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Funds to fight youth gang violence distributed in Massachusetts

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Serious assaults and robberies by juveniles are down sharply in Massachusetts cities that have received Shannon Grant funds the last five years, according to state public safety officials.

$11.2 million goes to municipalities, community-based organizations

Massachusetts has made a new round of funding available from a program to prevent youth gang violence.

The Massachusetts Office of Public Safety and Security said 15 funding grants totaling $11.2 million will go to municipalities that participate in collaborative initiatives with community partners to prevent youth violence.

The money comes from the Charles E. Shannon Jr. Community Safety Initiative Grant Program. It is named for a late State Senator, who became a state legislator after 20 years as a police officer and championed youth programs.

In the last decade, $62 million has been distributed. Last year, programs funded with Shannon grants served more than 15,000 youth, according to Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito.

“An enduring program that clearly works,” Polito said.

She announced this year’s grant recipients during a visit to the South End Community Center in Springfield.

The center’s director Wesley Jackson said many of its programs for young people are made possible by the Shannon grant funds.

“The South End Community Center is dedicated to helping individuals develop qualities needed to become a responsible and caring citizen,” Jackson said. “To achieve this, we provide a variety of quality programs, and life-long learning, youth programs, and family support designed to assist in the educational, emotional, and physical development of Springfield residents.”

Rex Ramos, who is a middle school teacher in Springfield, said the youth programs at the South End Community Center were crucial to him as he was growing up in the neighborhood.

“If it was not for the bonds created back then, I would not be here today,” Ramos said.

Springfield is getting a Shannon grant of $1.2 million. The money will be used by about 10 community organizations and also the Springfield Police Department for its C-3 community policing initiative, said Mayor Domenic Sarno.

“It’s a balancing act,” Sarno said. “The majority of this money – and what Senator Shannon wanted – is to be proactive, to give opportunities.”

The state’s Secretary of Public Safety and Security Terrence Reidy, who used to be a gang prosecutor in the Worcester District Attorney’s office, said the Shannon program works. He said in communities that have received Shannon grants in each of the last five years, assaults by juveniles are down 45 percent and robberies are down 60 percent.

“It’s giving resources to people in the street and people who run centers like this throughout the state that reduce crime,” Reidy said. “It gives kids healthy alternatives.”

Among the grant recipients are Holyoke and Chicopee, which will share $566,000 and Pittsfield which is receiving $396,000

Paul Tuthill is WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief. He’s been covering news, everything from politics and government corruption to natural disasters and the arts, in western Massachusetts since 2007. Before joining WAMC, Paul was a reporter and anchor at WRKO in Boston. He was news director for more than a decade at WTAG in Worcester. Paul has won more than two dozen Associated Press Broadcast Awards. He won an Edward R. Murrow award for reporting on veterans’ healthcare for WAMC in 2011. Born and raised in western New York, Paul did his first radio reporting while he was a student at the University of Rochester.