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Polito Announces Youth Programming Grant Awards In Pittsfield

A woman stands behind a podium while a row of people look on
Josh Landes
Massachusetts Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito made the grand announcement at the Elizabeth Freeman Center on Friday

Massachusetts Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito was in Pittsfield on Friday, announcing over $900,000 in grant allocations for youth programming aimed at building healthy relationships.

The Republican appeared at the Elizabeth Freeman Center’s Pittsfield office for the first time since 2015 to announce the funding, which she said complements the RESPECTfully campaign the commonwealth launched last fall.

“It launched with a whole lot of advising after forming a youth group of individuals diverse in terms of gender identity as well as geography coming together to advise us about how to have a conversation with youth of our commonwealth today around healthy friendships and healthy relationships,” said the lieutenant governor.

Polito said the group identified a host of issues: “Name calling, and drama, and intensity, possessiveness, and the things that can escalate into an unhealthy stage and then completely distract that youth from being centered and focused on the things that they have to get done.”

It advised the commonwealth to focus its efforts on a video-based social media campaign.

“Because that’s where youth are spending their time – on Instagram and Snapchat and YouTube, and sharing information, getting information, and then being able to process all of that,” said Polito.

That feedback led to a series of videos that Polito said have garnered millions of digital impressions for the campaign, as well as subsequent RESPECTfully programming around Valentine’s Day and this spring, programming around school dances.

Now, this new influx of state money will go to five organizations around Massachusetts that work with youth from communities disproportionately impacted by sexual assault and “teen dating violence” – including the Elizabeth Freeman Center in Pittsfield.

“It’s all about making sure that these kids have a foundation to stand on in terms of their emotional health," said Polito. "And when they go off after high school to the work place or to a college campus and find themselves in a more independent setting that they have the resources within them to be able to understand what is healthy, what is unhealthy, and what to do about that so that they can live their dreams and not be derailed or distracted by violence, abuse – or they can feel empowered to help those that they love around them.”

“Our county youth are – they’re not in great shape," said Regi Wingo, the youth leader at the Elizabeth Freeman Center. “As adults, we forget – we have mortgages, bills, this, that, and the next thing – that we forget how hard it can be to be a teenager or a preteen and then the amount of messaging they share between each other that is not accurate information, that is not medically sound information is troubling.”

With the new grants, the Center will partner with Taconic High School and 18 Degrees’ Live Out Loud Youth Project to serve Black, Latinx, and LGBTQ youth in Pittsfield to create a curriculum that Wingo said would be equitable and intersectional.

“Now, with these additional funds and support, we will be able to dive deep into a comprehensive harm reductive social-emotional experience for these youth which hopefully in perpetuity will reduce things down the line,” said Wingo.

He said it will continue a relationship the Center has forged with Taconic High for the past two years.

“We’ve been running homogenous inclusive gender groups, talking about masculinity and femininity," said Wingo. "We want to get into some more comprehensive harm reductive sex ed. The thing is, I think a lot of adults take for granted that these kids are just supposed to know a lot of the stuff that we already know about relationships and red flags and stuff. If no one’s having these conversations with them, where are they getting that information.”

“If we want to stop raising generations of abusers and victims, we need to have this kind of programming in every school for every kid throughout the commonwealth,” said Elizabeth Freeman Center Executive Director Janis Broderick.

The Center received about $190,000 of the $920,000 in grant money awarded by the state.

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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