A B-SAFE "Aha" Moment

Site Manager Asjah Monroe with Christ Church, Cambridge leader Susan Root

Site Manager Asjah Monroe with Christ Church, Cambridge leader Susan Root

In all of my work with people over the years, I have always come with the intention to help in some way: to do some teaching or (perhaps) to improve the lives of others in some way.  As life would have it, I discover that I am also there to receive something from the people I encounter in my work. I find even the occasional brute had some life lesson to offer!  Thanks to the various people with whom I have served, I have gained wisdom, joy, a broadened perspective, a paradigm shift. These have all been some of the unanticipated gifts I have received and I have been grateful for them.

Our collaborative effort in B-SAFE with our program staff and participants with our Episcopal church partners has been no different.  Sometimes, when our partners come together with B-SAFE participants, it can be like two worlds colliding.  However, this kind of colliding is not the disastrous kind. This is the kind that includes excitement and possibility. There is a sense of welcome with each encounter; I observe the young people reaching out toward the partner volunteers.  I observe the humility, the diligence, and, in nearly every case, the gladness with which the partners are serving. Each day at lunch and each Friday on the full-day field trips, I have had a front row seat at an orchestral symphony of service happening right in front of me.

I admit it; I was initially apprehensive about what this part of B-SAFE was going to be like.  I am someone who has very strong ideas and feelings about issues of class and race.  This experience with B-SAFE has been an eye-opener. I feel I have discovered a deeper truth, one that is both extraordinary and simple: It all comes down to intention. Despite the pre-existing, sometimes tense dynamics that can be at play between groups of people of different races, places of origin, age, and income levels, what I see is that if people bring with them the intention to act in love then act in love they will.  And when they do this, when we do this, the result is something very beautiful. Young people are ready and willing to receive this kind of love. And, fortunately, many of our partners are the kind of people who intend to show love.

After all, does not ancient wisdom (Psalm 133) tell us that it is both good and pleasant for people to live together in unity?

By Asjah Monroe, Site Manager of B-SAFE at Epiphany LEARN

Asjah Monroe was born and raised in Boston, MA where she attended UMass Boston, earning her graduate degree in education there. She really enjoys working with elementary school-aged students and, in her free time, she can be found watching an inordinate number of cat videos.

JCITs take over Revere Beach

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As the second week of program came to an end, the JCITs (Junior-Counselors-in-Training) from St. Augustine & St. Martin had the best beach day at Revere Beach. The JCIT Program is B-SAFE's paid internship and leadership training program for ninth graders. After taking the MBTA train to the beach, the JCITs began their day by setting their towels and blankets out on the beach. We had plenty of choices, given that we had the whole place to ourselves.

While at the beach, I could tell the JCITs were building relationships and getting closer with each other because they literally set their towels right next to each other. We all made one big area where we could sit or lay for the entire day. To amplify things (also literally), the JCITs brought a speaker to play music. We all had fun, dancing and singing to the music that everyone knows!

Amazingly, every single JCIT wanted to splash in the water and that’s exactly what they did! It was different--in a good way--to see all of them willing to have some active fun. There was no one just sitting back on the sand. As an extra bonus, we had a good, bonding time fighting off all the nasty seagulls, but not quite all of them because someone did get their pizza taken off into the air! Nevertheless, it was literally a near-perfect beach day!

By Aliyah Glover, JCIT Site Assistant for St. Augustine & St. Martin

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Aliyah Glover lives around the corner from St. Stephen's and is a former participant in St. Stephen's Youth Programs (starting when she was in elementary school). When she was in ninth grade, Aliyah was a JCIT herself and now is on the B-SAFE adult leadership staff, working as the Site Assistant for the JCIT Program at St. Augustine and St. Martin. Aliyah is a 2018 graduate of Wayland High School; while there, she ran on Wayland track team and won the State Championships in the 200 meter dash and the 200 meter relay. Aliyah is a rising sophomore at Bridgewater State University where she is majoring in Criminal Justice and minoring in Psychology.

The Power of Lunch

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How many lunches do we serve during our six-week B-SAFE program? About 17,500. 

How many volunteers from partner organizations--including nearly 50 partner churches, including two interfaith networks--plan, shop, chop, cook, plate and feed 500+ young people, 160 teen staffers, and all of our adult staff, too? About 300.

What’s for lunch? (a question asked approximately 1000 times a day by all those young people; they each ask twice): Tacos; meatball (and veggie “meatball”) subs; chicken, penne and broccoli; rice, beans and plantains; peppers and carrots and apples and yogurt, among many other tasty choices.

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Some of the volunteers have matching aprons. Some have clever ways of keeping food hot, like keeping it in a cooler wrapped tight in tin foil. Some are volunteering with family members: mothers and daughters, aunts and nephews, siblings and cousins. In addition to all the food preparation, many of these volunteers also read with young participants during B-LIT time and help organize and lead B-SAFE field trips on Fridays in green spaces all over Greater Boston.

It sounds impressive, and it is. In our 20th year of B-SAFE, we are grateful for the support and hard work of our partner volunteers, for the time they spend preparing food and sharing it with our young people, for the money they raise for groceries and bus costs, and for the food itself, all donated, which allows us to spend our budget on staff, enrichment activities, and all the other expenses of a summer program for 800+ young people. 

Lunch is a time for our young people to relax, to take a breather between the academic rotations of the morning and the enrichment activities and field trips of the afternoon. But it’s not really about the food, for them or for our volunteers. It’s about relationships and getting to know each other. One long-time volunteer gets a little teary talking about playing with a little girl in our program on the beach 13 summers ago and seeing the same girl last week all grown up as a proud CIT (Counselor-In-Training). The same volunteer told us the connections go beyond the young people, too. In her congregation’s 12 years of partnership with B-SAFE, they have had over 60 different members of the congregation participate, many returning summer after summer. Among their group of volunteers, people have connected and friendships have flourished, all because of B-SAFE.

