By John Lynds
For several weeks this summer, youth from the Boston Centers for Youth and Families (BCYF) Paris Street Community Center took part in a new program to help strengthen relationships between police and teens.
The Youth and Police Initiative (YPI), launched in 2004 by the North American Family Institute, brought 11 East Boston teens and police from District A-7 police station together to discuss topics and bridge the gap between police and teens in the community.
YPI brings at-risk youth together with the local beat officers to share personal stories, meals, and let their guards down long enough to have the difficult and honest discussions that are necessary in order for real change to take place. YPI began in Baltimore, then went to White Plains and Yonkers, New York, and into Boston’s challenging Franklin Field Public Housing Development, which had some of the worst homicide and violence statistics in the nation.
“In light of all that is going on across the country it was good to bring kids in and have an open and honest discussion with them on a variety of topics,” said District A-7 Community Officer Dan Simmons. “It gave the kids the chance to see us as regular people that went through some of the same stuff they went through growing up in East Boston.”
When the YPI was launched over a decade ago, the focus was to address the dual challenge in urban neighborhoods of teaching youth the skills to resolve daily conflicts with authority while also teaching police officers to step out of their cars and have genuine conversations.
“Through a great partnership with District A-7 the Youth and Police Initiative and the BCYF Paris street community center, 11 teens participated and graduated from a great program that helps to build stronger, lasting and more positive relationships with with police officers and teens in East Boston,” said Paris Street Community Center Director Nicole DaSilva. “Our teens were committed and respectfully engaged. By the time they graduated, our teens were excited about the relationships they made with our local officers. We look forward to continuing to offer more sessions in the near future.”
DaSilva said the goal was simple– to provide young people with critical life skills and foster a desire for a successful future. Youth Link’s efforts have resulted in reduced juvenile crime, increased educational attainments, and youth having increased aspirations and better relations with police and other authority figures.
“The Youth and Police Initiative in East Boston was a very successful trust building training between District A-7 and youth representing the Paris Street Community Center,” said North American Family Institute National Director and former Eastie resident Paul Lewis. “Both the youth and participating officers shared many of their personal experiences, as a way to build trust and enhance relationships. Serious issues of the day were discussed, during this two week training which culminated with a Graduation Ceremony, attended by kids, officers, parents, family members, Boston Police brass and State Rep. Adrian Madaro. We all excited about getting a second session going in the Fall.”
Officers from District A-7 discuss growing up in East Boston and the challenges they faces during the Youth and Police Initiative during sessions at the Boston Centers for Youth and Families (BCYF) Paris Street Community Center.
Some of the 11 teens that took part in the program that lasted several weeks during the summer.
North American Family Institute National Director and former Eastie resident Paul Lewis (center) leads the group.
The teens and officers from District A-7 following one of thier Youth and Police Initiative sessions.