Kidding Around

Emerson College's Kidding Around children's theater group hosted a production for St. Stephen's YLC called "And Then Came Tango" at the Blackstone Community Center. "And Then Came Tango" tells a story about love, family and standing up for your beliefs. The play is inspired by the true story of Roy and Silo, two male penguins living at the Central Park Zoo who formed a pair bond, built a nest, and were so determined to be parents that they incubated a rock. When given an orphaned egg, the pair successfully raised a baby fledgling. 

This original work celebrates families of all shapes and sizes and teaches audiences what it means to have agency and be an activist. All of our middle school students and members of the Emerson community were in attendance, including students, faculty and families. After the show the cast hosted a talk back. 

We are thankful for the Emerson Community and the dialogue they facilitated surrounding career exploration and identity for our young people. 

Miss it? Don't worry, they'll be back in Spring!

IMG_4310 (2).jpg

By Megan Doe, YLC Coordinator

Brain Power! The Blackstone Library at Family Wellness Night

The Blackstone Library was thrilled to be a part of this year’s Family Wellness Night at the Blackstone Innovation School!  The Blackstone Library is a project that is coordinated by St. Stephen’s Youth Programs, which provides paid staff, trains volunteers, and leverages resources to help the library be a top-notch place for literacy growth. During Wellness Night, Blackstone families took part in yoga classes taught by Blackstone teachers, played basketball with the gym coaches, grabbed a healthy burrito dinner, ate some fresh food from Whole Foods, and entered a raffle for the chance to ride home a bike!  

Best of all, thanks to the Blackstone Library, each student took home a book of their own!  In partnership with Trinity Church, Newton Centre, we selected a book for each grade level and a purchased a copy from Porter Square Books for each student in the school.  The book titles were selected by Tricia Harvey, SSYP’s Blackstone Library Coordinator, and Daryl Mark, a key Blackstone Library Volunteer who is the retired Coordinator of the Cambridge Public Library’s Youth Services.  Daryl spearheaded the book giveaway project by writing a grant proposal to her church, Trinity Episcopal in Newton Centre.  When children saw the signs outside the library saying “Take Home a Free Book,” their jaws dropped open.  They happily pointed out their names on their class list to receive their book.  Many Blackstone students were excited to see their library volunteer outside of the regular school day hours and to introduce their parent to their library teacher.  The books that were not given away during Wellness Night were given to teachers to distribute in their classrooms.  Teachers and students alike were excited to receive their own books!  On arrival at St. Stephen’s Youth Programs B-READY Afterschool Program, Blackstone students were proud to share their new books with SSYP staff members during literacy and homework time.

To volunteer or learn more about the Blackstone Library, contact Tricia at  You can also support the library by donating a book from our Wish List, found online at Porter Square Books:

Be sure to mention in the Order Comments section that you are ordering for Blackstone Library to receive a 10% discount!  No need to worry about shipping: Once you've selected your book(s), choose "In-store Pick-up" as the delivery option and we'll take it from there.

By Maureen Burns, Senior Manager of School and Community Partnerships

Blackstone Library-18.jpeg
Blackstone Library-16.jpeg
Blackstone Library-7.jpeg
Blackstone Library-28.jpeg

Climbing to new heights


Our new playground is a huge hit!  This fall, thanks to the generosity of the Amelia Peabody Charitable Fund, St. Paul's in Natick, and the Marion L. DeCrow Memorial Foundation, we installed an amazing new playground structure in our backyard and surrounded it with a beautiful new fence.  For me, this is the fulfillment of a dream: a safe, fun, challenging play space for the young people who spend time here every day of the week all year round.  If you haven't seen it, please stop by and check it out.  There's are elements of a climbing wall and a ropes course, along with a tall slide and peg ladders.  There's even a picnic table.  Young people of all ages are having a blast and getting some exercise in the process.  The playground is the final piece in a major capital renovation that included building an office addition and renovating the main floor of our parish house from front to back - new kitchen and bathroom, expanded parish hall, new entrance and windows.  Many thanks to the all those whose generosity made this importation work possible!  

By Tim Crellin, Executive Director


A Commitment to be a Lifelong Learner: Illustrator Eric Velasquez Visits the Fourth Grade

“I’m asking you to make a promise: to be lifelong learners.”  Before leaving the fourth grade classroom, Eric Velasquez gave the students this challenge.  “Go home tonight,” he continued, “and visualize your future self.  Don’t call up your friend.  Leave the technology alone.  Instead, go to your library and read.  Read about what you want to be.”