That's the Power of Lunch.

By Jen Cusack, Director of Leadership Giving

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Jen Cusack joined SSYP in 2016, after serving as the Executive Director of Wondermore, a small literacy non-profit that brings children's book authors and illustrators into Boston Public School classrooms for visits and writing workshops. Jen is a proud graduate of the Boston Public Schools and Brown University. As a parent of three sons with very different personalities and interests, she appreciates the wide range of programs and opportunities B-SAFE offers to our young people as they pursue their own individual passions.

B-SAFE Can Change the Weather!

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At the end of our first week of program, the B-SAFE at Epiphany LEARN site was anticipating our first full-day Friday field trip. The uncertain weather forecast --would it rain? would it thunder?--added to the feelings of the morning. Slowly, young people started arriving to the building, checked in with staff, and took their seats in the cafeteria, talking each other with excitement about the trip. Our wonderful Epiphany Site Assistants helped the group start off the morning with a delicious breakfast. But what would the day's weather hold?

Our site of 60 elementary youth, 15 teens, and 10 adult staff boarded a bus and traveled 35 miles from our site near Codman Square in Dorchester to Hopkinton State Park. An hour-long, muggy, and hot bus ride later, the youth still had a positive attitude. They were curious if we would be able to splash in the water and hike through the trees. And then...the skies began to turn blue and the gray clouds withered away! The day's activities were ON!

Our first activity for the day put the "safe" in B-SAFE. Our staff securely created a perimeter of our bodies before participants began exploring the shallow waters of the pond. Once the protective perimeter was established, group by group, participants stepped in and the splashing began almost instantly. It was clear that the young people were excited to cool off.

The fun didn’t stop there! Our fantastic partner church volunteers from St. Michael's Episcopal Church in Holliston were ready to host us for lunch at the shaded picnic area. After a cook-out lunch, the volunteers led participants in fun field games and nature scavenger hunts. Each young person was given a checklist of natural objects to look for in the woods and fields. Some of the things were so small that they required a magnifying glass to find.

So, although the morning started off with gray skies, our B-SAFE at Epiphany LEARN participants brightened up the day with their positive attitude and smiles. A day filled with clouds turned into a day full of splashing and joy.

By Jefferson Guerrero, Site Assistant for B-SAFE at Epiphany LEARN

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Jefferson Guerrero, a life-long Dorchester resident, started attending B-SAFE at Epiphany YLC as a middle schooler back in 2012. He has returned each year to be part of B-SAFE, building relationships and connections that he expects will last a lifetime. This summer, Jefferson has an advanced leadership role as the Site Assistant for B-SAFE at Epiphany LEARN where he gets to lean into his commitment to community service and youth development. He is a recent graduate of Cristo Rey High School. In the fall, Jefferson will attend University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth where he plans to major in Criminal Justice.


The JCITs Go Beyond Their Comfort Zone

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Each summer, new B-SAFE JCITs (Junior Counselors-in-Training) find their way to St. Stephen’s Youth Programs. The JCIT Program is a paid internship for rising ninth graders who seek opportunities for growth, increased leadership skills and work experience throughout the summer and school year.

During the first week of B-SAFE, JCITs stepped outside their comfort zone on Thompson Island thanks to Outward Bound. After taking a boat out to the island in the Boston Harbor, JCITs participated in various team-building challenges. Each game or obstacle required cooperation and collective problem-solving, skills that the JCITs would soon get to apply in their youth development work with younger participants in B-SAFE.

The experience on Thompson Island culminated with most formidable event of the day: the Alpine Tower! The Alpine Tower is a 50-foot climbing structure that beckons climbers to take the road less traveled and overcome their fears. Again, for many of the JCITs this experience in Outward Bound applies to life, too, as they regularly have to come over fears of trying something they have never done before, orienting a new volunteer, or talking in front of a group of peers and adults.

One JCIT faced and overcame her fear of heights. As she stood on the pinnacle of the Alpine Tower, the rest of the group shouted up from the ground, "Are you still afraid of heights?" She proudly and emphatically exclaimed back, “NO!” 

Every single JCIT in the group of 32 teens took the challenge. Each ninth grader went beyond their personal comfort zone. Their courage and resilience was made evident by their willingness to stretch themselves. All the JCITs described the experience as one they will never forget.

By Julie Clerge, JCIT Coordinator for St. Augustine & St. Martin

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Julie Clerge, JCIT Coordinator for St. Augustine and St. Martin, has over a decade of experience as a youth worker. She graduated from Bridgewater State University, earning a Bachelor's degree in social work . Starting this fall, she will be pursuing a Master's of Social Work degree. Julie is passionate about helping young people achieve their highest potential. 

Learning Resilience On the Roller Rink

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This past Friday, July 12 at B-SAFE at St. Augustine and St. Martin was FUN-tastic!

After studying the weather forecast all week and realizing it was going to rain, our partner churches took creativity and flexibility to a whole new level. The Parish of the Good Shepherd in Waban and All Saints Church in Brookline came together to create a wonderful rainy day plan for all the participants and teens of B-SAFE at St. Augustine and St. Martin.

Rather than having a day at a lake, we took the bus from Lower Roxbury to Mattapan and enjoyed a morning of roller-skating at Chez Vous Roller Rink. Many of the participants, teens, and staff were first-time roller skaters! Some of us fumbled and fell. But, in a lesson that applies to other aspects of life, we got right back up and soon got the hang of moving around a rink on four wheels.

We built our sense of community through the support offered to each other. Teens and adults gave participants skated alongside participants and offered encouragement. Other young people felt more comfortable holding onto the bar on the wall as teens guided them around the room. Even though the rink was hot and the exercise made our shirts stick to our skin, we listened to the music and rolled with passion.

