PIH's Boston-based PACT project has received a $15,000 grant from the Boston Foundation as part of a collaborative effort to expand summer activities for at-risk youth and arrest an alarming rise in violence around the city.

In 2005, Boston recorded its highest number of homicides and gun incidents in over a decade.  With increasing rates of violence and delinquency among young people, social activists and leaders from Boston decided that they had to act. And fast. On June 28, 2006, a consortium of 11 funding agencies announced grants totaling $500,000 to 41 agencies that serve more than 4,000 young people. Participating agencies will use the money to extend their hours of operation and expand activities for the teens who need them most: young men and women of color who often have nowhere to go and nothing to do in the summer.

PACT's youth program, Youth for Prevention, Action, and Change through Thought (YPACT), is collaborating with a number of other agencies to offer a variety of activities right through the hot days and long evenings of summer, offering young people options to stay out of the streets and out of trouble.

Based in Codman Square, Dorchester, YPACT focuses on creating peer leaders and providing critical thinking education for at-risk youth.  Apart from one adult supervisor, the program was created and is run entirely by youth from the ages of 12-20 and currently serves over 70 of their peers.  Through collaborations with several agencies throughout Boston, YPACT hopes to engage more than 70 additional young people during the summer.

 “These are not your Boston Latin kids,” says Jina Jibrin, director of YPACT, referring to Boston's most prestigious and competitive high school. “These are kids in public schools that are extremely traumatized.  Some are homeless, some have been in prison, and all of them need this program.”

One of the methods for engaging youth and arresting violence that YPACT is expanding is its collaboration with another program based in Dorchester and Roxbury that teaches capoeira, an Afro-Brazilian martial art that blends dance and acrobatics. 

“Capoeira is a violence prevention tool because it takes an art form that grooms kids to use their bodies in ways of defense, and it starts to work as a form of case management,” says Jibrin.  “You take these street youth, these ‘street thugs', and really transform their view of violence.  You play-fight in a circle, but the goal is to bring that play back to a peaceful starting point.”  

The capoeira program brings in youth from different neighborhoods and has become increasingly popular and successful with young women. “The girls are very prominent in the Capoeira program right now,” Jibrin adds, “and they're even planning a girl-specific group.” 

With the theme of women's empowerment in mind, YPACT is also expanding a women's leadership group, Our Voice, started by a young YPACT participant named Fabienne Casseus. The grant money will help YPACT expand Our Voice membership from 10 young women to 40, and to run formally two evenings a week instead of haphazardly during the days. Women who complete the leadership seminar will go on a three-day retreat in August, where they will undertake activities ranging from stress reduction techniques at a campground to leadership hikes in the green mountains of Vermont to an official tour of Ben and Jerry's ice cream headquarters. 

All these initiatives are based on the idea that the best way to empower youth is to provide the tools that they can use to take charge of their own lives and assume a leadership role among their peers.

When asked how she thinks the grant will affect the participants and how successful she thinks YPACT has been in reaching out to inner-city youth, Jibrin pauses.

“I've never been as humbled as I have working with these kids,” she reflects, “One of these kids told me that YPACT saved his life, that without it he wouldn't be here. We're talking about a 16- year-old who's been locked up several times and who has had the court apologize to him several times for wrongful convictions. You can imagine what that does to his psyche.

“You might imagine this is the sort of conversation we'd manufacture and post everywhere, but it's not. This is real. These kids are making a difference. I'm just filing papers and helping out with administrative stuff. These kids, some of whom are truly exceptional, are the ones who are doing this. They're the leaders.” 

PACT youth doing capoeira

Principal Collaborating Agencies working with YPACT

Dorchester Teen Violence Prevention Program (The Medical Foundation)

Dorchester Teen Violence Prevention Program (DTVPP) is a group of Dorchester teens who work to prevent violence in their community. Through intensive violence prevention training, the teens acquire the knowledge and skills to hold workshops teaching their peers and other youth ways of preventing violence and keeping Dorchester safe. The DTVPP was initiated by the Dorchester Community Services Collaborative two years ago in response to an increase in violence in Dorchester.

The Dorchester and Roxbury-based Capoeira Angola Program

The Capoeira Angola Program is based out of the Epiphany School in Codman Square, Dorchester, and Saint Francis Church in Roxbury in partnership with the Lower Roxbury Coalition. The program combines Capoeira instruction with case management, mentoring, leadership development and community service. Its main mission is violence prevention through healing and community-building. The group conducts numerous workshops, talks, and performances around the city.

DYS/Roxbury Youth Works

Roxbury Youthworks, Inc. (RYI) is a community-based non-profit organization that works with youth (up to 21 years of age) who are involved with the court system, the Department of Youth Services, the Department of Social Services, and the community. RYI provides innovative support services to disenfranchised young people and their families whose voices have too often been muffled by helplessness, social and economic disadvantages, cycles of abuse and negative stereotypes.

Martha Eliot Health Center’s Adolescent Services, Youth Leadership Prevention Program 

Established in 1966, the Martha Eliot Health Center (MEHC) provides comprehensive pediatric, adolescent, adult and OB/GYN medical services.  MEHC's youth leadership program offers a safe space where young adults have the resources and support to voice their opinions and concerns about issues such as violence, sexuality, substance abuse, obesity, nutrition, and police/youth interactions.  MEHC youth participants engage in community outreach work to raise awareness about healthier and safer lifestyles.  

[posted July 2006]