the two communities. 

But the South End Teen Center’s goal is not only to provide entertainment for local teenagers. The SETC also attempts to mitigate poverty in the greater Waterville area by offering a safe, inclusive space for local teens to grow. This safe space is balanced by SETC’s high standards of accountability. Many students walk dogs for a local resident who is unable, a job designed to give students a sense of responsibility and valuable experience working on a civic engagement project. Meanwhile, attendees must do chores around the center, cooking and cleaning up for afternoon meals. Thus, the SETC is more than just a place to have fun; it is intended to spur growth and empower impoverished teenagers.

This empowerment initially inspired Gregston, who was first introduced to the SETC through the Colby Volunteer Center (CVC), to attend the program regularly. Now, Gregston leads the Colby volunteer program for the SETC and brings several students to the center every week.     “I first got involved through the CVC, and immediately I fell in love with the program and the kids, which has kept me coming back year after year. Being able to volunteer at the teen center has had a profound impact on me, as it has given me an alternative connection to Waterville. The staff and students have enriched my perspective of the area, and also challenged me in ways that you don’t normally find on campus,” Gregston said.

But for Gregston, placing himself in situations well outside his comfort zone are the most rewarding.

“I think it’s an incredible experience to have, as it forces you outside your comfort zone, but also allows you to meet some genuinely amazing kids who are funny and passionate and never afraid to call you out for something.”

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