Grove Hall activists probe ideas for a new youth center

A Grove Hall meeting held last Tuesday, Nov. 20 at the William Monroe Trotter elementary school discussed the need to create a new youth center in that part of the neighborhood. The meeting was organized by Project R.I.G.H.T, Inc., Grove Hall Youth Workers Alliance and Grove Hall Outreach Connection.

One prospective site for a youth center that has been brought up is a vacant lot which is controlled by the Boston Redevelopment Authority at the intersection of Crawford, Harold and Howland streets. However, last week's meeting focused less on the ultimate location and more on the kinds of services such a facility should provide.

"We arranged this meeting to draw in community input and dialogue about this project," said Michael Kuzo, community coordinator for Project R.I.G.H.T. "It is the first step in building a safe-haven for youths which engages and provides them with positive resources. We want students and community to be part of development."

Dozens of parents, police officers, teachers, and activist organizations such as City Year gathered in the school's auditorium to share their ideas on what makes an "effective" program.

Anne Thomas, 48, says that schools in her native South Carolina offered youths opportunities that many Massachusetts students do not have available to them.

"Marching bands played a major role in our upbringing, not only academically, but socially as well. It taught us discipline," said Thomas. "If we offered these youths liberal arts related academic programs, it could provide them an outlet to transfer their aggressive energy into something productive."

Among the numerous concerns voiced, one key topic was how to create programs that focused on all age groups.

"A lot of times the older youth are left out of the equation," said Omar Lyons, 19. "How will we benefit from these new programs?"

Many at the meeting said that programs that offered employment opportunities were most needed. Others expressed the importance of building youth and adult relationships through mentoring programs.

"We need to be clear with developers and let them know what we are looking for as a neighborhood and community," said Thomas. "Assert what we need so that we don't re-establish programs that do not work. Such as centers with untrained staff or people who can't even relate with the youths they are supposed to be helping."

"We definitely need a more diverse range of programs," said Ra'Shaun Nalls , a Project R.I.G.H.T counselor. "Many resources have been diminishing over the years that need to be restored. After school programs, community centers and especially mentoring programs.

"Youths ages 11 to 14 don't really have anything available to them and they are just left blowing in the wind," said Nalls. "We need to reach out to them while they are young - before they are dropping out of school and getting familiar with the court system."