As mentioned, this field trip was more than just fun. It taught us some very important lessons. When you fall, you should get right back up. Learn to roll with the situation. Based on what young people said as they boarded the bus to travel to Waban for lunch and more fun there, I am sure that many young people will be going back to enjoy the welcoming environment at Chez Vous Roller Rink and to practice their skills of resilience. 

By Cassandra Bernabel, Site Manager for B-SAFE at St. Augustine and St. Martin

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Ten years ago, Cassandra's first job was as a teen CIT (Counselor-in-Training) with St. Stephen's Youth Programs. For the last year, she has worked full time as the Site Manager for SSYP's afterschool and summer programs at St. Augustine & St. Martin. She is a graduate of Framingham State University. When not working at SSYP, Cassandra is studying for her Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) at Tufts University and playing with her dog, Rico, whom she loves.


"We are Going on a Lion Hunt" at the Franklin Park Zoo

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On Tuesday, July 9, I helped lead the B-SAFE site at St. Stephens LEARN on a wonderful opportunity to go the Franklin Park Zoo. Although it was an extremely hot day, my young friend, participant S., and I walked around the entire zoo looking at the amazing variety of animals the zoo had on display. 

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Our first adventure led us to the lions. We watched the wisdom of the lions who also found the weather steamy and took refuge under a large tree. They refused to move, leaving participants and me unsatisfied. We wanted to hear the lions roar. While we were sad by the lions' unwillingness to move around, our sense S. and I left to explore the rest of the zoo.

We soon found ourselves with the giraffes. S. asked all types of questions of the zoo worker about the body of the giraffe and what kind of food they eat in the wild. S. enjoyed the fact that the giraffe is really tall; she wanted to ride it. 

Next, we ventured to the gorilla enclosure just in time to see the pregnant gorilla mother and the silverback male. S. began telling me about “Big Joe”. At first, I was extremely confused because I have never heard about a gorilla named “Big Joe.” But, after entering the primate area, I understood!. The large silverback gorilla is named "Big Joe" and he was in the enclosure along a young gorilla and the pregnant female gorilla. This was the best part of the zoo because we felt we were able to connect with and engage the gorillas. We even got to speak with the zoo staff again, asking all types of questions. When we finished our visit with the gorillas, it was time to head back to B-SAFE for dismissal.

From the conversations on the bus and the smiles on everyone's faces, I could tell that S. was not the only participant who had a good time exploring the animal kingdom at the zoo. All the youth had a wonderful time. Big thanks to Zoo New England for making this visit possible!

By D'Andra Evans, Site Assistant for B-SAFE at St. Stephen's LEARN

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Dede is a rising sophomore at Mars Hill University in North Carolina, where she is a Bonner Scholar studying nursing. (She first visited Mars Hill on a BRIDGE Scholar trip with St. Stephen's Youth Programs when she was in high school!) Dede has lived in Dorchester her whole life and attended Boston Public Schools from elementary through high school. Dede has been a member of the SSYP community for four years, starting as teen CIT (Counselor-In-Training) mentoring younger participants, then as a member of the Academic Team creating curriculum, and now as a Site Assistant helping to make sure the B-SAFE site at St. Stephen's in the South End runs smoothly. When she is not at SSYP, Dede enjoys listening to music and volunteering for various non-profits in North Carolina.


Do It Like YOU!

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Over the past twenty years, the B-SAFE Program (The Bishop's Summer Academic and Fun Enrichment Program) has grown from a small program in the South End with twenty-five elementary schoolers having tasty lunches, taking fun field trips, and making creative art to one of the largest summer programs in the Boston-area. This year, the B-SAFE community will span six neighborhoods, have nearly 500 elementary and middle schoolers developing their skills in Humanities and STEM (among other subjects), build the professional skills of 170 teens who will have paid jobs, and employ 90 adults as teachers, youth workers, and leaders. Over the past two decades, 7,000 unique young people have participated in and been formed by the B-SAFE Program.

Even as B-SAFE has grown, we have worked to maintain our model of individual attention and support for young people. B-SAFE's values of building a community where all people feel safe, feel big, and feel connected helps us create places and spaces where all youth feel loved and included; all teens try new things, make mistakes, and try again; and adults (both staff and volunteers) build meaningful relationships as mentors. B-SAFE emphasizes leadership development; one of our proudest statistics for this year is that just over 65% of our adult staff people are former B-SAFE participants or teen staff.

Yet, the numbers and growth tell only part of the story of B-SAFE. Over the first three days of July, our adult and teen staff came together for the B-SAFE training. Together, we got certified in first aid, learned more about how to implement B-SAFE's model of restorative justice, played a ton of games, practiced crossing the street safely, and got trained in supporting the academic components of the program. But, really? We build relationships. Our connections with each other --across differences of neighborhood, age, language, and culture--create a sense of cooperation and joy that we hope will inspire the young people so they do the same.

News of separation and divisiveness surrounds us and is creating a feeling for many of our B-SAFE families that they do not belong. B-SAFE offers a welcome antidote to this rhetoric with our theme for the summer, "Do It Like YOU!" from the movie Spiderman: Into the Spider-Verse, Each B-SAFE community member's special and unique talents are to be celebrated. When we put these all together, we are stronger and better. And that is some Good News!

Could there be a more important way to spend these summer days than building friendships and increasing love? Come join us!

By Liz Steinhauser, Senior Director of Youth Programs

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Liz Steinhauser joined St. Stephen's staff as the Director of Youth Programs in August 2003. She brings over 30 years of professional training and experience as a youth worker and community organizer to the position. Liberation theology developed her commitment to social justice. Girl Scouts built her arts and crafts skills and her repertoire of goofy songs. She is a graduate of Colgate University and Harvard Divinity School and is an ordained priest in the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts. She lives in Roslindale with her modern family.