Eric Velasquez spent the morning sharing his story and his work as an illustrator and author with the fourth grade students at the Blackstone Innovation School.  His story begins in Spanish Harlem, where he was born to Puerto Rican parents and spent his childhood enjoying Batman and James Bond. He even shared photos of himself dressed in costumes that he would wear year-round!  Eric’s love of the original Avengers, Archie, and Batman comics helped him fall in love with storytelling.  His favorite character of all was T’challa, the Black Panther, a member of the original Avengers.  When Eric explained that T’challa, the King of Wakanda, is richer than Tony Stark (Iron Man), the class let out an audible gasp of surprise.  “The best thing about the Black Panther,” he went on to explain, “is that he looked like me when he took his mask off.”  When he would come across unfamiliar words in his comics, Eric would ask his mother.  Instead of giving him the answer, she would tell him, “Mira en el diccionario” (“Look in the dictionary”).  It was also during this time that Eric’s mother began to foster his love of drawing.  However, reading was a skill that did not come easily to Eric and he described being in Reading Group C during his time in early elementary school.  Yet, he was not discouraged and learned that reading was an important skill that required time.  

In high school, Eric learned that reading was not the only ability that would take time and practice.  He tried to join the school’s comic illustration group, comprised of the best artists in the school, but he was rejected.  Disappointed, but not discouraged, Eric took the advice of one of the group leaders.  In order to become a better artist, he needed to learn how to render form, and in order to do that, he would need to learn to paint.  With that, Eric joined a student painting group that met daily early before school.  After high school, Eric attended the School of Visual Arts and started working as an illustrator right out of college.  

As Eric shared a few of his numerous book covers, the fourth grade teachers excitedly recognized the Encylopedia Brown while the class remained lost on this piece of early 90s nostalgia.  

When asked why he became an illustrator, Eric Velasquez said that he fell in love with storytelling and wanted to do just that.  To share his creative process with the class, Eric told a story of his own.  Grandma’s Records was the first book Eric authored in addition to illustrating. While he shared his story of traveling to his Grandma's apartment on weekends,  Eric played salsa and merengue music and even danced while the students marveled at his story and illustrations.  Eric shared the covers of other books he has illustrated, including stories about Muhammad Ali, Jesse Owens, and Harry Houdini and well as jazz and the Underground Railroad, among many other stories.  However, the classes were most excited to learn that Eric illustrated two books written by Martin Luther King’s niece!  Finally, Eric described his creative process that produced his new book, Schomburg, The Man who Built a Library.  He shared pictures of the book’s manuscript, the book dummy, even pictures of himself modeling for a picture he used to help paint the book cover!!  As Eric talked about the multiple drafts that are required to create to paintings for the book, the teachers’ ears perked up.  “We are learning about the writing process,” the teacher explained, “and it is great to hear someone else share the importance of making multiple drafts!”

To close out his presentation, Eric showed off his illustration skills!  In each class, a student was selected to model and Eric drew his or her portrait.  While Eric drew, the class was held in captivation.  The students excitedly recognized the guidelines Eric drew to help shape the portrait-- they had learned the same technique in their art class!  While he drew, Eric encouraged the students to ask questions.  Some students were concerned about his level of fame and some asked about his skills.  “Practice, practice, practice.  I draw every day.  Even if I take a few days off, my drawing skills become rusty,” Eric told them.  Finally, Eric spoke to the importance of reading and writing in all careers.  “Reading and writing has made me a better artist,” he explained.  “If I couldn’t write, I would not have been able to write the essays that got me into art school.  If I couldn’t read, I couldn’t research and learn more about the topics that inspire me to make my illustrations.”  Again, the teachers were all delighted by his message!  

Eric Velasquez’s visit to the Blackstone was made possible by Wondermore, a non-profit organization dedicated to bringing authors and illustrators into under-resourced schools, and Porter Square Books, whose donation provided each fourth grade student copy of Eric’s book The Sweet Smell of Roses.  Finally, a huge thank you to Eric Velasquez for sharing his time, his stories, and his talents with the fourth grade and for personally signing a book for each student!

By Maureen Burns, Senior Manager of School and Community Partnerships


Let’s Go Huskies

Amongst all of the wonderful support and volunteers at St. Stephen’s Youth Programs, this year we partnered with new classes at Northeastern University here at our St. Augustine and St. Martin site. We have biology lessons every Tuesday, a “Magic Math Class” every other Monday, and a nutrition class that is coming once a month this trimester! Our youth have learned so much from the NEU students! Not only is great learning happening here, but the students are having so much fun. They learned about germs & genetic traits through blacklights & bingo, how to play “extreme” tic tac toe and do card tricks through math, and how to fuel our bodies through healthy food! We are having SO much fun with our new NEU friends!

