Tree Street Stories

Q+A With A Graduate: Taha Mahamat


Q: How did you first get involved with Tree Street?
A: I first heard about it from a friend of mine. We started going before Tree Street even existed and were attending the homework help program where Julia was working. I’ve actually been involved with Julia/Tree Street since 5th grade.


Q: In what ways has Tree impacted your life?
A: Honestly, Tree Street has made me into a much better student. Not only that, but it has given me a place to go to after school to help keep me occupied. If it was not for Tree, I would be involved with the wrong crowd and be doing thing I shouldn’t.


Q: What role has the BRANCHES program played in your development?
A: One of the cooler things it has done is allowed me to meet a lot of new people; all the different workers that come in, lots of tutors from Bates, and forced me to make connections with my fellow classmates. If BRANCHES wasn’t around, I would be failing school.


Q: Where will you be attending school in the fall? Why?
A: I will be going to Southern Maine Community College! My cousin Djamal and I wanted to go somewhere together and did not want to stay in Lewiston, so we decided to live in Portland and attend SMCC!


Q:What is a favorite Tree Street memory of yours?
A: One thing that sticks out to me is one day when some of us were in BRANCHES doing some work just hanging around, and then all of the sudden everyone just burst out laughing. We all laughed for like 10 minutes straight! I have lots of fond memories of Tree Street, but I also know I’m going to make lots more as I continue to come to Tree in the years that follow.


Special thanks to Aicha, Michael, Isaiah, and Ilham for sharing their stories with us! 

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

“Tree Street Youth helped me pass all my classes and school year. Now, I am a senior.”

Liban is currently a senior at Lewiston High School.

“Tree Street Youth is awesome because it helped me have more patience with kids, I love Tree Street.”

 Austin is a high school student in the StreetLeaders Program.

Read an essay by a student in the BRANCHES program

Taking Pride in Perseverance

“The water pressed around me, rushing down my throat, crushing the air in my lungs, and leaving me in a wide-eyed panic. Trying to gasp for air, I thought it was going to be the end of me. Unfortunately, this was just one of the many traumatic things that happened to me on my first day of swim practice.


It was the beginning of my junior year of high school. At the time, I was deciding what sports team I wanted to join. Many of my friends wanted me on the indoor track team; I wanted to try something completely new. That being said, I joined the school’s swim team. Considering that I did not even know how to swim, it was an incredibly bold decision.


No one in my culture and community had ever seen a young Somali guy do something as wild and crazy as join the swim team. I knew this would require significant time and effort, but I was still not fully prepared for the challenges that awaited me. During the first few practices, I failed catastrophically. I flailed and thrashed around in the water, trying to stay afloat – literally and figuratively. It was difficult to feel confident in my decision to join the team; I could barely swim in the deep end!


These struggles in the pool and also outside of the pool became my life. Negative judgment from unbelieving peers saying things like, “You’re black! How can you even swim?” were constant. Not only did I have to fight to become a better swimmer, I also had to fight against the stereotype that black people cannot swim. I remember walking down the hallway, dressed for a swim meet, when a teacher stopped me and asked, “Are you on the basketball team?” I looked at her in confusion, surprised by her assumption and the racial insinuation of her comment. However, the teacher was more surprised when I told her that I was on the swim team. Situations like these made it difficult for me to find my center – a center of peace where I could just be myself and not have to internalize and acquiesce to others’ stereotypical opinions.


Amidst many distractions, I was still practicing as much as possible to build confidence and strengthen my swimming. The day of my first swim meet, the 200 meter relay would be my ultimate test. Being the least experienced of the four swimmers on my relay team, I had to swim the last leg. As the horn blew and my teammates took their turns, my stomach dropped. I was convinced that I would get disqualified for not swimming the entire distance, but I knew I just had to give it my all. The third leg finished his lap and touched the wall. I dove into the water and swam as fast as I could. My muscles ached with each movement. With all the strength and energy I could muster, I finished the race.


Although I placed last, I was proud. I was proud of my team. I was proud of myself. I learned that failing is a part of a process – a learning process that eventually allows one to succeed. This race was both the worst and best moment of my swimming career. Eventually, last changed to third and and then to second place over the course of the swim season. By the seasons’ end, I finally placed first in a 50 meter race. All of my hard work paid off. I had come a long way from my failures. I had succeeded.


Improvement was possible because of my perseverance; I did not give in. I truly believe that putting forth an effort into anything, whether that be sports, classes or even life circumstances, will create more opportunities for success than failure. In order to succeed, sometimes one has to fail.”


MoeJ is currently a senior at Lewiston High School and a proud member of the Blue Devils swim team.

Hear from volunteers at Tree Street

Hope and Commitment

“One day when I dropped in to Tree, I happened to witness a training session for summer College Interns and Street Leaders. Here were young adults of all colors and genders training younger adults and high school students in childhood development, diverse cultures, ethnicities, and religions, as well as restorative justice. In our very mixed up world, it moved me deeply to see such hope, such skill, and such commitment by so many youth all in once place. At Tree Street! You really have to see it to feel it.”


A Tree Street volunteer.

Teaching and Learning

“I first began volunteering at Tree Street Youth as a freshman in college. One of the things I appreciate most about Tree Street is that it provides me with an opportunity to engage with the community of Lewiston in a meaningful way. While I help the kids with their algebra or history homework, they help me understand what it means to live outside the bubble of white, middle class privilege. I feel that my time at Tree Street has opened my mind to how the daily lives of others differ from mine, which makes it doubly rewarding to feel that my presence has made a positive impact.


While helping the kids to work through the day-to-day struggle of homework can be a challenge, seeing their faces light up when everything finally clicks is one of the most rewarding experiences I have had so far in college. I am ever amazed at what I learn from these kids, and am humbled that two hours of my time can make such a difference in the way they approach academics, and their lives in general. I always look forward to coming to Tree Street, and seeing what I will be able to teach that day, but more importantly, what I will learn.”


Julie, a Tree Street volunteer.