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January 9, 2017

Ethos' former space acquired by nonprofit helping imprisoned young adults re-enter society

Courtesy Harnden Commercial Brokers
Courtesy Harnden Commercial Brokers
A Westbrook space formerly occupied by Ethos Marketing will become a re-entry facility for young adults making the transition from imprisonment. Ethos, for its part, moved to a site a few blocks away.
Courtesy of The Transformation Project
Ken Hawley is the president and executive director of The Transformation Project.

WESTBROOK — A former office building at 907 Main St. in downtown Westbrook is the site of a new community re-entry program for young adults transitioning from imprisonment at the Maine Department of Corrections' Long Creek Youth Development Center in nearby South Portland.

The Transformation Project, a nonprofit, purchased the property from the owners of Ethos Marketing for $500,000, in a deal that closed Nov. 30. Sam LeGeyt of Harnden Commercial Brokers represented the seller and Sam Harmon of Maine Realty LLC represented the buyer. (Ethos had already moved to 17 Ash St., about three blocks away.)

The Transformation Project is about a year old, said the organization's president and executive director, Ken Hawley.

Prior to launching the Transformation Project, Hawley spent eight years with a worldwide organization, Straight Ahead Ministries, which is based in Worcester, Mass. Hawley was Straight Ahead's Maine director, working out of his garage-office at his home in Casco.

The Transformation Project's primary focus is community re-entry, housing, employment and community interaction.

"The idea was to buy a building to help young people transition back into the community," he said. "How we do that is — provide employment, provide housing and ideally provide a platform where they can show off their skills and talents to the community. That way the community can experience for itself that these young people have potential to be successful. The Transformation Project will hold them accountable and provide structure for their success, and provide things they haven't had before, which is mostly a home and love. Those opportunities can reduce recidivism."

The Westbrook building is better than Hawley imagined. He looked at dozens of properties over the years and initially thought he'd have to settle for several smaller buildings to accomplish what they're now able to do in one building. This one, with two stories, over 6,000 square feet and fronting Main Street, is perfect, he said. The building can accommodate a big five-bedroom apartment upstairs, which can house up to eight young men and house-parents; along with a retail café and catering business downstairs for employment, training and to serve the community; and a performance venue.

"A venue is important," he said. "Music, art, spoken word — give them a platform, and the public will be amazed how much talent they have."

The re-entry program is essential, he said. Typically, relationships with youths while in lock-up end when they're released. Yet re-entry is when they need services most, he said.

The building purchase was funded by an investor, he said. In general, The Transformation Project's operations are funded by church organizations (25%) and individuals (75%), around Maine. Some materials and labor have been donated for building renovation and furnishing. About $150,000 is needed to complete renovations.

"We're chasing money to do that," he said. "As a [nonprofit], we're always planning fundraising events."

Work is underway on the building now, Hawley said. Two young adults are scheduled for release from Long Creek in February, so he hopes to be operational by then.

Before the purchase, Hawley and his board hosted meetings with the community to discuss the program. He said the program has received full support from the city and community groups.

Hawley and his staff will host a public open house and tour on Jan. 26, from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.

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