When Bridgton acquired the old armory building on Depot Street a few years ago and created a community center it was with high hopes that at last there would be a permanent home for many of the programs for town and area residents. Over the years these programs had been housed in different quarters, from the old superintendent's office near the Bridgton Town Hall to the old Stevens Brook School.
Ingrid von Kannewurff welcomed my wife Penny and me when we dropped by to visit her at the Bridgton Community Center. Ingrid is an Operations Director for the center as well as one if its most active supporters.
"This doesn't look anything like an armory," I commented.
"No, we've done a lot to turn it into a meeting place where seniors and youth can gather for their activities," Ingrid said. "Let me show you around the center."
She took us on a tour and pointed with pride to the computer classroom, the meeting rooms and youth activities room, the sewing room, the small but neat kitchen and food preparation areas, her office, and the "great room". "This is where we serve our senior luncheons and where we have our programs, Ingrid said. I was impressed with the freshly painted walls hung with posters and photomontages of past events. "And here the youth group is decorating the walls," she said, pointing out the beginnings of a colorful mural at their end of the building.
"Why don't you and Penny come to one of our senior luncheons," Ingrid asked. "We serve a hot lunch every Wednesday at noon, and everyone in the community is invited. And you don't have to live in Bridgton. We even allow people from Sebago to eat with us," she said with a smile.
The next Wednesday Penny and I joined more than 60 others at the Community Center for their weekly luncheon, and were welcomed by Don MacLean with a clipboard. He and his wife Barbara are active volunteers at the Center, and he keeps a record of attendance so they can plan on supplies and servings for the luncheons. Ingrid had told us that they have been holding these luncheons for about two years, and have grown from five diners to an average of about 65 people each week.
We sat at four long tables and were served family style and shared the dishes with our neighbors at the table. First course was a salad, followed by a large helping of delicious homemade cottage pie. Fred von Kannewurff, Ingrid's husband, was sitting at our table and explained that this was an old German recipe made with mashed potatoes, onions, and ground beef, and was cooked right there in the Center's kitchen. Ingrid and Barbara brought out huge serving dishes full, and diners could have as much as they wanted. The cottage pie was complemented by homemade rye bread made by Ingrid. She and Barbara alternate as the head cooks for the luncheons.
As we sat around after our meal, sharing coffee and cookies, Peter Terry entertained the group with songs on the piano. Fred told us that a $2.00 donation is accepted for the meal and that the Center is able to buy the food and serve these meals on that budget. Although all the servers and cooks donate their time as volunteers, very little food is donated and the program is self-supporting.
I spoke with Wayne Rivet, editor of the Bridgton News, and he praised the Community Center. "It has really grown to be a vital part of our community, with a wide variety of programs for seniors, older folks, and youth as well. We are lucky to have such a place in Bridgton."
In addition to the Senior Luncheons every week, the Bridgton Community Center offers computer classes for seniors taught by seniors, the "Seeds for Success" community gardens program, a youth Discovery Center, an after school program Adventure Kids in partnership with Stevens Brook Elementary, classes in first aid and CPR, a Step into Fitness Walking Club, an Across Ages Mentoring Program, and Bingo. In addition, the center offers special classes and programs, such as the "Christmas Season in Europe" talk that I gave at the center on December 4 about our Christmas trip to Germany and Austria last year and the customs and songs of Christmas in Europe.
Ingrid modestly downplays her role at the center and insists that she was only one of many who make the center a community success. She never mentioned that she had been honored by the Portland Press Herald and American Red Cross with an Adult Helping Hands Real Heroes Award in March 2003 for her work at the Community Center, the Red Cross, and throughout her community. I had to find that out for myself, and it made the self-effacing efforts of Ingrid and all the other volunteers at the Community Center that much more important.
Bridgton and the entire Lakes Region is indeed fortunate to have both the facilities and the volunteers to make the Community Center an important asset for all. For more information contact Dona Forke, Executive Director for the Bridgton Community Center at (207) 647-3116.
This article was edited and published in the Neighbors Section of the Portland Press Herald on December 16, 2004 under the title "Community Center fulfills its mission". Copyright © 2004, Portland Press Herald, used here by permission