Viet-Aid, a community development organization based in Fields Corner, officially launched several new youth programs at a neighborhood meeting last Saturday. The programs are aimed at engaging at-risk youth to respond to a series of violent crimes, including the severe beating of two teenagers by a gang of nearly two dozen in August 2007 and the January 2008 murder of 20-year old Jerome Hicks.
A 2008 study done by researchers from Harvard,the Boston Youth Survey, indicated a decline in grades and a lack of parental support among Vietnamese youth in comparison to other youth groups.
“There was a time when this community felt we couldn’t do anything about [problems in the community]. So, Viet-AID tried to bring people together to create solutions,” said Viet-Aid Executive Interim Director Long Nguyen.
At the meeting, held on Saturday at their Charles Street headquarters, Viet-Aid prominently featured their Southeast Asian Shelter Program, which aims to reconnect runaways and their families. The program is currently working with 35 teens from across Dorchester. Despite the name of the program, Viet-AID representatives say that their doors are open to all ethnic groups.
“We have actively recruited non-Vietnamese,” said youth counselor Jessica Ranucci. “It’s good because it teaches children tolerance as well as connectedness to a larger community.”
Viet-Aid will also be operating a preschool, afterschool program and summer enrichment and tutoring programs for middle and high school aged children.
“I’d definitely describe Viet-AID as progressive and open to all kinds of people,” said 21-year old Fields Corner resident Derrick James, who is African-American. James’ younger brother, William, is enrolled in Viet-AID’s summer program.
Teens in the shelter program are encouraged to participate in various community service activities, learn vocational skills and even practice Vovinam, a traditional martial arts as creative and constructive outlets.
“These kids could be in [the Vovinam dojo] after school instead of going out and getting into trouble,” said Vovinam Master Vu Voong.
“I think [Viet-AID] is a good thing for the community-- gives people something to do. I don’t really know what else I would be doing,” said a Vietnamese teen calling himself “Lil’ G” during a cigarette break. “Lil’ G” recently joined the Vovinam dojo and has attended one practice so far.
“It was cool,” he added. “I’m learning a few moves.”
The programs come after an unfortunate year for Viet-AID, where several major sources of funding, including a federal grant, dried up. The losses prompted staff cuts, and program cutbacks. VietAID officials remain optimistic.
“Hopefully, in a year, we will be able to measure a real impact in the community from these new programs,” said Nguyen.