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Pemi Youth Center gives kids a community home base

Kids in Plymouth getting homework help, family-style dinners – and much more

A remarkable thing is happening in Plymouth: Kids who need a place to be welcomed in the after-school hours are coming to the Pemi Youth Center, and that center is becoming the center of their community.

They don’t just do their homework and get something to eat in this remodeled firehouse on Main Street. They get help with homework, mentorship, guidance on college applications. They go on field trips. They learn nutrition, and cook together. And they sit down for supper together every evening, like a family. They have conversations around the supper table: what was the high point of your day? What was the low point?

“For many of our kids, this is their only Thanksgiving dinner, and for some of our kids, it is their only sense of home.” That’s Jessica Dutille, the executive director and driving force behind the Pemi Youth Center. “I like to think of it as a bright light in our community.”

About 80 kids, ages 10-17, come to the Youth Center on a regular basis. “Our goal is that every single one of our youth participants feel one hundred percent welcomed and valued. And not that we are just tolerating them, but truly celebrating them, and who they are.”

Dutille talks about Charlie: He was 11 when he first came through the doors with his mom. The family’s home had burned down, and Charlie and his mom faced other significant challenges.

Dutille gave them the tour.

But, said Charlie’s mom, “Charlie had Down Syndrome. Is he going to be welcome here?” Dutille said the Pemi Youth Center would be delighted to have Charlie join their community.

Charlie’s mom asked what it would cost.

“Absolutely nothing,” was Dutille’s reply. The Pemi Youth Center does not charge families a cent.

Charlie has hardly ever missed a day.

The Youth Center family was there to watch Charlie graduate from high school, and has welcomed him as a staff-member-in-training.

The Youth Center relies on donors, grant support — including support from the Charitable Foundation — and a partnership with Plymouth State University to keep its doors open.

At the Pemi Youth Center, there is no talk of labels: There is no “at-risk,” no “impoverished background” no “under-privileged.”

“I say they are all brilliant stars,” says Dutille, “and they all have unlimited potential.”