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Pittsfield Community Charts Ways To Address Youth Violence

Jim Levulis

More than 100 people turned out for a community conversation addressing youth violence last night in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. It’s the second meeting since an August shooting involving two teenagers that put one in the hospital.Minister Mark Alford of the Second Congregational Church was among the faith leaders at Tuesday’s meeting.

“It’s going to take all of us here making an effort,” Alford said. “Many of us have skills but we’ve said ‘When and where?’ Well here is the opportunity now. We’re giving you opportunity to step to the forefront and make yourself available to another young person out there. Each and every one of you here can touch a young person’s life and make a difference. I still believe in each and every one of us in this house if we can just work together as one.”

Together the community’s religious organizations will start two afterschool homework programs and draw on their congregations to serve in a citywide mentoring program. Berkshire United Way will run the mentoring initiative and has scheduled a panel discussion on November 12th at the First Baptist Church in Pittsfield. Those ideas are part of a community action plan developed by various committees over the past month and laid out Tuesday. Another program being launched is a parental support group. Vanessa Guess-Slaughter is a social worker with the Pittsfield Community Connection.

“This is a place where the parents can come and speak about what they feel they’re good in and what they feel they need help in,” Guess-Slaughter said. “That has to do with their children, rearing, cooking and babysitting. The goal is to try to get these women to help themselves.”

The efforts have been spurred by the August 18th shooting around 9 a.m. near the intersection of Tyler and First St. It sent 17-year-old Deshon Taylor to the hospital. Pittsfield Police arrested a 15-year-old male believed to be the shooter. His name has not been released because he is a juvenile.

Roughly 25 businesses have agreed to double the number of positions in the Berkshire Regional Employment Board’s six-week summer youth jobs program to nearly 120 next year and take part in on-the-job training efforts for high school students. Pat Muraca, CEO of Pittsfield-based Nuclea Biotechnologies, says the company has been worried about area crime and how it might affect worker recruitment. He said he looked at business improvement districts in other cities where companies come together to fund security and economic development programs.

“In Springfield they established the BID in 1998 and in eight years their assessed property values in the BID climbed by 54 percent,” Muraca said.”Amazing. Absolutely amazing. In Hyannis, the BID saw downtown business vacancies drop from 10 percent to 1 percent from 1997 to 2006. Those are successes.”

Muraca said Nuclea would be the first company to put money toward this type of initiative and will ask the City Council to look at setting up the improvement district. Pittsfield Police Chief Michael Wynn has been working with the city for the past 20 years. Saying he was speaking as a community member, he encouraged support for existing programs within Pittsfield like summer literacy courses and Berkshire United Way versus seeking outside solutions.

“We’ve got a lot of people doing a lot of work and a lot of duplication and redundant things,” Wynn said. “We don’t know what’s happening elsewhere in the city. We’ve got to start talking between neighborhoods and across neighborhood lines. The police department is in everywhere neighborhood. We meet with Morningside Initiative and Westside Initiative. We meet with 15 different neighborhood watch groups. We see what everybody is doing in the community schools. But you’re not leaving your neighborhoods, you’re not your comfort zone and you don’t know what else is happening here in the city. We can go get more programs from Worcester just like we did with the Shannon Grant, but we’re still going to have to deliver it here.”

Ashley Rattigan of the Fenn St. Community Development Corporation is putting together a resource guide compiling ongoing programs and opportunities into one source. Also, Rattigan’s call for space to set up a standalone youth center was answered by Eric Wilder of the Social Education Engaging Diversity or SEED Network and Goodwill.

“I want to donate the space for the youth program,” Wilder said. “Goodwill is a site that will provide space for that youth program.”

Another initiative being rolled out is a free family film and open mic night every Sunday starting in late October at the Boys & Girls Club. Vin Marinaro of the Pittsfield Youth Commission suggested setting up a forum for young people to let adults know how they feel.

“They’re in fear,” Marinaro said.  “They’re being bullied. They’re being hurt. They’re being abused. We need to hear from them because that’s the way we have change.”

Charles Harrigan says it comes to down to parenting.

“Twenty minutes out of your day to help with homework,” Harrigan said. “Go to the park. Sit there. Watch them play. Be involved. I’m not the only parent, but I’m the only one that I see when I go to the park.”

Jim is WAMC’s Associate News Director and hosts WAMC's flagship news programs: Midday Magazine, Northeast Report and Northeast Report Late Edition. Email: jlevulis@wamc.org
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