20th Anniversary of B-SAFE Featured in Episcopal Diocese of Mass E-News

“No small thing:” 20 years of B-SAFE and time to celebrate: By the numbers, B-SAFE is nearly 700 city children and youth learning and having fun together in a safe community environment over five weeks in July and August at six Episcopal school and church sites in Boston's South End, Roxbury, Mattapan and Dorchester neighborhoods and in Chelsea--all with the support of 50-plus Episcopal churches from eight of the diocese's 12 deaneries, whose volunteers provide daily lunch and snacks, read books with the kids and organize Friday field trips. It's also 150 teen jobs for counselors and junior counselors in training.

But the big number this year? Twenty. B-SAFE--short for Bishop's Summer Academic and Fun Enrichment program--turns 20 this year and plans to celebrate in July with a day of fun and games at Carson Beach in South Boston for everyone involved with B-SAFE.

Twenty was also a big number back in 1999, when what would become B-SAFE was still a start-up day camp at St. Stephen's Church: That first summer, St. Stephen's gathered 20 children who needed a safe place to go at a time when the neighborhood was a hot spot for gang violence.

In a word: "Amazing," said the Rev. Tim Crellin in a recent conversation about B-SAFE's 20 years. He is the vicar of St. Stephen's Church (where he got his own start in 1991 as a youth worker) and the executive director of the now year-round St. Stephen's Youth Programs of which B-SAFE is a critical component.

A lot has changed over the past two decades, with gentrification in and around his mission church's South End neighborhood, but the gap between rich and poor in the city has only grown, Crellin said, and summer is still a problem for low-income families. "All of our sites are full and we have a huge wait list for teen jobs, so I think the need for safe, meaningful summer programming is as strong as it's ever been," he said.

Crellin credits the many partner churches from across the diocese for helping to make 20 years of B-SAFE possible and, in turn, its exponential impact on the lives of vulnerable children and youth. It's also mission strategy in action, he said, as it continues to draw Episcopalians together across geography and difference to build relationships, engage the world and, in the process, reimagine what church can look like.

"It's not a small thing," Crellin said of the time, energy, money and care that Episcopal churches offer to B-SAFE every summer. "We're just so grateful that people continue to take that on and see it as an important part of what they do. For a lot of partner churches, it is one of their main outreach activities for the year, and they do it, I think, because they love it. That's one of my favorite things about it, and has been since the beginning."

His words of advice for those who feel a call to new mission? “Open the door, invite people to come in, and listen to them, hear what they think they need and see where you can work with people. We started with 20 kids.”

Amazing.

Adventures in Service: The April 2019 BRIDGE Trip

Our suitcases have long been unpacked, and we’ve had ample time to catch up on sleep, but I don’t think of any of the 2019 April BRIDGE trip team will ever forget our adventure. It was quite the prospect: 15 selfless teens giving up their Spring Break to go with 5 very patient and flexible adults down to rural North Carolina to work on service projects for low-income community members. We saw it all: dusty PVC pipe, splintering wood, BUGS, horses, a cattle drive, a real-live cave, and even the legendary Krispy Kreme! It all started long before April though, with lots of planning and fundraising.

BRIDGE trips have been a St. Stephen’s tradition for 5 years now, and this year teens had the option of a college -tour trip during February break, or a service trip in April. Some teens even did both! In order to raise the money to fund the trip, teens sold boxes and boxes of candy bars, spread the word about a gofundme page, made and sold dog treats, and got up early one Sunday to do a soup fundraiser at a partner church. They worked very hard, making time in their busy schedules to make this trip a reality. We were also very fortunate to get a grant from Quest Adventures! As the fundraising happened, the whole team also met weekly for bonding, planning and researching the area we would be visiting. On the last meeting before the trip, we channeled our creative sides and made some awesome tie-dyed trip shirts!

The time finally came to fly down to North Carolina, and it was quite a journey. From bus, to shuttle, to plane, to rental van, our crew patiently trekked southward. We settled into the rural Air BnB we would be living in and looked out across the amazing landscape. One teen mentioned how amazing it was to see so much of the sky and stars. I was in awe of how far out you could look, viewing the flowers, rolling grassy hills, and even the blue mountains in the distance. While enjoying this bucolic paradise, our team did a lot of hard work for the local community. On the first day, we cleaned and organized a warehouse of second-hand housing materials that would become a discount store. It would soon open for community members to buy materials to repair their houses at an affordable price. We worked so quickly - moving large amounts of wood, organizing PVC pipe, cleaning up dust and throwing out trash - that the site manager started running out of things for us to do. He didn’t expect us to do so much, so quickly! The second day we helped clean out the house of a woman who had been a hoarder for years. I have never been so impressed by teens. The work was downright disgusting, but they worked diligently and selflessly to give the woman there a healthier living space. They did what even many adults wouldn’t be able to do. On the final day of service, we visited the farm of two elderly women and helped with a variety of chores and projects.

In between all the hard work, we made sure to have some fun and learn about where we were. We visited Mars Hill University, the alma mater of one of our staff chaperones, and current home to Dede, an SSYP alum who was inspired to go there after going on the BRIDGE trip herself last year! One day, we visited Glory Ridge, a beautiful camp where past BRIDGE teams have stayed, and had a very exciting water gun battle. Another afternoon, some of our local friends brought us to a secret cave! Throughout the week, we also made sure to keep spirits high with lots of good food and milkshakes, and on our last day we visited Krispy Kreme (after burning a lot of calories at Skyzone.) It was an amazing time, and I think we all grew in strength and confidence. Teens who had confided before the trip that they were nervous about the way we would feel about them after living with them for a week, were able to feel the love by the end. Teens who tried to persuade me they couldn’t cook were seen casually flipping burgers. Challenges and fearful situations were faced daily, from climbing ladders, to being around big dogs. Even I gained skill and confidence doing something I never pictured myself doing - driving a van up narrow, curvy mountain roads (some of which were just made of dirt!) All in all, the trip was a success. There were challenges and things we could learn from for next year, but our main goal was accomplished - our amazing young people saw another part of the country, and grew in maturity, confidence, strength and joy.

