I Am Because We Are

Throughout this school year, the JCITs have created a community of love, support and collaboration. They have learned that although it only takes one person to spark positive change, it takes a village to act on it and make those changes. Every day at our program, the JCITs are demonstrating the idea of Ubuntu: I am because we are. We feed off of each other’s ideas, energies and emotions. This creates chaos, love, frustration, and inspiration between us, some days better than others. But it is all in the name of Ubuntu: coming together as individuals to form a community and fight for positive change.

When we were presented with the idea to create an art project centered around the idea of Ubuntu, we owned it. With the help of Harvard Divinity School Graduate student Peter and Wheelock College senior Kira, the JCITs were asked to challenge their thoughts and think about how they perceive the idea of Ubuntu in their lives, community and world. Inspired by the Black Eyed Peas 2016 version of #WHEREISTHELOVE, the JCITs expressed their ideas through art, collage, song and poetry. They were given the chance to showcase their artwork in Towne Gallery at Wheelock College among many other youth groups in the Greater Boston Area.

JCIT Mara (BCLA, 9th), braved the opportunity to read aloud a poem she had written in front of all of those who attended the showcase. She powerfully presented these words that spoke of the harsh reality of our society and how it portrays and treats people of color.

“Don’t you see the root of this situation,
We cannot be divided but united.
You’ve been misguided and provided
With bias information.
It’s time to reconsider how we raise this generation.

We see children being taught the wrong
And about the color of our faces
But we need to embrace it.”

If you would like to witness the process of our art work, check out this video featuring all those involved in the artwork, as well as the artwork itself!

By Bella Vidaña, JCIT Coordinator

Senior Internship with SSYP

At Fenway High School, seniors have the opportunity to complete a six-week internship at any location they choose. Typically, these internships are supposed to help students better understand real-world jobs and the careers that seniors are interested in. This year, three Fenway seniors, including myself, have chosen to complete their six-week internships at St. Stephen’s Youth Programs. I am Dayaeliz, and  Elvis and Yaraluz are here with me on this journey. After graduating high school, we all plan to attend college. I will be attending Broward College in Florida to study aviation. Elvis will be attending Wentworth University to study computer science. Yaraluz will be attending Bridgewater State University to study psychology.  

Although we are all studying something different in college, we still wanted to get the exposure of working in an environment that is children based and community oriented. We all chose St. Stephen’s Youth Programs because we wanted to gain more knowledge and experience with children. Personally, I hope to gain more of an understanding of children and their emotions. I also hope to gain a lot of good memories and relationships here at St. Stephen’s. Elvis hopes to gain more experience with youth, and familiarize himself in a professional environment. Yaraluz would like to improve her communication skills with children and adults. She would also like to improve on her leadership skills. All three of us share the hope that this internship at St. Stephen's teaches us the skills we need for the near future.

By Dayaeliz Torres

St. Patrick's Day Dancers

Everyone can use a little luck-- even in April! Back in March, we celebrated St. Patrick’s Day here at St. Augustine and St. Martin’s with wonderful Irish Dancers from The Brady Academy. Five very talented girls from the troop came and performed for us, taught our kids a jig, and we all shared some treats at the end. Our kids learned about the different types of dances there are, the different types of shoes dancers wear, and learned some fun tips about how Irish dancers are supposed to dance, such as not moving their arms while dancing! It was an amazing day and we welcome back The Brady Academy dancers anytime!

B-PROUD to Blog!

As a 14 year old, reading and writing are tasks that may feel more like chores than a choice. So when introducing the idea of a blog to my ninth graders, I was unsure of what their reaction would be. I posed it as a blog that would include their opinions, their ideas and their passions. It would be a blog that would give them an opportunity to voice all the things they have wanted to say but haven’t been given the chance to do so. It would be the space for them to talk about the positive change they want to bring to this world, as fourteen and fifteen year olds specifically.

There is a stigma in our society that young people, especially teenagers, are incapable of creating, sparking and fighting for positive change. I, as a youth worker and one who works most closely with ninth graders, will not allow this mindset. I sit in the JCIT room everyday, amazed and overjoyed by the things being said, wondering if I ever spoke as eloquently and passionately about social justice topics when I was the age of my JCITs. I wanted the things they were saying to not just pass in and out of the room for one two-hour block, but rather I wanted these thoughts to be documented in a way where everyone in our community could read and see them forever. It was than that the B-PROUD Blog was brought to life!

When you enter our blog site, you will be greeted with the title of our blog, B-PROUD. “9th Graders Who Want to Create Positive Change.” Why B-PROUD? Well, I want there to be a sense of pride when the JCITs are writing and posting their blogs. I want them to understand the importance of being able to speak your voice. It really does only take one person to spark positive change and I know my JCITs will be those people who do so. So why not give them that chance now?

