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With a citywide pass to enter youth organizations, Springfield hopes to reduce violence

Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno said "thousands" of these passes will be available for the city's youth as part of an initiative to reduce violence.
Paul Tuthill
Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno said "thousands" of these passes will be available for the city's youth as part of an initiative to reduce violence.

Initiative follows a summer of gun violence that elevated the city's murder rate to an historic level.

In a bid to stem a surge in gun violence, an initiative in Springfield, Massachusetts looks to get young people off the streets and away from trouble.

By joining any one of nearly a dozen community centers, Boys and Girls Clubs, or social service agencies in Springfield, a young person will have access to all of the participating organizations and the myriad of programs they provide such as mentoring, counseling, tutoring, and of course recreation.

“This is really unique,” said Mayor Domenic Sarno.

Announcing the initiative Monday, Sarno said the city is printing passes good for a free initial universal membership at the organizations. He said these admission tickets will be made widely available including at library branches, barbershops, preschools, and senior centers. Springfield cops will also have them to hand out.

“We’re going to flood the streets with thousands of these,” Sarno said as he held up one of the printed passes.

The collaboration by many of the city’s prominent youth organizations including the Springfield Boys and Girls Club, the downtown Springfield YMCA, and the MLK Jr. Family Center, resulted from brainstorming sessions Sarno held during the summer with dozens of community stakeholders to come up with ways to prevent gun violence.

It has been an historically violent year in Springfield with 26 homicides reported – the highest annual total in at least 30 years.

At the South End Community Center, where the Springfield Youth Collaboration was announced Monday and the universal passes displayed, the center’s executive director Wes Jackson said the idea is to break down silos to offer the city’s youth a wide spectrum of programs and recreational opportunities.

“We want to get more organizations on this path so everywhere in Springfield a kid can go and get some support,” Jackson said.

As for capacity, Keshawn Dodds, director of the Boys and Girls Club Family Center with about 250 current members, said space may be limited, but no one is ever turned away because of an inability to pay.

“We’re trying to do some great things to expand our building which has not changed since 1966,” Dodds said. “We are able to help as many kids as possible, but we do need the space.”

Endorsing the initiative were Springfield City Councilor Lavar Click-Bruce, who chairs the Public Safety Committee, and Springfield Police Superintendent Cheryl Clapprood.

“Thirty years ago, I mentored some kids,” Clapprood said. “They were just looking for what’s on the other side. They just needed some examples. So, this is great.”

Francena Brown, who has lost two sons to gun violence in Springfield and now heads the Families Against Violence organization, called the collaboration “a start.”

“There are a lot of kids saying there is nothing out there for them to do and they can’t afford the fee to join the Boys and Girls Club,” Brown said. “They need a father figure. They don’t have a father in their lives. I think it is going to be a great success program for the youth in the community.”

The Sarno administration is also planning a gun buyback program, WAMC has learned, with details expected to be announced shortly.

The record-setting tenure of Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno. The 2011 tornado and its recovery that remade the largest city in Western Massachusetts. The fallout from the deadly COVID outbreak at the Holyoke Soldiers Home. Those are just a few of the thousands and thousands of stories WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief Paul Tuthill has covered for WAMC in his nearly 17 years with the station.