By Jennie Bruno, JCIT Coordinator, Massachusetts Promise Fellow



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Stories: In our Books, in our Library, in our Lives

I could tell you so many stories about the students who come to the Blackstone School Library. There is the girl who likes to help in the library during her free period and has become our unofficial intern.  There are the two boys who come together between classes and exchange their just-read books for new ones multiple times a week. There is the kindergarten class who spontaneously hugged all of the library volunteers the first time we saw them again after holiday break.

As library volunteers, we spend only a short time with these students each week, and so really getting to know their individual stories can be challenging.  But sometimes reading a book aloud together helps connect us more deeply. For me, a book that stands out in this regard is Planting  Stories: The Life of Librarian and Storyteller Pura Belpré by Anika Aldamuy Denise (illustrated by Paola Escobar). 

Pura Belpré was originally from Puerto Rico and came to New York City in 1926.  She became the first Latina librarian in the New York Public Library system, and a children’s book author whose books focused on traditional stories from Puerto Rico.  Ms. Belpré noticed that her culture’s stories were missing from the shelves of the library, so she started to write books to change that.

I read this picture book to a second grade class earlier this year. In Denise’s book, there are scenes of San Juan in the opening pages. A number of students in the class have parents or grandparents from Puerto Rico.  Some have been there themselves. They pointed to the trees pictured in the book that looked like ones they have seen. 

Further on in the book, there is a picture of Ms. Belpré sitting in a chair, with children sitting on a rug on the floor listening to her.  Ms. Belpré is telling the children a story. When we read this page, one of the boys in our class said, “Look, that’s just like us.”

And I thought, "Yes, here we are sharing a story."  Sharing stories together means this: we laugh, we learn about “bicycle face” or being brave or haikus,* we discover new places, we meet wonderful characters, we connect across our different ages and backgrounds.  We meet one another in stories.

And I know my life is richer because of that.  I hope that in some small way the lives of the students who come to the Blackstone Library are richer, too.


*Picture book references:

Born to Ride: A Story About Bicycle Face by Larissa Theule (illustrated by Kelsey Garrity-Riley)

When You Are Brave by Pat Zietlow Miller (illustrated by Eliza Wheeler)

Basho and the Fox by Tim Myers (illustrated by Oki S. Han) 

By Lucy Costa, Blackstone School Library Volunteer

Lucy Costa is in her second year as a volunteer with the Blackstone Library Friday team.  Lucy serves as a recovery casework supervisor with the Red Cross of Massachusetts. She is also a Girl Scout leader and a member of Old South Church in Boston.



From   Planting Stories: The Life of Librarian and Storyteller Pura Belpré   by Anika Aldamuy Denise (illustrated by Paola Escobar). Published by HarperCollins 2019.

From Planting Stories: The Life of Librarian and Storyteller Pura Belpré by Anika Aldamuy Denise (illustrated by Paola Escobar). Published by HarperCollins 2019.

225 Strong Against Gun Violence

Sunday was B-PEACE's seventh year of walking to support survivors and calling for an end to gun violence. We are grateful for the Louis D. Brown Peace Institute for all the work they do all year to support those who have lost a loved one to guns and to prevent future incidents of violence. 

Despite rain and chilly conditions, B-PEACE and Episcopalians from DioMass had over 225 leaders walk this year! Some of the Episcopal congregations who were represented include:

Cathedral Church of St. Paul's, Boston

Christ Church/Old North, Boston

Emmanuel Church, Boston

St. Mary's, Dorchester

St. Stephen's, Boston

Trinity Church, Boston (100 people strong!)

St. Paul's, Brookline

St. John the Evangelist, Hingham

Christ Church, Quincy

Parish of the Epiphany, Winchester

St. Elizabeth, Sudbury

St. Peter’s, Beverly

Big shout out to Congregation Dorshei Tzedek, an extremely active Jewish community that is a big supporter of B-PEACE, too! They had over 70 people doing the walk as well! 

To paraphrase Abraham Joshua Heschel, let's keep praying for peace with our legs.

By Liz Steinhauser, Senior Director of Youth Programs

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Spring Break Field Trips

From April 16th to April 18th the elementary students of St. Stephen’s Youth Programs joined an all-day program to fill their vacation days. We had loads of fun, and did not want it to end. We started out the week by going downtown to watch the newly released Dumbo movie. On the ride back to St .Augustine and St. Martin’s, I asked my kids what they thought I wanted them to learn and they got it spot on: I wanted them to learn the importance of not just being kind to each other but all other living things. Then the MSPCA came to visit us and provided some great information. They even let us pet one of their guinea pigs. We learned about how to care for animals, how to help them and how to make them a part of our own family. The next day we got a visit from the Farrington Farm and they taught us how to be nice to the earth. We learn about plants’ cycle of life and how many plants talk to each other. We also learned how to plant pea shoots! Later on that evening we were visited by Sarah from the Puppet Showplace Theatre. We loved her stories and she even showed us how she makes her own puppets! On the third and final day of program, we started out the day by going bowling at Townline in Malden, where many kids cheered their peers on and showed their pride in their success knocking pins down. As our last activity of the day, we played indoor games and just enjoyed each other’s company for the last time. You should join us next time for all the fun!

By Cassandra Bernabel, Site Manager at St. Augustine and St. Martin’s

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Blackstone parents celebrate the prospect of real walls and doors at their school

Blackstone Elementary School parents and the school community threw a party to celebrate the prospect of walls and doors at their school.