Check out our first blog, My Platform, written by JCIT Alicia Troncoso! Or check out our entire blog site at https://ssypjcitblog.wordpress.com. We look forward to comments and questions and appreciate any shares on social media. It starts with us!

By Bella Vidaña, JCIT Coordinator

Strong Girls will break glass ceilings. Strong Women will show them the ladder.

Throughout the year, our 5th grade girls have been participating in a special program called "Strong Women, Strong Girls." This program provides our girls with the opportunity to meet with college mentors from UMass Boston once a week to spend the afternoons talking about powerful women and their experiences. 

This past fall, the 5th grade girls took a trip with their mentors to UMass Boston’s campus where they participated in a full day of fun and empowering activities. They created crowns and capes, learned about self-defense and wellness, and toured the College of Engineering. UMass student and mentor Niara says what she enjoyed most about the program was the "the open-space and dialogue” that she and the other mentors created for the girls. Strong Women, Strong Girls is a place where our girls and their college mentors can feel comfortable enough to express their inner selves while also being able to get anything off their minds on a weekly basis. Niara explains, "It was a motivating experience for me personally because when I was their age I didn’t have an outlet where I could openly be myself and as a result my self-esteem suffered.” 

Shannice, a mentor new to the program this semester, explains that what she is excited for "the opportunity to inspire young girls, boost their level of confidence and build a life-long relationship with each of them.” She said that just after meeting with the St. Stephen’s 5th grade girls, she was blown away by how smart they were and impressed by their responses. Shannice believes "kids are the future of this world” and now every Tuesday she will have the chance to see first hand why this is true. 

Thank you Strong Women, Strong Girls for continuously working to empower young women! 

By Megan Doe, YLC Coordinator

The Power of Mentoring at SSYP

Here at St. Stephen’s Youth Programs, we strive to surround each young person with a comprehensive circle of care that supports him or her on the road to successful adulthood. The opportunity for our young people to create healthy relationships with adults is a central part of this. The variety of types and modes of  mentoring in our programs is part of how we build these relationships. 

On Monday February 27, the growth of mentoring at St. Stephens was fully evident, as there were three simultaneous programs and meetings happening. In one room, Jeremy met with the Wellesley College volunteers to plan the spring SAT Prep series of workshops. This prep course provides SSYP's high school juniors with comprehensive study and practice by partnering students with college volunteers to work one-on-one, ensuring they are prepared for the spring test. This program has developed and grown over the past three years; it is now focused on individualized support and attention based on the needs of each student. 

In another room, there was a training for all mentors in our College and Career program. This is a program that began with one-on-one mentors for all of SSYP'sh high school juniors and seniors. While that continues, this year St. Stephens has made a real commitment to expanding this mentoring program in two directions; we now match mentors with high school sophomores and we are coaching mentors to stay with the students as they transition from high school to college. The training on February 27th introduced our evolving model, with cohorts of mentors who are all supporting students of the same age and grade. This allows mentors to support one another. At the training, mentors had small group discussions led by SSYP staff and experienced mentors, sharing needed resources so they can best support their students. 

In a third room, there was a new initiative  that SSYP is launching in partnership with the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC). For years, JCRC volunteers have been a vital part of our academic night success, serving on Mondays and Wednesdays to support tutoring for the YLC (Youth Leadership Corps). The partnership with JCRC continues to grow in exciting ways; this spring features young professionals from JCRC providing one-on-one mentoring for our middle school students. The pairs will build relationships, work on homework, and engage in other enrichment activities. 

Fostering healthy relationships continues to be a core part of the St. Stephen’s Youth Programs model, and Monday served as another example of just how many different ways it is happening. 

By: Jeremy Kazanjian-Amory, Sr. Manager of College Access & Success

The Blackstone Innovation School, St. Stephen's Youth Programs, and Dr. Seuss--A Great Partnership!

On Friday, March 3, the Blackstone Innovation School and St. Stephen's Youth Programs celebrated reading and literacy with the Seventh Annual Read Across America Day. This is a nationwide event and is timed to fall near the birthday of many youngsters' favorite author, Dr. Seuss. Here in the South End, volunteers from non-profit organizations, faith-based groups, and corporate partners gathered in the Blackstone Library.  Readers picked out books and then fanned out to classrooms for an afternoon of reading.  Students in kindergarten through fifth grade happily joined visitors to share books and discuss how reading helps them in their everyday life.  

This year's event even had a twist! Blackstone students and staff alike dressed up as their favorite children's book character!  Many popular stories were represented: Harry Potter, Arthur and Buster (from Marc Brown’s Arthur series), and even Pigeon (from Mo Willems’s beloved series).  Pigeon tried but fortunately was thwarted from driving the bus. Phew!

