By Diana Bowley of the BDN Staff: DEXTER, Maine — In the near future, the former St. Anne’s Church rectory in Dexter will become the Penquis Journey House, a home for four pregnant adolescents or young mothers in Piscataquis and Penobscot counties.
The Penquis agency purchased the vacant two-story building at 59 Free St. late last month and has it under renovation. Permits have been requested of the town.
Jana Wood, Dexter’s code enforcement officer and plumbing inspector, said the agency has filed an application for the change in use.
“They will get the permit with no problem provided they provide the additional information that I’ve requested, which is primarily fire marshal review and approval, because it’s a nonresidential use,” she said Tuesday.
“It’s going to be used as a group establishment, not as a typical single- or two-family home,” Wood said. The code officer has the authority over commercial or nonresidential uses in the residential zone, she said.
Not anticipating any problems with the permits, Penquis is moving ahead with the project and has scheduled an open house from 2 to 4 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 24. The home is expected to be occupied in March.
“We are so excited and our staff is so excited,” Shannon Bonsey, Penquis’ director of family enrichment services, said Tuesday. “The home is just beautiful.”
Penquis purchased the former 32-foot-by-45-foot rectory and separate 22-foot-by-24-foot garage, but a federal grant will cover the free rent for the young adolescents, according to Bonsey. The agency applied for and received a grant under the category of runaway and homeless youth and maternal group homes. The five-year grant will provide Penquis with just under $200,000 each year to help operate the home, Bonsey said.
“We’ve had a very successful home visiting program working with first-time and adolescent parents for many, many years at Penquis,” she said. “We feel really good about our work.” She said those involved have always said the agency could do wonders if it had an opportunity to work with people in a home.
“We really value this kind of work and we’re just really excited to deliver it,” Bonsey said.
The facility will serve young women between the ages of 16 and 22 who are either pregnant or are parenting and are either homeless or are living in an unsafe situation, she said. Each will have her own large room. The home also will serve other adolescents during the day. There will be parenting education, play groups and courses offered on nutrition, health education, life skills, childbirth classes and conflict resolution, according to Bonsey.
Four women, who are undergoing intensive training, have been hired to serve as house parents. The four women will serve 48-hour shifts.
Bonsey said Dexter was selected for the home for several reasons. “The teenage pregnancy rate in Dexter is above the state average,” she noted. “We serve a lot of young women in the Dexter and Piscataquis County area and we certainly recognized the need for a home for just this.”
Dexter professionals and the schools have told Penquis officials that the lack of services for people in need in that community is really high, Bonsey said. The house doesn’t just bring an opportunity to serve young women but also provides the opportunity to bring services into the area, she said. “Dexter is extremely welcoming of services — people from outside of Dexter coming in and helping provide services because they need it,” Bonsey said.
Another thing that made Dexter extremely attractive for the home is the nearby Tri-County Technical School and SAD 46’s Options program for nontraditional students, Bonsey said. Both schools offer students flexible scheduling and ways to obtain their high school diplomas.
While preference will be given to Piscataquis and southwestern Penobscot County adolescents, if there is space available, others from outside the area will be considered, Bonsey said.
Penquis is looking for help with home furnishing and baby furniture and clothing. To donate new or nearly new items call Denise Trafton, case manager, at 564-7116. A list of items needed will be available at the open house.
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