“Without walls and doors in so many classrooms, I worry every day for my son’s safety,” said Blackstone parent Rafaela Polanco. “And not just that, when anyone walks down the hallway every kid in his class turns around to look. It’s so distracting,”

At the March 27 School Committee meeting, Interim Superintendent Laura Perille surprised the many Blackstone parents, teachers, and students in the room when she announced, “We have a pending proposal for $5 million of investment to begin a plan and study of what it would take to put walls and doors into the Blackstone or reconfigure a number of the classrooms.”

The Blackstone community members had marched from their school to the meeting to protest the loss of several key staff members in the 2019-20 budget, which was approved that night. The cuts were not restored, but community members were still happy to hear they may be getting real walls to replace the thin, noisy partitions they have now.

The Blackstone was built in the 1970s as an “open plan” building. But experience has shown that the absence of walls leads to frequent distractions that get in the way of learning.

At the School Committee meeting, fifth grade student Madeline Abel spoke about a different problem. If an intruder were to come into the building, she said, “We can’t hide. …We are sitting ducks.” She said intruder drills terrify the students because they know they couldn’t get away if there were a real threat.

In a letter dated April 10th, school officials wrote to parents: “The proposal for the $5 million capital repairs project that has been submitted by the Boston Public Schools has not yet been approved. It was submitted as a proposal – but only a proposal – on February 21 and is directed at closing off all classroom spaces within the Blackstone… We will know whether our proposal has been approved in late June, when the City of Boston’s capital plan is voted on by the City Council.”

Parent Iris Diaz said the community is looking forward eagerly to hear the plans for their new walls and doors. She hopes communication with BPS officials remains open. “We know that the $5 million for doors and walls for the Blackstone school is a priority, and we thank [the District] for their commitment to our children’s safety.”

By the St. Stephen’s Youth Programs Parent Organizing Team

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South End-based B-PEACE for Jorge Campaign Receives State-wide Award

On Thursday, March 28, the B-PEACE for Jorge Campaign received the prestigious Peace MVP Award from the Massachusetts Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence. With the Peace MVP Award, the Mass Coalition recognizes significant and meaningful work by individuals and organizations to stop the scourge of gun violence in Massachusetts. The B-PEACE for Campaign is a project of the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts and, while based in the South End, B-PEACE has a state-wide reach. Several other gun violence prevention organizations led by young people, including March for Our Lives-Boston, also received awards.

Massachusetts House Speaker Robert DeLeo presented the award to B-PEACE leaders at Temple Beth Elohim in Wellesley during the Mass Coalition’s Annual Event. The Peace MVP Award recognizes B-PEACE’s work over the last year, along with fellow award recipient the Pioneer Valley Project in Springfield, to bring attention to the need for gun manufacturers to play an active role in ending gun violence. The global headquarters of Smith and Wesson is based in Springfield and weapons manufactured by Smith and Wesson were used in the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, along with other significant mass shootings in recent years. Smith and Wesson guns are also the most frequently used weapon in crimes in Chicago, one of the few cities that tracks and makes public such information about gun manufacturers.

B-PEACE leader Ekran Sharif proudly received the award and speakers Anthony Pereira-Pomales and Maoly Lara Pena offered words of thanks and urgency. As Lara Pena said in her comments, “I care about gun violence because when I was six years old, I witnessed an accidental shooting. Three people, including my mom and a pregnant woman, were injured with one bullet. It was horrific to see. This had a huge impact on my life then and now...We think that the corporations that make the guns have to be responsible about where the guns are sold and how they are used. We think that Smith and Wesson should be a leader in helping families like mine who are affected by gun violence.”

More than 25 other B-PEACE leaders were part of the 400-person crowd, who applauded and gave the teens a standing ovation. Among those gathered was Mirna Ramos, mother of Jorge Fuentes, a young man who grew up in the community of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church. He was shot and killed at the age of 19 in front of his home in September 2012. The B-PEACE for Jorge Campaign was started in the wake of the grief of this tragedy and strives to honor his memory by addressing the root causes of violence. Following the event, teens presented the actual award to Ms Ramos who wept and hugged the young leaders.

In addition to the award ceremony, the night also included a speech by David Hogg, who graduated last spring from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Hogg has become a national leader on gun violence following the February 2018 shooting at his school, which caused the immediate death of 17 people and which has led more recently to the deaths of two more young people, who died by suicide due, at least in part, to the trauma of the incident. Nikkia Jean-Charles, a B-PEACE leader, participated in a panel with Hogg along with a young leader from the Pioneer Valley Project. They fielded questions from Mass General Hospital physician Dr. Chana Sacks who asked the panelists questions such as why they cared about gun violence, how they took care of themselves in the midst of their activism, and where they saw hope for solutions,

After the event, while taking selfies with Hogg and each other, B-PEACE and Pioneer Valley Project leaders expressed gratitude for the award recognition and a re-commitment to the campaign to engage Smith and Wesson CEO James Debney in productive conversations for solutions to gun violence. To find out more about the B-PEACE for Jorge Campaign’s work or to get involved in their next action, please contact bpeace@ssypboston.org.

By Liz Steinhauser, Senior Director of Youth Programs

Teen leaders from the B-PEACE for Jorge Campaign and the Pioneer Valley Project - Teen Voices United

Teen leaders from the B-PEACE for Jorge Campaign and the Pioneer Valley Project - Teen Voices United

B-PEACE Leader Nikkia Jean Charles  and Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School graduate and March For Our Lives leader David Hogg

B-PEACE Leader Nikkia Jean Charles  and Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School graduate and March For Our Lives leader David Hogg

(L to R) Mirna Ramos, holding photo of her son Jorge Fuentes, with B-PEACE leaders Ekran Sharif and Nikkia Jean-Charles

(L to R) Mirna Ramos, holding photo of her son Jorge Fuentes, with B-PEACE leaders Ekran Sharif and Nikkia Jean-Charles

College Access and Career Success Starts at St. Stephen's

As part of our commitment to equity in education, St. Stephen's Youth Programs (SSYP) invests in programs that help teenagers imagine their future after high school. And so, on Sunday, February 17, eleven teens and four staff people from SSYP set out on their second annual College & Career February Adventure. This trip, which takes place during the winter break from Boston Public Schools, offers teens experiences to think creatively and expansively about their careers and higher education.  Over six days, teens visited six college campuses, met with professionals from multiple fields, built relationships with each other, and engaged in enrichment activities from Boston to Washington, D.C. 