By Madelon Morin, Site Manager at St. Augustine and St. Martin's


SSYP Intergenerational Organizing Team takes State House by Storm

By: Valentina and Michelle (SSYP Teen Organizers)

On Tuesday, November 14th, 2017- the last day of the legislative session before Thanksgiving break- 20 parent and teen organizers from St. Stephen’s Youth Programs organized a lobby day at the Massachusetts State House to advocate for full funding for public education across the state.

PHOTO: Intergenerational Organizing team meeting with State Senator Sonia Chang Diaz, author of the Bill to Modernize the Foundation Budget for the 21st Century

PHOTO: Intergenerational Organizing team meeting with State Senator Sonia Chang Diaz, author of the Bill to Modernize the Foundation Budget for the 21st Century

We were advocating to get Senate Bill 223 out of committee. Senate Bill 223 is constructed by Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz to modernize the “Foundation Budget” which is being used to “fund school districts across the Commonwealth, based on the circumstances and needs of each student”. Sadly it has not been updated since 1993 and is not adequately funding public education across the state as it should. Researchers have found that Massachusetts has a deficit of $1-2 billion each year for the cost of K-12 education. This results in particular deficits for schools with high concentrations of students from low income backgrounds, students with IEPs and English Language Learners.

As parents and students, we think this bill is important because everyone deserves high quality education. When schools are not able to provide the resources that young people need to succeed, each child is being deprived of a chance to gain knowledge that can help them in their future. Cutting the arts out of the curriculum can diminish a student's creativity and shrink their horizons, not having a full time school nurse is a threat to the health and safety of students, and rodent infestations are not conducive to healthy learning environments. These examples of the results of budget cuts are not up to the school. Because of the lack of funding, schools have to choose between vital resources, like ELL classes or Special Education classes, nurses or art teachers, infrastructure maintenance and improvement or guidance counselors. Our communities deserve schools that don’t have to choose between necessary elements of a high quality public education.

Parents, teens, and elementary-school-aged children came together and met with the offices of 19 legislators and delivered letters to the other 21 legislators who are either on the Education Committee or represent a part of Boston. The campaign is not over yet- people can get involved by calling their State Senators and Representatives in support of the bill and asking them to please approve and get the bill out of committee. Contact Sarah ( at St.Stephen’s Youth Program to get involved in this campaign or to organize a lobby day.

Read us next week for a special feature, “If State Legislators get to leave work at 5pm, why can’t we?”

To Art, or Not to Art…There is No Question


The creative arts were always a staple in my life. Growing up there were dance lessons, creative arts camps, musical instruments, and eventually performing arts high school. Given this, it has always been hard to wrap my mind around hearing youth who say that they hate art or aren’t good at it.  I noticed that when they say this...often what they mean is that they “can’t draw”.

Upon noting that there was a gap in the youth’s understanding of art, one of the first activities my Creative Arts students did was answer the intentionally broad question “what is art?”. The first round of answers yielded the more obvious suggestions like drawing, painting, and collage. But after more pressing they were able to open their minds to come up with things like gardening, rhythmic gymnastics, playing an instrument, and make-up. The point was to stress that art does not solely equate to drawing ability and to cut out the mentality that they weren’t good artists.  

The concept of art is nearly immeasurable and there are very few (if any) guidelines for what art can be. So whether or not they know it, everyone has the capacity to be an artist in some form. The disconnect between my students and art only showed me that they haven’t been exposed to enough of it in school or at home.


This trimester in Creative Arts the youth are learning about apparel design and transforming into fledgling fashion designers. The curriculum takes an art form that is not usually covered in school and encourages them to take their inspiration from concept to design with a focus on originality. This curriculum focuses on project-based learning, with each lesson giving them one component of a larger end result. The idea is to get away from the “craft-a-day” style of teaching and let them develop strong skills and understanding of one particular art form at a time.

With students ranging from kindergarten to 8th grade there is a lot of disparity in learning styles, attention span, and general interest in any topic. My classes tend to run most smoothly when the youth are actually doing something hands on that incorporates the kinesthetic and tactile style of learning into the classroom. This can be found in activities like playing a game to introduce a topic or learning about textiles by creating a weaving sample on a handmade loom. The end result is a classroom of kids being actively engaged, creative, and productively learning a new art concept.

