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New Haven, CT YMCA's Youth Caring for the Community
Submitted by Wendy Wheeler on Tue, 12/22/2009 - 10:48.
In New Haven, Connecticut, the local YMCA is a place of transition. Located on Chapel Street, the YMCA borders both Yale University and New Haven’s Dwight neighborhood, a federal empowerment zone where high school dropout rates are high and nearly 40% of the population is below the poverty level. “You go a street up,” says YMCA Youth Director Maggie Scalzo, “and people are walking around with everything they need; you go a street back, and people haven’t eaten in two days.” But at the Y, transition signifies more than a passive geographic reality, more than a phase in an urban planner’s blueprints for gentrification. At the Y, positive transition is the active goal of a group of dedicated Dwight neighborhood teens – and they’re well on their way to reaching it.
Every Wednesday, the group of 12-15 teens meet at the New Haven YMCA. They call themselves YCC, Youth Caring for the Community. It’s a name – and a cause – they’re committed to.
The group developed in 2009 with the help of the Youth and Police grant from Connecticut’s Office of Policy and Management. Relations between young people and law enforcement officers in the Dwight neighborhood are notoriously strained. YCC’s flagship work was to host a series of discussion panels between local police officers and teens. The panels gave both the opportunity to ask and answer questions and clear misunderstandings.
YCC’s work with local law enforcement officers has made for an easy transition to their latest projects. In collaboration with Youth Development Training and Resource Center, one of the three main agencies in the Innovation Center’s Collective Leadership Works initiative, YCC teens are using service-learning and collective leadership to lower rates of gun violence and bullying in their community.
To decide on these issues as the focus of their grant work, YCC youth took the first stage of the service-learning process to heart: investigation. “A lot of the research they did was finding what issues the youth in their community were facing,” Ms. Scalzo, YCC’s Youth Director explains. “They went out in their community, they reached out to friends in different schools, and they gave everyone a survey they designed. The last question on the survey was, ‘What do you feel is the most important issue that needs to be tackled in 2010 in your community?’”
Planning and implementing project work is next for YCC. According to Ms. Scalzo, YCC members have decided to tackle their two focus issues separately. Gun violence is first on the list. The teens are designing posters and postcards for distribution at the YMCA, their schools, convenient stores, and other public meeting spaces that inform their peers about the dangers of guns and what individuals can do to prevent gun violence. Relationships with local police officers have proved helpful: YCC members are meeting with police offers to discuss where and how they can legally hang the posters and distribute the postcards. The group will also work closely with the Greater New Haven Leadership Chamber of Commerce.
The posters and postcards – like YCC and Collective Leadership Works themselves, in many ways – are wholly youth originated. “What we’re really excited about,” Ms. Scalzo says regarding the YMCA’s work with YDTRC and the Innovation Center, “is really having this relationship with the youth – and having them take it and run.”