One goal of SSYP is to ensure that every young person graduates high school. For SSYP seniors the graduation rate is 100%, compared to a graduation rate of 72% in Boston Public Schools. A second goal is for each senior to graduate with a clear and specific post-high school plan.  These plans are personalized and look different for every senior. Some plan to attend two-year community colleges, some a four-year public university, some go to private colleges, and some go on to vocational or job-readiness programs. Mentors and staff from SSYP work with seniors to ensure that plans match the academic interests, financial options, and social and emotional needs for each young person. Trips such as this one during February break help teens learn about and experience the various opportunities pathways that exist following  high school graduation. 

The group started in Western Massachusetts with a visits to Fitchburg State and University of Massachusetts in Amherst. The tours at both campuses were led by SSYP alumni! Lisa and Steve Jenks, two South End residents, graciously hosted the group at their Williamstown house for two nights.  The Jenks also brought the group to their own alma mater, Williams College. The stories shared helped spark the imagination of teens as they planned their own next steps.

The group next traveled to Washington D.C., stopping along the way for chocolate at the Hershey Factory in Pennsylvania. A visit to the Smithsonian Museum of African-American History encouraged teens to think about their past while a networking night at the Obama Foundation helped them think about their future. Teens toured Howard University and Georgetown University, out-of-state colleges that many teens previously never thought of as an option. Staff  at the Central American Resource Center offered another perspective and a night at the Big Apple Circus was pure fun. 

In Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, SSYP teens visited Temple University, ate cheese steaks (of course), and ran up the steps at the Philadelphia Museum of Art while channeling Rocky Balboa.   As one teen summed up the trip, "It was six days and thousands of miles. I now have a better vision for my future and am excited about my next steps."

SSYP strives to provide every young person with opportunities such as these. Whether it is the fall senior retreat, the College Access and Career Success trip, or the April Service-Learning trip to North Carolina, SSYP helps participants on their paths towards long-term success. If you want to hear more about this program, or want to get involved, please contact Senior Manager of College Access & Success, Jeremy Kazanjian-Amory at Jeremy@ssypboston.org.

By Jeremy Kazanjian-Amory, Senior Manger of College Access and Success

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Youth Leaders of B-PEACE for Jorge Rally at Gates of Gun Manufacturer Smith and Wesson

On Friday, March 15, youth organizers from the B-PEACE for Jorge Campaign came together with nearly 100 young people and adults from across Massachusetts to call for solutions to the issue of gun violence. This is at least the fifth time since March 2018 that youth and adults have gathered in Springfield at the global headquarters of gun manufacturer Smith and Wesson. With hand-written signs, speeches, and a hand-delivered letter, youth leaders from the Pioneer Valley Project and the B-PEACE for Jorge Campaign renewed their invitation to Smith and Wesson’s CEO P. James Debney to meet with students.

Across the country, youth and adults have been inspired by the leadership of students from the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.  These Florida students became activists and spokespeople on the issue of gun violence after experiencing a mass shooting at their school on February 14, 2018.  Most of the national movement has focused on changing state legislation about guns, with student walkouts marching to state capitols. Here in Massachusetts, which has some of the strongest and most effective state gun laws in the country, students have been walking to and rallying at the gates of Smith and Wesson, one of the largest gun manufacturers in the United States.

The B-PEACE for Jorge Campaign is based out of the Church of St. Augustine and St. Martin on Lenox Street and is a program of the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts designed to address the underlying root causes of violence. Teens from the South End and other neighborhoods of Boston, who are leaders in the B-PEACE for Jorge Campaign, are asking Smith and Wesson’s CEO Debney to be a corporate leader in developing solutions for the epidemic of gun violence in city neighborhoods and schools across the country. Youth believe that creative steps would emerge from conversation and might include such measures as a moratorium on sales of semi-automatic weapons, such as the AR-15 assault rifle. A rifle of this sort, manufactured by Smith and Wesson, was the gun used in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School massacre.

As B-PEACE teen leader Nikkia Jean-Charles said, “This is not how the world has to be or should be. We and so many others are coming together to re-imagine what might be possible between the people who make the guns and the people who suffer from the guns. We think we can find a better way forward.”  Other teen leaders agreed. “We’re not here to shut down Smith and Wesson. We’re here because gun violence is a real crisis in this country. We’re here because we want to sit down with CEO Debney and talk about how we can work together to end gun violence. We have some good ideas and we think he does too,” said Maana Daud, a 12-grader in Springfield and a leader with Pioneer Valley Project’s Youth Voices United.

So far, executives from Smith and Wesson have refused to speak with teens. In addition, American Outdoor Brands, the parent company of Smith and Wesson, published.a report for shareholders in February 2019. “The conversation around firearm-related violence in the United States is largely an unbranded conversation,” the report said, in part. “The Company’s reputation as a strong defender of the Second Amendment is not worth risking for a vague goal of improving the Company’s reputation among non-customers or special interest groups with an anti-Second Amendment agenda.”

Still, teens believe that Smith and Wesson has a responsibility to be a corporate leader in finding solutions to gun violence. In addition to the Parkland shooting, Smith and Wesson is the brand of guns used in the mass shooting in a warehouse in Aurora, Illinois and the fully loaded pistol brought by a four-year-old to his preschool in Mount Gilead, North Carolina, among other examples. It is also the brand of weapon used most often in gun violence in Chicago, which tracks the manufacturers of weapons used in crimes.