Boston Public Schools has created the BPS Art Expansion effort to address the deficit and expand quality arts education in Boston’s public school system. They have reported, in 2017, that 95% of BPS students Pre-K - 8th grade are receiving weekly arts programming in schools (a 28% increase from 2009). There has also been a direct link between students who are engaged in art performing better academically, particularly in math and science. This being said, art education is still not seen as a priority in many schools and is usually the first programming to get cut when the budget gets tight. It is seen as non-essential compared to other subjects, but I believe that art should be at the core of education along with math, science, and reading.


In the future of St. Stephen’s Youth Programs, I hope to see an expansion of their creative arts curriculum.  I would love to see enough funding to allow for projects that delve into music technology, pottery/sculpture, woodworking, choreography, and full stage productions of plays written by our youth or community members. I hope to see the creative arts specialty move into a slot that is seen just as vital as literacy and STEM programming.

At the beginning of this trimester, I had so many collective groans and sighs from students about being stuck in art class for 45 minutes. However, over the the past month or so I have been able to turn a lot of those groans and sighs into excited students practically falling over each other to show me what they created that day. One of the most unique traits of childhood is limitless imagination and I have seen evidence of this on a daily basis in my classes. But this imagination and creativity is like a muscle, that weakens over time without the effort to exercise it. It would be a disservice to our youth and our future not to help it to grow.

Sources and Further Reading

  1. “BPS Arts Expansion Overview.” BPS Arts, 2017.

  2. National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Institute of Museum and Library Services, "Re-Investing in Arts Education: Winning America’s Future Through Creative Schools." The President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities. Accessed October 21, 2017.

  3. "Lessons from PISA for the United States, Strong Performers and Successful Reformers in Education", OECD Publishing, 2011. Web Accessed October 23, 2017.

By Victoria Ajene, Arts Specialist


Victoria Ajene is a 26-year old fashion designer and alumni of the B-SAFE Program. She grew up in the arts, attending Boston Arts Academy for Instrumental Music and Lasell College to receive her B.A. in Fashion Design and Production. After college she freelanced as a designer for PUMA and J.Jill and later went on to teach at Lasell College as an adjunct professor. What she hopes to bring to the program is a sense of community and an outlet that encourages kids to explore their creative sides.

Starting with PULSE

image (1).png

Our afterschool year started on September 18th when all of our kids either returned to our site or started afterschool for the first time with us. However, I like to think that we do not officially begin until our PULSE students join our team. 

PULSE is a year long class in Boston College where students study a combination of theology and philosophy. This class has a service component where students have to complete 8 hours a week in a community program. This year, we are fortunate enough to welcome 16 students to our team of volunteers without whom we could not make our program happen. Each student is assigned a group either in LEARN (elementary school) or YLC (middle school) to assist the lead counselor and to form connections with the youth. 


So far, our 16 students have familiarized themselves with the youth in their groups and some have even taken the initiative to run activities with the kids. It is so nice to see how our kids quickly accept the PULSErs, as we call them, and welcome them into their world, while at the same time seeing the PULSErs quickly warm up to the kids. 

By Sandy Quispe, Site manager at St. Stephen's LEARN

Sandy, born in Peru, has lived in Dorchester since the age of 5. She grew up in the Boston Public school system graduating from Boston Arts Academy. She attained her bachelor's in psychology from University of Massachusetts Amherst. Working with children has always been one of her passions. She loves to see how children grow and develop from early childhood to adolescence.

Family fitness and fun!

It's 3:55 p.m. and B-SAFE is swarming with the organized chaos of pickup. Counselors sign students out to their parents, teens hand out grapes and goldfish, and Sandy returns clothes and water bottles to their owners. But unbeknownst to many, B-SAFE is not over for the day. 

In a few minutes, parents begin filing in, laughing and greeting one another. It's time for Zumba class! On Tuesdays we have yoga for parents and on Thursdays we have Zumba. These biweekly classes offer parents a fun and relaxing respite from their daily routine. They're an opportunity to connect with one another and to get moving. In fact, we chose to do yoga and Zumba because our parent group voted for them!

We pump up the music, hit songs like "Despacito" echoing off the walls of the church basement. Our teacher, Hannah, dance-steps to the side and kicks her leg high in the air with the beat. Everyone else misses the kick and starts laughing. Soon we're all sweating, getting into the music. Some of the kids run in from childcare and join us for a song or two. A particularly excited 5-year-old begs Hannah to let her lead a dance, so after we're done Hannah lets her put on her requested song, Justin Bieber's "Sorry" and she leads us all in a baffling but energetic dance. 

