Anna-Marie Hart relishes going to work every day at the Neighborhood House in Northeast Harbor.
A Brewer native, she graduated from Brewer High School and, after a year spent at Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts, transferred to the University of Maine to study sociology. “People fascinate me,” she said. “My favorite book growing up was the ‘Lord of the Flies.’ It’s a book about social order and the break down of it ultimately.”
Through high school and college, Hart worked at the Brewer Parks and Recreation Department in its summer programs and after-school program. After graduating with her bachelor’s degree in sociology, she worked with “severely abused children in the foster-care program.
“I loved my clients, the kids,” Hart said.
In 1998 she became the program director for the Neighborhood House at 1 Kimball Road in Northeast Harbor. Its directors soon named her the executive director.
Constructed in English Tudor style, the Neighborhood House resembles a typical “summer cottage,” but there’s a big difference. Built in 1903 on land donated by the Gilpatrick family and opened in 1905, the Neighborhood House from its inception has been “a non-profit community center,” Hart said. “It’s everybody’s other home in town.”
Despite its street-level appearance, the Neighborhood House has three floors, with a state-of-the-art fitness center located in the lowest level. On the main floor are a children’s room, an industrial kitchen and the most striking interior feature, the Great Hall that can seat 250 people.
Equipped with a stage, the Great Hall hosts many activities, from concerts and plays to wedding receptions to children’s birthday parties, lectures, fund-raising events, art shows, memorial services, and an annual father-daughter dance. A third-floor balcony overlooks the main floor.
The Neighborhood House hosts activities year round, with summer being the busiest time. “This organization is an equalizer and a unifier. We bring everybody together,” Hart noted. “Everybody comes through that door,” from year-round residents to summer residents and visitors attending different events.
The Neighborhood House extends its presence into the community. The Town of Mount Desert does not have a parks-and-recreation department, “so we serve in that capacity,” Hart said. “We do many activities your typical parks-and-recreation department would do,” from after-school programs to summer day camps, youth sports, a popular Memorial Day cookout, and a children’s bike parade on Main Street.
“We don’t have a membership. You can do our programs a la carte,” Hart said. “Our fees range from free to about $200 a week” for summer camps.
“We never turn anybody away on their ability to pay,” she stressed.
The Neighborhood House has undergone significant changes over the decades. Almost torn down in the 1970s, the building gained a wing in the 1980s and in the late 2000s underwent major renovations after a successful $3-million fund-raising campaign.
Open year round, the Neighborhood House has four full- and two part-time employees. Hart’s brother, Matt, has worked as the public-relations director for the past 17 years.
Hart moved to Northeast Harbor when she started working at the Neighborhood House. Ever since growing up in Brewer, “I’ve always loved the Island,” she said. “Being just an hour up the road, I would come here year-round to recreate,” from biking and hiking to cross-country skiing.
Hart likes to bike or walk on the nearby Acadia National Park carriage roads. “I think my favorite walk is Little Long Pond — and Eagle Lake. I love to fish on Jordan Pond,” where she catches and releases land-locked salmon.
“I love to cook, it’s probably my favorite hobby,” Hart said. “I love to camp,” especially “up to Chesuncook Lake.”
She also enjoys reading, preferring to read various genres. She particularly likes satire.