By Christina Relacion
As a single mom, Jamie Caouette knows how difficult it can be to ensure young students have everything they need to succeed in life. It can be anything from cleats for soccer or a dress for prom to even more basic essentials – personal care items, a place to do laundry and cell phone minutes.
As Lewiston Public School’s District Resource Coordinator, Jamie sees a growing number of students facing barriers due to homelessness. Living in cars or couch-surfing – a mobile life that takes a significant physical and mental toll on vulnerable youth. Jamie works with school staff to identify kids in need and connect them with a critical school district resource, The Store Next Door.
“This effort started over 20 years ago, and it has grown into what it is today,” says Jamie, who also serves as the program’s director. “We now have space with a clothing closet, food pantry, washers and dryers, and thanks to St. Mary’s, a new technology room so students can do homework, complete college applications and do other work.”
Long Tradition of Caring for Children
In 2022, a Covenant Health St. Marguerite d’Youville Grant helped St. Mary’s fund a much-needed technology room in Lewiston’s once-vacant, downtown Longley School. The purpose of the space is to eliminate barriers and support kids in meeting their educational goals. Students use computers, printers and other devices to do homework, remotely learn, apply for employment and look for higher education opportunities.
When the Sisters of Charity of Saint-Hyacinthe opened St. Mary’s as the first Catholic hospital in Maine in 1878, they had 40 orphans in their care, according to Elizabeth Keene, Vice President of Mission Integration. “We honor a long tradition of caring for vulnerable people that started with St. Marguerite d’Youville and was continued by the Sisters,” says Elizabeth. “We leverage grants and partnerships to empower people so they can flourish.”
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“We try to step in and help these kids. They’ve experienced some extremely adult situations and traumatic events, they should be able to enjoy life. We want them to feel supported.”
Desperate Need for Services
Last year, the program helped more than 300 students during the schoolyear. “The numbers are skyrocketing. In a typical month, we see 50 kids, if not more,” adds Jamie. Homelessness doesn’t discriminate by age. Students from kindergarten and up are in desperate need of services.
The Store Next Door relies entirely on community support to meet the basic needs of homeless youth in the community. The project provides new and gently used clothing, footwear, backpacks, underwear and socks in its store. It also offers personal hygiene products, household goods, cleaning and laundry supplies, sports gear, gas cards and transportation vouchers.
“We try to step in and help these kids. They’ve experienced some extremely adult situations and traumatic events,” says Jamie. “They should be able to enjoy life. We want them to feel supported.”
Adds Elizabeth, “We want the youth in the community to know we care about them.”
If you’d like to learn more about The Store Next Door or to view a list of needs, visit their Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/SNDLHS/) or email Jamie Caouette at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article is part of our 2022 thrive holiday edition, please click here to read more.