After we're done, we bring out trays of fresh pineapple, mango, melon and berries. Everyone is chatting, discussing the best places to go swimming this summer. A mom asks who wants the bike her kids have outgrown. It's nearly 6 p.m. and I'm late for another meeting, so I let the parents know they can turn the lights out and shut the door when they're done. Clari smiles at me: "No te preocupes, estamos en nuestra casa," she says. "Don't worry, we're at home here."

Ariel Branz, Lead Parent Organizer

Ariel organizes parents at St. Stephen's Youth Programs and is excited about all the fun family engagement this summer. She likes hiking, cats, sweet potatoes, and summertime.

Five-year-old Carmen leads us in Justin Bieber's "Sorry"

Five-year-old Carmen leads us in Justin Bieber's "Sorry"

Parents relax with Yoga classes.

Parents relax with Yoga classes.

B-SAFE does BCH. Ending with a BOOM.

Last week at B-SAFE for the middle-schooler’s was just slightly different from the previous four. For starters, instead of field trips to Carson Beach or the Institute for Contemporary Art, we found ourselves swimming in Otter Lake and painting canvases of the trees and nature around us. We said goodbye to Dorchester and found ourselves at home in New Hampshire at the Barbara C. Harris camp for four nights and five days.

Campers were able to experience new levels of freedom here in New Hampshire. Each one chose two different activities from an extensive list of progression activities that they would participate in every morning, which allowed them to break off from their assigned cabins and surround themselves with new peers who shared similar interests. I taught the swimming progressions and really enjoyed working with young people who were enthusiastic about improving their swimming abilities.

In the afternoons, campers rotated through a variety of different activities including basketball, gaga ball, gimp, and more. The evenings were especially fun because the whole camp got together for evening activities like dance parties, camp fires and talents shows. Campers enjoyed all of the above, despite the frequent but unavoidable encounters with insects.

The last week of camp was a blast. The middle schoolers have been beyond fun to work with, and I hope their memories of BCH are as fond as mine. And overall, working with SSYP for the past 10 weeks as an intern and as a lead has been an eye opening experience to say the least. To work with a program that is so proactive in providing opportunities for young people is an honor and wherever I may work down the road will be held to high standards! 

By Sarah Schrading, A-TEAM and Lead Counselor

Sarah Schrading is a rising senior at Rutgers University studying Linguistics, Spanish and Psychology. She was born and raised in the city of Philadelphia. Sarah has been a part of service abroad trips in both El Salvador and Zimbabwe. Her hopes for the future involve pursuing a career in public service, specifically education policy. She enjoys world traveling, trying new things and Italian food.

Going high by building up our city

The theme of program this summer was “When they go low, we go high”. There are many ways that this theme can be interpreted. The youth at B-SAFE San Lucas took this theme to heart as they worked on their final projects in Humanities. They looked at their community and thought of ways that they could make it better. They worked in teams, thought of components that were missing in Chelsea, and then got to work.

They drafted and designed plans for a proposed construction project. They used recycled materials to build their models. For days they gathered materials from our site and brought recycled materials from home. They looked at an empty box of cereal and saw a lot more than that. Or an empty egg carton and their imagination let loose on the beauty that they could create from it. Things began to progress on their models with the sounds of gluing, duck taping, cutting cardboard, and even hammering being heard upstairs at San Lucas.

We then had the opportunity go on a field trip to MIT and enter their urban planning lab where we saw real life advanced technology versions of what they had been working on all summer. They saw models of the Kendall square using real life data from the everyday technology used by people in the community. They were amazed, impressed, but most of all inspired.

Back we went for the last week of program, and with the inspiration from their field trip, work began on finalizing and modifications. Though making models out of recycled materials sounds challenging, it was not as hard as writing a proposal letter to the City Manager. Each group had the opportunity to write a letter to the City of Chelsea in which they explained their proposal and expressed why it would be good for the community. They applied their knowledge of using the written language learned this summer in class and go to work. The letters that wrote were inspirational with many taking encouragement from the words of the Disney Family in creating a place “where the young at heart of all ages can laugh and play and learn – together”. Their letters were just as inspiring.

That is how “we go high”. We give our youth a voice in which they know that they can make their communities better. We spark their imagination to create wonderful things. We give them the opportunity to be examples and create selfless things because at the end all they want is for everyone to feel the same childlike joy they feel in their hearts by going high.

By Mauryn Perkins, Site Manager at San Lucas

Mauryn Perkins has been with the B-SAFE program in Chelsea for eight summers. During the school year she is a 7th grade Spanish teacher at a charter school in Malden. She loves teaching children and loves all things Disney. In her spare time, you will find her organizing and planning her family adventures, especially to Disney Parks.

YLC youth from st. Luke's at the urban development media lab at MIT. 