On Friday, security guards from Smith and Wesson refused to accept the invitation letter from youth leaders, saying they would call the police unless teens immediately got off the property of the gun manufacturer. Teens were undeterred and promised to be back.


To find out more about the B-PEACE for Jorge Campaign, contact them at bpeace@ssypboston.org or follow them on Twitter @bpeaceforjorge.

Story and photos by Liz Steinhauser, Senior Director of Youth Programs


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BIG Thanks for BIG Books from BIG-Hearted Book-Lovers of Grace Episcopal Church, Newton

SSYP partners with the Blackstone School in many ways, including coordinating the school library. This would not be possible without the network of partners who contribute time, energy, funds, and books to the student readers. In January, Rowan Pantalena, Minister for Christian Formation at Grace Episcopal Church in Newton, led an Advent book drive for the Blackstone Library. 

On a mid-January Tuesday, on behalf of Grace and their rector, The Rev. Regina Walton, Rowan delivered a huge crate of books collected for the Blackstone Library along with more than $100 in Barnes and Noble gift cards. Big thanks to Rowan, Regina, and the congregants of Grace Episcopal Church. Check out the excited readers! 

By Tricia Harvey, Library Coordinator

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Trailblazers with St. Stephen's Youth Programs and The Validation Project

On December 18th, a group of 10 young women went on a College & Career field trip to Education First and Harvard Graduate School of Education in a collaboration with St. Stephen's Youth Programs and The Validation Project. 

The field trip started off with a tour of Education First led by female employees and a mock focus group workshop surrounding what the teens are hoping to do in the future. The teens learned about how focus groups serve researchers. 

After the focus group Education First threw a pizza party for the teens where they voiced their fears and excitement for the future.

After our networking dinner we headed over to Harvard for a panel with current students about their educational and professional paths. Thank you to The Validation Project for helping us create a space to empower young women!

By Emily DeMazza, Ambassador of Mentoring

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Blackstone School and St. Stephen’s Build Warm Relationships Despite Frigid Cold

On Monday, January 21, more than 130 people from over 20 community organizations ignored the arctic temperatures, donned winter boots, and made their way over to the Blackstone School for the annual MLK Day of Action. This is the ninth year that St. Stephen’s Youth Programs (SSYP) has organized the day of support for the school, along with key partners City Year, Friends of the Blackstone, Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC), several Episcopal churches, and the B-PEACE for Jorge Campaign.

The MLK Day of Action strives to advance the vision of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by combining work projects that improve the learning environment of the school with leadership workshops about issues of justice. This year, volunteers created scores of posters and window murals to inspire students, cleared out space for more effective occupational and physical therapy sessions, improved shelving and storage in the school library, assembled care packages for students to be distributed before April’s MCAS tests, organized the parent center and compassion closet for families, and added beauty and affirmations to the teacher lounge.  Additional projects took place in SSYP’s afterschool space at 419 Shawmut Avenue, including a re-organization of the library there.

The leadership workshop began with motivational words from the South End’s new State Representative Jon Santiago and City Councillor Ed Flynn. Both politicians talked about their commitment to public education. SSYP Staff Organizers Ariel Branz, Rafaela Polanco, and Bar Kolodny taught about the process that Boston Public Schools uses to distribute money to schools and the impossible choices that school administrators must often make. Using popular education techniques, games and team competition, pie charts and rock-paper-scissors, the trainers helped participants understand the complicated system of funding and expenses that schools like the Blackstone face. As one elementary student said at the end of the workshop, “It was really fun. The training was good for six-year olds and sixty-year olds!”

As the training outlined, due to changes in status and formulas, the Blackstone School is facing a budget gap for the school year 2019-2020 and is eliminate $500,000 of staff and services from its already thin budget. This will likely result in the elimination of at least ten staff positions, including the family coordinator, school counselor, inclusion strand coordinators, classroom teachers, and other key roles that help to meet the educational requirements of Blackstone’s most high-need students.  

Blackstone teachers and parents, community partners, and MLK Day volunteers refuse to accept choosing between meeting the needs of English Language Learners and Special Education students. Instead, leaders are working together to solve this educational emergency by pushing for the necessary, full-funding for the school.  Participants in the leadership workshop made over 100 on-the-spot calls to Boston decision-makers in City Hall and the Boston Public Schools. Many of these leaders will be turning out again, this time wearing their dark-blue Blackstone “Ubuntu” t-shirts for the Wednesday, January 30 School Committee meeting at 6:00pm at the Bolling Building. State Rep. Santiago and City Councillor Flynn pledged their support for this effort and will be at the School Committee Meeting, too.

Leaders from SSYP and the Blackstone School invite community members to support the Blackstone as their neighborhood school. To find out more about Blackstone’s budget crisis, support teachers and families, or to volunteer in Blackstone classrooms and library, contact Liz Steinhauser at liz@ssypboston.org.

By Liz Steinhauser, Senior Director of Youth Programs

(L-R) Blackstone Principal Jamel Adkins-Sharif, SSYP Parent Organizer Rafaela Polanco, City Councilor Ed Flynn, State Rep. Jon Santiago

(L-R) Blackstone Principal Jamel Adkins-Sharif, SSYP Parent Organizer Rafaela Polanco, City Councilor Ed Flynn, State Rep. Jon Santiago

Volunteers from Congregation Dorshei Tzedek bring beauty to the Blackstone School. 

Volunteers from Congregation Dorshei Tzedek bring beauty to the Blackstone School. 

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Volunteers improve shelving in Blackstone Library

Volunteers improve shelving in Blackstone Library

Inspirational words were  posted around the school. 

Inspirational words were  posted around the school. 

Words to live by at the Blackstone School! 

Words to live by at the Blackstone School! 

SSYP Staff and Mass Promise Fellow Latasha Scott with young volunteers

SSYP Staff and Mass Promise Fellow Latasha Scott with young volunteers