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Future of project for homeless youth in Maine hangs in the balance

Four years ago, I created a mini-documentary series on YouTube about a local project for homeless youth. This program is run by Jamie Caouette, a pillar of the Lewiston/Auburn community, and is called Store Next Door.

I started the series because there was an urgent need for financial help at the time. I was deeply shocked when I discovered that children and young people in my city were living without homes, some even in tents. This kind of thing should not happen.

Now, unfortunately, this program is facing closure, and that must not happen.

Below is a video from the previous series on homeless youth.

People often underestimate the importance of Jamie's work and think she just runs the Store Next Door.

Jamie told me that there are currently 434 homeless students in Lewiston Public Schools. If you have a child who attends Lewiston Public Schools, chances are your child knows one or more children who are currently homeless.

In reality, just running the store requires the full-time commitment of more than a few people. This program provides teens with everything they need for their daily health and mental well-being. From basic necessities like soap and socks to groceries, Jamie and her team go above and beyond by providing comfort, love and support.

This is crucial because many of these children come from broken homes and go through terrible hardships that many others may not understand. They are trusted adults to these young people and help them to rebuild trust and feel safe. Many former students have reached out to them as adults to thank them for their support.

For this reason, this program must not only survive but thrive.

In response, former students who benefited from the program, such as Taylor Chamberlain, are writing letters urging council members to reconsider the cuts.

Getting through high school isn't easy, and when you're thrown into situations outside of school that are beyond your control, it becomes even harder.

This type of program needs to be in every school. It changes people. It saves lives. It saved mine. The Store Next Door offers so many opportunities for youth to get out of difficult situations and improve their lives.

Jamie has dedicated 16 years to helping homeless youth in Lewiston schools, making great personal sacrifices along the way. She gives out her personal cell phone number, responds to emergencies 24/7, and prioritizes the well-being of her students. She never rests. She never stops.

This isn't the first time this program has faced adversity and the threat of closure, but Jamie and the team have been able to keep it afloat so far.

Recently, Lewiston School Committee members voted to cut the previously rejected $111.47 million budget by $500,000.

The Sun Journal recently reported,

Superintendent Jake Langlais suggested several possible areas where a total of just over $1.04 million could be saved. These cuts included: $141,000 less student resource staff, which would impact funding for resources such as the Shop next door.

The cuts will have a severe impact on the neighboring business and it may not be able to continue operations at all.

Tonight, the city council will hold a meeting at Lewiston City Hall to approve the school budget.

And then the vote will be on June 11th, so make sure you cast your vote because it counts.

We must find a way to provide for our children, no matter the cost or the circumstances.

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