YLC youth from st. Luke's at the urban development media lab at MIT. 

Dragons present their development proposal to the City Manager of a Chelsea.

Dragons present their development proposal to the City Manager of a Chelsea.

Social Justice through Art

After witnessing how my childhood neighborhood, Dorchester, has been impacted by forms of structural violence like sparse access to healthy foods due to income and resources, unfair treatment by police, and sub-par health care, I searched in the greater Boston area for ways to take action that either directly and subtly combat these injustices. 

I discovered the B-SAFE program, whose cores values of making participants “Feel Safe, Feel Big, and Feel Connected” are something that I feel proud to stand behind. 

This summer, my role as the Arts Specialist at two of six sites at which the program operates has allowed me to work with young people of various age groups in grades 1-8.

The Arts curriculum has a social justice theme every year and this year, I chose topics that I felt were particularly relevant to 2017 – climate change and diverse media representation. 

Each week, we discussed an aspect of these complex issues of concern and then employed different art mediums to craft projects about them. My hope was to get students thinking about how they can combine their creativity and passion for making the world a better place.

During Week 3 of the program, the younger students in the LEARN program created posters about climate change in efforts to raise more awareness in their communities about the effects of climate injustice. We previously examined how animals and their environments are transforming as well as how fall leave colors are being affected by changing temperatures. We sketched, painted, and crafted portraits of these natural communities and leaves. In the final weeks of the YLC program, the middle schoolers designed comic strips which centered characters that looked like them, with a focus on seeing justice in areas where injustice was present. One student chose to center her comic strip on LGBT discrimination; her main character fought injustices with an open mind and heart. We then used a silk screen printing technique to make t-shirts for our characters’ costumes. Her t-shirt was bright and full of color. 

As programming comes to an end, students are walking away better prepared to return to school in the fall, having faced both old and new experiences, all while finding joy and support in the lasting relationships that were built here at SSYP this summer!

By Christian Cruz, Art Specialist

Christian is a rising sophomore at Columbia University studying Political Science and Urban Studies. After receiving his undergraduate degree, he plans on pursuing a graduate law degree. He is an activist, avid photographer, and amateur cook. He can whip up a mean chicken parm and take your next Instagram photo!

Caterpillar to B-SAFE Butterfly

This has to be the best summer I've ever had with St. Stephen's Youth Programs (SSYP). SSYP has been that safe place where no matter where you might be in life the door is always open for all. I've have been through a couple of roles such as a volunteer, counselor-in-training (CIT), site assistant for the YLC program, Lead for the LEARN program and this summer I was able to be a part of the B-SAFE Summer Program as the Teen Staff Coordinator for St. Mary's in Uphams Corner and St. Augustine & St. Martin (St. A&M) in the Lower Roxbury community. I work with 23 CITs, young teens from Boston that work as tutors, mentors and role models for younger students. Teens walk through the day with young participants having loads of fun while learning in their rotations like STEM, humanities and health wellness at St. Mary's and St. A&M. Teen staff receive ongoing job training, professional development, and supervision.

Working with these 23 individuals has helped me see the importance of teen jobs, especially for the summer. All young adults should be given the opportunity to be heard, respected, valued, and supported. SSYP has made that opportunity possible. It is amazing to see the difference in their energy from the first day of training to the end of the summer award ceremony. I remember being a CIT at SSYP, feeling like the job had too much going on in one day, but now I see that this program is just the kind of exposure teens in Boston need. Here are a couple of pictures of the amazing group of teen staff and young participants I had the pleasure of working with for B-SAFE 2017.

By Priscilla Alcantara, Teen Staff Manager

Priscilla joined St. Stephens Youth Programs as a Jr. Counselor in Training in 2011 and has worked her way up to be a Teen Staff Manager for the Summer of 2017. She is a part time student in Boston studying Psychology. Priscilla is a former K-prep teacher from Bright Horizons in Cambridge and decided to get back into youth work to help the communities she grew up in.

Go High With Exercise

As a health and wellness specialist, I like kids to gain as much knowledge as they can about their bodies while also enjoying fun games. This week specifically, Epiphany LEARN has been introduced to their muscles and bones, and after learning those different areas we stretched them out. It's important for the kids to learn various ways to "go high" in the area of health in wellness, and we have done this not only through exercise but by making nutritious snacks. Each class is different and has their own games that they really enjoy.  So in that way, the class becomes more of a team effort and we work together to get through what's on my agenda but also make sure they can play games and do activities they enjoy. At the end of the day I emphasize that it is all about teamwork. As long as we can play a game or two together, I don't mind them being active in their own way. You can see examples of the teamwork effort that is put into each of the classes from the pictures posted. Not only are the kids playing, the CITS are equally involved as well as some of the volunteers. We played games such as basketball, soccer and dodgeball, which was a really big hit for everyone. 

