Board President Terri Ouellete (left) and Executive Director Maureen Bartley are preparing for opening the Families First Community Center later this year. ELLSWORTH AMERICAN PHOTOS BY ANNE BERLEANT

Hope and housing: Families First Community Center prepares to open

ELLSWORTH — The old saying “All things come to those who wait” rings true for the Families First Community Center, which is aiming to move the first of an eventual six homeless families into the sprawling North Street property by the end of 2020.

“That will be a start,” board President Terri Ouellette said, standing in a dry-walled room that will be the child care center. A contractor had some questions, a Housing Authority inspector was coming for a walk-through and the new executive director, Maureen Bartley, had just showed up. Ouellette swiveled on her heels.

As construction progressed on the North Street property late last year, Ouellette had hoped to open by May or June of this year, but construction delays and then the pandemic pushed progress back.

“It’s been a long and drawn-out process,” she acknowledged. “I know we had anticipated on being done a while ago, but we are within weeks now.”

A last-minute snag with the required handicapped-accessible ramp was solved when two local businesses stepped in with “critical donations,” Ouellette said. Superior Docks manufactured two gangways and Viking Lumber donated $1,000 for the wooden platforms and handrails needed to install the ramp.

The newly installed handicapped-accessible ramp at the Families First Community Center was made possible by donations from Superior Docks and Viking Lumber.

“It’s something we could easily do,” Superior Docks office manager Deb Newman said, noting that the previous board president, Dawn Coffin, had worked alongside Newman in the company office. “I hope they can keep it going.”

These donations are one of the final boosts in a long trail of grants, financial and in-kind donations, and hours upon hours of volunteer work for the $1,149,000 renovation. A large, late-stage grant from the Federal Home Loan Bank of Boston and project-based vouchers from the Ellsworth Housing Authority “greatly altered” completion plans, Ouellette said. 

The center plans to provide more than just shelter, offering resources for families with children under 18 to transition to independence. Families will work with a case manager to create and commit to a life plan, such as securing a steady job or education. House rules include no smoking, alcohol or drugs and, with shared kitchens, laundry room and living spaces, come shared responsibilities. (Apartments will have small kitchens with a hot plate and microwave.) 

Families also will be connected to a network of resources.

“We have an arrangement and agreements with about 60 local organizations,” Ouellette said. “Sometimes the resource is out there but if you can’t get to them, they can’t help, and you can end up falling back and getting discouraged.” 

While some funds remain for operating the center, Ouellette said fundraising will need to continue.

“Our operational budget is $180,000 annually, which includes a full-time director and several part-time support staff. The Housing Authority vouchers will cover slightly over one-third of operating expenses, Ouellette said.

“It’s not just a free place to hang out for a year or two,” Ouellette said. “They really have to be willing to be engaged and committed to work on what they want to do.”

The center is accepting referrals for Hancock County families that are homeless or on the brink of homelessness. More information is available by calling 460-3711 or emailing [email protected]

Anne Berleant

Anne Berleant

Reporter at The Ellsworth American
News Reporter Anne Berleant covers news and features in Ellsworth, Mariaville, Otis, Amherst, Aurora, Great Pond and Osborn. When not reporting, find her hiking local trails, reading or watching professional tennis. Anne loves tips and story ideas from the public. Email her at [email protected] or call her at 667-2576.

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