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30 years later, Roxbury Youthworks still growing

Posted by Roy Greene  May 3, 2011 12:07 PM

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Roxbury Youthworks Inc., a non-profit organization dedicated to youth violence prevention – a stated priority in Governor Deval Patrick’s second term– recently celebrated its 30th anniversary, as it continues to expand from its roots as a small clinic to a wide network of services.

The non-profit organization, which began with the aim of reducing recidivism among young men and women in the Roxbury District Court system, now offers an array of support services to youths up to 22 years old who are in Boston's juvenile justice or child welfare system.

Roxbury Youthworks is comprised of three programs. GIFT, or Gaining Independence for Tomorrow, addresses local, commercial sexual exploitation – an often invisible problem in Boston. Another program, Edge, works with the Department of Children and Families to provide support for households dealing with abuse.

Finally, the Community Re-entry Centers help youth who are transitioning out of the juvenile justice system.

“[Roxbury Youthworks] was founded at the time Roxbury District Court Judge Julian Houston was concerned about the number of times he was seeing the same youth appear in front of him for new crimes they committed,” explained the group’s executive director, Mia Alvarado. “We are thrilled that 30 years later, we are still providing services for men and women who are in the juvenile justice program.”

Since its inception in 1981, Roxbury Youthworks has helped hundreds of families and youths cope with, and escape from, violence in their community.

“We want to provide what’s necessary, so that youths don’t commit another offense and need to return to lock-up or enter the adult criminal-justice system,” said Alvarado. “That’s what we are really trying to prevent -- them becoming further involved in the criminal justice program. “

Alvarado discussed several success stories, including one involving a young man who is using a grant from United Way to create a health and wellness awareness campaign, through a clothing line called “Take No Shorts.”

“We have young people who have interned with (state Rep.) Gloria Fox and Senator Sonya Chang-Diaz. We have young people who have given back to the community, who have worked in soup kitchens and community gardens,” Alvarado said. “Our young people are engaged in leadership and civic activities.”

Roxbury Youthworks works to integrate youth back into the community, engage them through civic involvement, and support them through life coaching and counseling. The organization’s GIFT program is the only program of its kind in the region that provides support for young victims of sexual exploitation.

Rachele Burns, a life coach for GIFT, said that she was drawn to GIFT because it was the only state-funded program for sexual exploitation.

“I became aware of the issue of human trafficking when I was in college,” said Burns. “I realized that this doesn’t just happen halfway across the world -- it happens right here in our backyards, in Boston.”

Burns said that women involved in sex exploitation have very specific needs, and Roxbury Youthworks provides them with the support they need to live free, productive lives.

“To look at them as victims and not criminals is very powerful,” Burns said. The program offers them “a pathway to get out of exploitation, so that they become a survivor, rather than a victim.”

Alvarado said the organization’s overarching goal is to provide an environment and platform for troubled youth to grow and to give back to their community. Thirty years later, the success stories keep coming.

“I am really proud of our young people,” Alvarado said.

This article was reported and written by Northeastern University journalism student Alexandra Legend Siegel, under the supervision of journalism instructor Lisa Chedekel (l.chedekel@neu.edu), as part of collaboration between The Boston Globe and Northeastern.

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