By Alysa Thomas, Health and Wellness Specialist

A New Experience

I was 16 years old when I started working with St. Stephen’s Youth Programs. That was seven years ago. This summer, Liz and Kasey at the South End site asked me to step out of my comfort zone and try something different. They thought it was time for me to try working in another location and expand my responsibilities. They suggested that I try my hand at being a teen staff manager.

I was a little hesitant because I had never worked with teens before. I was nervous about how I would be received and whether I’d be able to connect with them, because my previous responsibilities involved working with younger children age 5 to 12. I would supervise them in several activities, including art, physical awareness, field trips, and help with homework.

Now that I have been working in this teen staff manager position for a little over a month, I am glad that I have had this opportunity. Throughout this summer of being a teen staff manager, my responsibilities include having weekly meetings where we do check-ins, team building, and discuss the weekly happenings. We also have trainings on healthy relationships, public speaking and racism. Some of the trainings are more popular than others, but overall I think that the teens and I get something out of them. My experience in this position hasn’t been all positive though. I struggled a bit with communicating with some of the teens. However, we seemed to have worked it all out and I am happy to say that I am glad I embarked on this experience.

By Brianna Hall, Teen Staff Coordinator at Holy Spirit

Brianna Hall has held many positions at St.Stephens youth program. She has beena Counselor in Training, a Site Assistant, a Lead Counselor and at present, she is a Teen Staff Coordinator. She recently graduated from Urban College of Boston with an Associates Degree in Early Childhood Education. Her passions include the education of children as well as positive uplifting attitude.

Having Beach Fun At Home!

Fun At Home Days are a time each week when young people get to build their skills in new areas, such as photography, mindfulness, and dance. SSYP Alumna Kytiasha, a recent high school graduate, has been leading cooking classes. Her workshops are building on some of the lessons about nutrition that have been happening in the Health and Wellness classes. During each of these sessions, first-time teacher Kytiasha is--like all of our specialists and Fun At Home experts--getting more comfortable with leading groups and supporting young people in their discovery of new things. Most recently, our Fun At Home chefs created banana pudding beach scene cups! These relatively healthy desserts also turned out pretty cute! Who needs to go to the actual beach to have some beach fun?

By Kali Boston, B-SAFE Academic Administrator

Kali is excited to be joining St. Stephen's for her first summer as the Academic Administrator! She is a graduate of Boston College and New York University, where she earned a Masters in Social Work. Over the past decade she has worked with children, adolescents, and families in a wide variety of school and clinical settings. Currently she is a school social worker at Boston Community Leadership Academy and runs a business that provides academic and ADHD coaching for middle, high school, and college students. Outside of work her passions include: burritos, Cape Cod weekends, the Patriots, binge watching Netflix, and spending time with her wife and dog!

Let’s Go Higher and Further

“Today, we are learning how to fold a paper airplane,” I told my students. 

“I already knew how to make one!” “That’s so boring!”, many students responded.

“But I will teach you to fold the best airplane that can fly the highest and furthest in the world!”, I explained in my origami rotation during our Fun At Home day.

Following my instructions, the students folded their own airplanes step-by-step and were excited to see them flying in the air. Each step was important in creating this best airplane. One by one, they lined up in the classroom, tested out their airplanes, and watched as their airplanes flew high and far.

Just like teaching the students to fold airplanes, step by step, the B-SAFE program this summer aims to prepare students to go higher and further in their future. From field trips to academic rotations, each part of this program was carefully designed to provide a safe and fun summer for them. Through this program, they can develop skills that they need to go higher and further in their future.

By Angela Liang, Academic Specialist

Angela is joining SSYP as an academic intern for the B-SAFE program. She is currently studying psychology and business in Brandeis University. Born in China, she grew up in the Boston area. Angela had worked closely with Asian immigrant youth and Asian community organizations during her high school years. Now, she is excited to work with the youth in SSYP for this summer.

Two Days Learning from the Youth at B-SAFE

As in past years, several of us volunteered in the B-SAFE summer program at St. Luke’s Church in Chelsea.  During lunch, I joined several 14 and 15-year-old boys—and fully expected that conversation would be stilted in view of our age differences. 

