Codman Square teens hail decade of success

Dressed in black, Jeralda Sylvain, 15, is sporting a purple beaded necklace. Pinned to her hooded sweatshirt are a florescent anti-smoking label and a button in memory of her cousin, who was murdered.

Sitting at the BOLD Teens office at Codman Square, she said she is "very happy and proud" of successfully celebrating the group's 10-year anniversary, an event they have been planning for months. More than 100 people attended the three-hour celebration on Sept. 9 at the Boys and Girls Club Performing Arts Center. The event featured a dinner, silent auction, five skits, a raffle and a presentation about the group's activities.

"We put in a lot of our time and dedication. When it came down to the event, we pulled it off, considering that we had no help. It was only the BOLD Teens," Sylvain said.

Breath of Life Dorchester, known as BOLD Teens, is an organization led by youth between the ages of 14 and 18. It is a youth leadership program of the non-profit Family, Inc. The organization pays teens like Sylvain to work as community organizers.

Through the years, much of the group's activism has been focused on combating the sale of tobacco products in the neighborhood and encouraging residents to quit smoking. But, the group's mission has a broader scope that has given them input on issues from economic development to public safety and given them audiences with Mayor Tom Menino and Governor Deval Patrick. The common thread of their efforts, they say, is to improve Dorchester's image, inside and out.

"People who live outside see Dorchester as a dirty, nasty place that you don't want to come in. We want Dorchester stand out as one of the best places in Boston," said Isaiah Vance, a student at John D. O' Bryant School of Mathematics and Science.

The group's founder, 23 year-old Cynthia Loesch, has become the president of the Codman Square Neighborhood Council and is considered a go-to person for those seeking to connect with teens in that section of the neighborhood. But Loesch has consistently pointed to each wave of teens as the real drivers of the group's agenda.

"It is like a regular job, we sign in and sign out," Sylvain said. "Everybody wants to be a BOLD Teen," said Sylvain, a senior at Hyde Park High. The group covets youths who are willing to speak up about the problems in the community and "make moves."

The BOLD Teens had a waiting list of more than 30 applicants for summer positions, during which teens worked Monday to Thursday, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Sylvain's favorite program is the Youth Police Connection (YPC). The BOLD Teens meet weekly with Boston Police officers assigned to the Safe Streets Initiative to improve relationships between youth and police. Events such as basketball games, movie nights, bowling and painting peace doves are held regularly to increase interaction and dialogue.

"Before YPC, the police officers did not acknowledge us. Now when they see us they stop and have a real conversation," she said.

Sergeant Lucas Taxter, who supervises the Safe Streets team for District C-11, said the cops value their rapport with the group.

"When we work together for a common goal we are filling the gap that the uniform often does not permit," Taxter said. "The [BOLD] Teens are proactive and play a vital role in public service."

Hyacynth Dixon, who attends Snowden International High School, said her work with BOLD Teens has made her feel empowered and will likely guide her to a permanent career in public service. Every Thursday, she talks about healthy eating habits at the Codman Square Farmers Market. In partnership with the Boston Collaborative for Food and Fitness, she helps to survey residents about their food and fitness habits to "better serve" their needs.

"If we only have places like McDonalds and KFC in our community, what about the people who want to eat healthy? They go outside, so why not bring the resources into our community and keep the money," Dixon said.

Tiara Amarante, a student at John D. O' Bryant School of Mathematics and Science, says BOLD Teens has given her a chance to pursue her own green agenda.

"I have always been a environmentally conscious person. But now my goal is to make the community smoke-free and the environment greener, cleaner parks, and increase tree planting," Amarante said.