LEWISTON, Maine — Brewer native Julia Sleeper, member of the Bates College Class of 2008 and an advocate for youth and families in downtown Lewiston, was awarded the College’s Distinguished Young Alumni Award on June 8 for her work as executive director and co-founder of Tree Street Youth Center.
Jennifer Lemkin Bouchard, president of the Bates College Alumni Council and member of the Class of 1999, presented the award to Sleeper as part of the college’s Alumni Reunion Weekend. The award is presented to a graduate of not more than 15 years for exceptional volunteer service to Bates and distinction in his or her career.
Bouchard described Sleeper as a champion of diversity and educational opportunity whose “respect for the abilities and dignity of all people fosters unity across lines of difference.”
Sleeper first became involved with the downtown Lewiston community as a student, volunteering at the Lewiston Middle School and Trinity Jubilee Center.
Recognizing a need for affordable summer programming for neighborhood youth, she and Kimberly Sullivan, a member of the Bates College class of 2013, founded Tree Street in 2010 with the support of Trinity Episcopal Church and local community members.
Through academics, the arts and athletics, Tree Street strives to, in the words of Bouchard, “empower downtown youth and their families to be fully participating members of their community.”
The center offers year-round programming and serves nearly 150 youth a day, approximately 70 percent of whom come from immigrant and refugee households.
This year, 29 of Tree Street’s graduating high school seniors have been accepted to college thanks in part to the center’s college preparatory program, Branches. Their acceptances include the University of Maine, Clark University and Morehouse College.
Sleeper said Tree Street would not be what it is without the support of its volunteers, including the dozens of Bates students who visit the center every semester.