However, their first question caught me by surprise:  “What do you think of President Trump?”  Recognizing a heated subject, I replied that everyone has a right to their political views but I personally do not like the way our president treats people. This opened a floodgate: from a discussion of whom they favored in last year’s election, they rapidly moved to what I thought about the Russians. Questions raised included, “Were we not on the same side against Germany in WWII?”  After explaining the allies, I was asked whether I had lost family members in that war.  Then topics moved rapidly to, “Why did we get into the Vietnam War? Were Americans lied to?”  Next came questions about whether I remembered the Cuban Missile Crisis---an event I experienced in college and was sure would result in massive American casualties.  They loved my description of sitting with my friends in the basement of our dorm---singing sad songs to guitar music—as we prepared for the end!

Segregation and Martin Luther King required a fairly long discussion:  “Was President Kennedy really in favor of civil rights?”   “Did he and MLK get along?”  “Did you know about Malcolm X?”  (My sister worked at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital, the night of his assassination.)  “What do you think of the episodes of police brutality?”  “Did you know any Black Panthers?”   Fortunately, I did live through that era and could answer honestly----however, I stopped short of “remembering” the Civil War. 

On the second day, I complimented the young men on their knowledge of politics and history.  They are much more astute than I was at their age.  Questions on this day continued on the Vietnam War and 9/11, i.e., “Where was the plane going that crashed in Pennsylvania?” They were extremely impressed that the passengers had tried to overcome the hijackers. 

At that point, I decided to ask my own questions such, as had they ever heard of the draft?   They had not so I explained it to them—including the impact on young people when I was growing up.  I also suggested that since they are interested in politics, they might want to meet a judge---fortuitously Carol Ball was in the kitchen!  (They had never met a judge before and were quite impressed!)  I also asked them if they knew what a jury is—which necessitated a lengthy description, including the expectation that they would serve as jurors in the future. 

While our discussions were far ranging—and could have gone on for hours---lunch was over.  So, my final question to these young men was, “What frightens you the most?”   The answer was swift---“a nuclear bomb on Boston.” 

As I left Chelsea, I realized what an honor it was to spend time with these fine young people---their thoughtful questions belied an interest in history, their place in it, and the fears and challenges as they mature.  It was so reassuring to know that they—so curious in their thoughts and ideas—will, with support, grow into productive adults contributing to the country’s future.   B-SAFE is a haven for these youth---and our small part is providing food---but also entering their world, sharing ideas and experiences from which we can all learn.  For this, I am thankful.

By Anne Sheetz, B-SAFE Volunteer from Old North Church

Scoring Healthy Choices

A significant part of our camp is to make sure our kids remember the academics they learned during the school year, avoiding the "Summer Slide" over  the two month vacation. At B-SAFE, we want our kids not only get a head start academically for the school year, but also learn about what it takes to live a healthy lifestyle for years to come. We have a wonderful class called “Health and Wellness” that the kids take part in during the academic rotations portion of the day. This class is designed to teach kids the importance of eating healthy and staying active. The academic specialist, Alysa Thomas, has turned this into a course that kids genuinely enjoy and look forward to each and every day. Some days the course focuses on staying active by playing cardio intensive games such as dodgeball (our students' favorite), basketball, or soccer. Sometimes they even get to have free gym, which shows them that they can use their imagination and create their own games to stay active and fit. On other days the kids make their own healthy snacks. One snack was a yogurt parfait with fruit and granola! Parents, when you get the chance, make sure you ask your kids about the food pyramid and what nutritional facts they have learned about so far! They have been learning a lot and love to talk about what they have learned in their health and wellness class!

By Jasmine Hill, Site Manager at Epiphany

This is Jasmine's first year with the B-SAFE program, where she is the site manager at Epiphany LEARN. She received a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology from Boston College in 2015. After graduating in 2015, she completed a year of service with the Dudley Promise Corps Americorps program located in Roxbury, MA. Currently, she is student-teaching at the Dudley Street Neighborhood Charter School and attending graduate school where she will be receiving a Masters of Education in June. She will be teaching in the BPS school district come September 2017.

image (6).png

Winners of the 10th Annual B-SAFE Basketball Tournament


St. Stephen's YLC won the 10th annual B-SAFE Basketball tournament in a stunning, historic and decisive victory over a highly competitive field of opponents. Edwin and Marquis were also there.  

By Sarah Rose O'Connor, Teen Staff Manager

Sarah started working with SSYP in the fall of 2014 as a Jewish Organizing Initiative and Network (JOIN) fellow. Sarah works with young people to organize for issues that affect youth across the city of Boston, like funding for public education and teen jobs, and on local neighborhood anti-violence campaigns. Sarah believes that a city that works for the young people in the SSYP family is a city that works well for everyone.