This summer, through HCDI’s summer youth employment program, our resident youth leaders have been working with the Performance Project/First Generation, Girls Inc., the Tapley/Franklin Community Garden Project, and the Liberty Townhouse Summer Program. These employment opportunities were made possible through New England Farm Workers and a Commonwealth Corporation grant.
The youth leaders are high school and college students and residents from the local HCDI community. They kicked off the summer with a series of team-building and leadership exercises in June at our Bay Area Neighborhood Resource Center, led by youth leader Liberty program coordinators Josh Valle and Aschalon Ingram.
Valle and Ingram are the coordinators for this year’s summer program at the HCDI complex in the Liberty Heights neighborhood. In the past, adult staff were the coordinators, but this year, the coordinating roles were given to these two youth leaders who have been part of the program for years. “This year has been a lot more challenging because we had to come up with [our own ideas] and be more creative,” Valle said. “It’s challenging, but it’s fun when everything works out. . . . We got it done.” They coordinated numerous field trips including places like the Forest Park Zoo and pool. “[The kids] were ecstatic about that,” he said. He was thrilled to be able to provide that kind of experience for them. “They got free passes to the pool,” he said proudly, explaining that now because of their planning, the kids can go to the pool whenever they want to over the next two years. In addition, 4H provides programs on the environment and ecology, including topics like precipitation processes and animal habitats, and the Springfield Library provides reading programs.
“It’s a pleasure working. I enjoy the people I work around. Hopefully we can get more things done in the future,” Valle said.
At Chestnut Crossing in downtown Springfield, 18-year-old youth leader Brandon Pedraza has been hired as the lead janitor. He works 25 hours a week and is supervised by Housing Management Resources maintenance tech staff. “It’s only a summer job, but they are actually looking to hire me,” he said. He enjoys the quiet time, the independence, and the way that he’s given responsibility and can create his own routine. He thinks the supervision is great. “Everyone in the building is super cool,” he added. He’ll be going back to school in the fall, so he can’t continue past the summer session. “If anyone would like the job after I finish, it’s a great opportunity!”
In the Bay neighborhood, HCDI teamed up with Girls Inc. of the Valley to bring their summer camp to our Bay Area Neighborhood Resource Center. This was a co-ed program funded by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. Youth leaders Ariel Arroyo, Jahara Morris, and Nyalise Revilla joined the team of staff this year. Arroyo and Morris both emphasized that the kids are great, they listen, they’re respectful, and they wear their masks.
“I really love it, I couldn’t experience something better than this,” Morris said as she described her first experience in the youth leader program and her first job. “It’s shown me what it’s like to work in a good environment. I look forward to coming here. [When] I miss a day, it’s so sad.” She went on to explain that the staff welcomed them in as well, and they all have a good time working together.
Similar initiatives will continue in the fall with a program funded by Mass Housing’s Youth Employment Program. Youth leaders will tutor, read, and provide activities to the after school programs held at the Bay Area Neighborhood Resource Center and Liberty Townhouses.
These meaningful employment experiences are sparking an innate desire in the resident teens to help and give back. Valle explained that when he was younger, his sister was in the YL program at Liberty Hill Townhouses, and he was encouraged to enter the program as well. Over the years, he’s grown and learned a lot. Now, “it’s second nature,” he says. “I want to help.”
When asked if they would do this again, Morris and Arroyo said that they would in a heartbeat, and not because someone asked them to, but because they truly love the experience.