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North End Against Drugs offers summer activities for youth

Posted by Jeremy C. Fox  July 11, 2011 12:54 PM

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(Jeremy C. Fox for Boston.com)

The Paul Revere Mall will be the site of three musical nights co-hosted by North End Against Drugs and the North End Music and Performing Arts Center on July 22, Aug. 11, and Aug. 18.

North End young people have a wide variety of safe and healthy activities around the neighborhood this summer thanks to a local anti-drug group and two important grants.

Through support from the city’s youth program and the Boston Foundation, North End Against Drugs is teaming with other local organizations to offer several athletic and cultural events for young people and for family groups of all ages.

For the fifth consecutive year, the group has won a grant from Boston ROCKS (Recreational Opportunities for City Kids) through the city’s Youth Zone program. The $4,500 grant will support sports nights and weekly craft activities in the neighborhood.

“NEAD is extremely grateful to Mayor Menino for allowing us to continue this fantastic program for the youth of the North End for another year,” wrote John Romano, president of the organization, in an email.

The sports nights for youth ages 8 – 16 will be held at the Captain Louis Polcari Playground on Prince Street on July 14, Aug. 5, and Sept. 2 from 6 – 9 pm, rain or shine. Alfredo Vilar, who runs the program with Mikey Fud, said it is led by the youth, who choose from sports including basketball, football, Wiffle Ball, and soccer, with two different games often going on at once.

“We’re supplied with all kinds of equipment to have the kids play whatever they want,” Vilar said. “Whatever they feel like playing, if the majority of them want to play that, then we’ll do that. And if we have two squads that want to do two different things, then we try to make that work as well.”

Vilar said the program has grown each of the four years that the organization has offered it. Most of the participants are 10 – 16, he said, but all are welcome.

“We never turn away a kid. We’ve had kids play as young as six years old,” Vilar said.

The ROCKS grant will also support Free Arts and Crafts programs at the Mirabella Pool for youth ages 8 – 16 every Thursday from July 14 – Sept. 1 from 1 to 4 p.m., as well as on four Saturday afternoons: July 16, July 30, Aug. 20 and Aug. 27, also from 1 to 4 p.m.

Patricia Romano, who runs the program, said each week will feature a different central activity alongside materials for other small projects for those who finish that week’s craft but still want to do more. The main projects will include opportunities to decorate hats, masks, and wooden boxes, and supplies will be at the ready for those who want to weave potholders or make beaded jewelry or friendship bracelets.

Romano said the program has been successful for several years now, with many of the same children returning for each session and others coming and going depending on that week’s project and on the weather outside.

“You usually get the same basic group of kids back every week, and they you get new people who filter in and out every week,” she said.

And for the second year in a row, the anti-drug organization also received a grant from the Boston Foundation as part of the My Summer in the City Funding Initiative. Through this $7,500 grant, they are working with two other local organizations to provide free film and music events to families in the North End.

NEAD is participating in the Recovery Outreach Committee’s annual Family Movie Nights by co-sponsoring the July 15 screening of “E.T.” at the DeFilippo Playground (known to locals as “the Gassy” for the large natural gas tank that once stood on the spot).

The anti-drug group is also teaming up with the North End Music and Performing Arts Center to offer Free Fun Family Nights in the Paul Revere Mall on July 22, Aug. 11 and Aug. 18.

On July 22, NEMPAC instructor Jeremy Sarzana will host Jam Night with Jeremy, an opportunity for experienced musicians, absolute beginners, and everyone in between to play classic rock music together.

“He’s very good at getting any person of any musical ability to play together,” said Rebecca Griffin, executive director of the center. Griffin said much of rock music is based on three simple chords, “So if you can’t play any music at all, he can have you play the three [chords].” There will also be other activity stations and an instrument petting zoo.

Griffin said all ages are encouraged to participate, but she thinks it will be particularly enjoyable for adults who were involved in music when they were younger but haven’t picked up an instrument in years.

“So many people used to take lessons, but they’re not exposed to it in their everyday lives anymore,” she said. “It’s going to be really fun for my age set.”

On Aug. 11, Griffin will host a music-themed arts and crafts night on the mall, with musical “note” cards to decorate, pet rocks to paint and glue on googly eyes, album cover-sized paper to design original cover art, and vinyl records that participants can spray-paint gold and decorate to create their own hit albums.

“We’ll have just a whole bunch of different stations that you can go make different arts and crafts at,” Griffin said.

On Aug. 18, four instructors from the center will present an opera night, singing pieces from some of the best-known operas but also explaining the context of the stories and the methods that opera singers have used since the days before electronic amplification. The program grew out of an educational performance the instructors recently gave to fourth- and fifth-grade students at the Eliot School, where they also showed the students how many elements of opera are also found in popular music today.

“When they came to the fourth- and fifth-graders, they sang a song from ‘Shrek,’” Griffin said. “It’s in the same way that they sing opera; it takes opera which … is intimidating, maybe, and makes it contemporary.”

About a third of the Boston Foundation grant will go toward funding the annual North End Family Pride Week in early August. Romano thanked the foundation and its vice president of programming, Robert Lewis Jr., for supporting the organization’s work.

“Without the help of the Boston Foundation, we would need to significantly reduce what we do on Pride Week,” Romano wrote in an email. “I have worked with Robert Lewis Jr. for many years on many projects going back to when he was at City Year. He is a tremendous individual who knows the importance of providing programs for the youth and families of the various neighborhoods in Boston.”

Email Jeremy C. Fox at jeremycfox@gmail.com.

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(Jeremy C. Fox for Boston.com)

The Captain Louis Polcari Playground outside the Nazzaro Community Center will be the site of North End Against Drugs sports nights on July 14, Aug. 5, and Sept. 2.

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