Maine Town Builds a 'Kitchen' To Keep Kids From Trouble

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

When longtime Maine resident Priscilla Guy was growing up, she knew she could count on one thing: Her mother would be home when young Priscilla walked in the door from school.

"My mother was in that kitchen," says the ebullient Kittery resident, who's now a grandmother. "That meant a lot."

Well, times have changed. Not as many moms are still in the kitchen. So when Mrs. Guy wanted to help steer kids from bad influences - alcohol, drugs, violence - she knew what they needed: a place to hang out, where people would be friendly and supportive, yet always strict.

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The youth center she and other residents built, just down the street from the high school in an old grocery store, aims to be just that. It's leading the way in a state making a new effort to keep kids away from alcohol and drugs.

It's also a concrete-and-linoleum example of the thing many participants in Maine's discussion on alcohol say they need in their communities.

Inside the Kittery Youth Connection, the first thing you notice is the ceiling. Its tiles are covered with folksy, flowery art by kids, parents, and businesses in town. When Guy needed $3,500 for the ceiling, she raised it by selling tiles and letting buyers decorate them.

Residents also donated everything in the center - three pool tables, Nintendo 64 video games, flower-print old sofas, Apple computers, and more.

Starting at 2 p.m. every day, kids trickle in. When they sign in, they are handed a card with that day's chore - their part in running the center. They hang out on the sofas, play Ping-Pong, or scale the new climbing wall. There isn't anything preachy or overt about drinking or drugs. There's just a strong but subtle message: If kids have positive outlets for their energy and emotions, and if they have support from caring adults and the community at large, maybe they'll resist the temptations.

For those who need it, there's a private room in the back for Alcoholics Anonymous meetings or other support groups.

The kids talk more about the activities than the messages. "The dances they have are wicked good," says a baseball-capped Mike Cairo. And the blues singer who put on a free show last week was "awesome."

Most of all, the kids say the center is a comfortable place to come - maybe a little like Mrs. Guy's kitchen long ago.

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