"If it wasn't for the Teen Center, I would have been in jail or killed. Why? Becoming involved with the Teen Center altered my outlook on life."
How ironic, that just a short few hours after Boston Police Commissioner William Evans spoke with business and civic leaders at a breakfast meeting in support of the Catholic Charities Teen Center at St. Peter's, a teenager was shot and killed just steps away from his high school.
Commissioner Evans spoke about not only the need for community policing but also about the Teen Center's role in keeping teenagers actively and positively engaged as key to preventing violence across the neighborhoods of the city.
Located in the heart of the Bowdoin-Geneva neighborhood of Dorchester, the Teen Center serves 150 students in grades 5 to 12 during the academic year, offering academic support as well as activities designed to address the social-emotional needs and health and wellness needs of children who live in one of the cities most troubled neighborhoods.
Surrounded by adults who nurture and care for them, our teens are academically successful -- this year each of our seniors will not only graduate from high school -- they have all received college acceptance letters.
Euclides Fontes, the Teen Center's Middle School Academic Coordinator has a unique perspective in the work of the center which he shared with the group that morning.
Euclides and his family arrived in the United States from Cape Verde in August 1995, "to seek a better life." Staying with extended family, Euclides' parents worked hard to provide for their seven children, eventually owning a home in the Bowdoin-Geneva neighborhood. Euclides joined the Teen Center when he was not quite 15 years old and shared that: "before I joined, sometimes afterschool, I would go to the park or interact outside with my friends. My mother never wanted me outside. She would worry and feared that I could be in harm's way at any given time or place. Especially with all the violence that was happening in the community.
Invited by a friend to join, initially Euclides did not like the Teen Center, but eventually learned to appreciate the support and life lessons he learned there stating, "If it wasn't for the Teen Center, I would have been in jail or killed. Why? Becoming involved with the Teen Center altered my outlook on life."
Euclides points to a frightening moment in his young life when the lessons learned at the Teen Center helped him make a positive decision, not only for himself but for his friends. It was in 2005 -- Euclides was outside, playing football with friends when they were charged by another group of teens wielding knives and bats. While able to successfully defend themselves that day, the frightened group began to make plans to start their own gang, thinking it would the only way to be less bullied and bothered.
Happily, Euclides was able to convince his friends that forming a gang was not the solution to their problem: "At the time I told them that's not a good idea and that I don't want to go to anyone's funeral. I was able to make that decision for my friends and myself because of my involvement with the Teen Center boy's focus group program. It gave me confidence to say no to negative situations."
Today, Euclides is a valued member of the Teen Center staff, who describes himself as a "youth worker that will never give up on his kids," and of the Teen Center he says, "For me I don't consider the Teen Center a program. It is a second home for our kids."
His caring dedication to young people in our community is an invaluable gift to us all. We are grateful each and every day to Euclides and all of the Teen Center staff, volunteers and supporters for all that they do to ensure a brighter future for our young people.
To learn more about the Catholic Charities Teen Center, and our other programs dedicated to supporting young people across the region, go to www.ccab.org.
Deborah Kincade Rambo is president of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Boston.