Starting  in 2011, the Blackstone Innovation School and St. Stephen's Youth Programs have worked together to create a fully-functional library in what was previously a dusty storage space.  Thanks to the dedication of many volunteers as well as funding from Parish of the Epiphany in Winchester, the school now has a top-notch library that is open and staffed (by volunteers) five days a week, boasts more than 12,000 volumes that are catalogued in an online database, has a subscription to EBSCO, hosts author visits several times a year, and celebrates Read Across America Day each year.  Every week, at least twenty classes full of smiling, excited students visit the library for read aloud time, the opportunity to borrow books, and the chance to travel the world thanks to the magic of reading. To learn more about the library and to explore volunteer opportunities, contact Maureen Burns at maureen@ssypboston.org or stop by the Blackstone School to ask a library volunteer for a tour.

By Maureen Burns, Lead Organizer of School and Community Partnerships

“Whose Budget?! OUR Budget!” Youth Jobs Rally 2017

The St. Stephen’s Youth Programs teen organizers and CITs joined hundreds of teens from across the state to demand that Massachusetts lawmakers pass a budget that invests in its young people of color instead of incarcerating them. The day began with a rally at Old South Church, featuring youth performances and education about the connections between youth jobs and systems that reinforce poverty and racism.

District 7 City Councilor Tito Jackson spoke to an enthusiastic crowd, saying “If there is enough money in the budget for police overtime, there is plenty of money for teen jobs!” which was met with hearty applause.

We took to the streets on the balmy 70-degree day, and marched to City Hall and then the State House, chanting and holding signs demanding justice for young people. We wanted to make it clear that just because youth can’t vote does not mean they should have no say in a budget process and government that shapes and controls every aspect of their lives.

The teens met with Massachusetts State Representative Byron Rushing, whose district includes the South End. They asked him to co-sponsor an amendment to increase the budget to maintain the same number of jobs that were funded last year, if the House budget comes in under the requisite $14 million. He promised to support parity funding.

Any and all calls to state representatives to support full funding for youth employment will help create a budget that works for all people in our state. Check out wheredoivotema.com to find out who your elected officials are and how to contact them.

By Sarah O'Connor, Lead Organizer for Lenox Community

JCITs Take Tufts

Some would say that thinking about college at fourteen or fifteen years old is ridiculous and irrelevant. Maybe it is and maybe it isn’t. But for the JCITs at St. Stephen’s Youth Programs it is a new and exciting adventure that seems far off but extremely applicable. What a great mindset to have, am I right? So...how do we at SSYP address this type of interest in college with our teens, whether freshman or seniors in high school? We take them on a college visit!

On Friday, February 3rd, our JCITs went to Tufts University in Medford, MA. We convened and met Alex in Davis Square, which is only a 10 minute walk away from the university. This school year the JCIT program has been lucky enough to welcome the wonderful Alex Jeremiah, who happens to be a senior at Tufts as well as the Tufts Tisch Scholar working with our ninth graders. Alex has been a tremendous asset to the JCIT team and the teens seem to enjoy his passion, excitement and motivation to engage in conversation about diversity, justice, and college life. With Alex as our tour guide for the day, we knew we were in good hands.

Our first stop was the dining hall, which we learned was open from 8am-9pm. As soon as we entered the building, the JCITs’ faces lit up. It took us all about ten minutes to actually decide what we wanted considering all the choices we were given. Once we got to the table, I noticed that some of the favorites were the cheeseburgers, pizza, and of course, ice cream (oh, to be young again). My favorite line from the dining hall was, “I would stay here all day.” From this point on we began exploring the upper and lower campuses. From checking out the Tisch Library, to getting to see a classroom, to hanging out in a computer lab and taking a picture with what we learned was a million dollar elephant statue, we saw it all and braved the cold! The JCITs favorite part was exploring the residence halls. Alex willingly took us into the residence hall he where he is an RA and walked us down the halls and showed us his room. The teens were in awe. They would see an open door, walk in, and say hello to the occupants. Fortunately, all of the Tufts students were very welcoming and engaging. It was at this point that I heard some of the JCITs say, “I want to be in college now” or “Wow! College students are so nice.” As their JCIT Program Coordinator, this put a smile on my face.

Our day began to come to a close and as we finished walking around campus I could hear the excitement in the JCITs’ voices. They were having fun, they were enjoying themselves and they were now exposed to a whole new world outside of high school. They were, essentially, looking at what their future could be like, whether they realized it or not. And that is the coolest part about all of this. Finally, we got on the Tufts shuttle back to Davis Square and headed back to St. Stephen’s. College...irrelevant? The JCITs don’t think so!

By Bella Vidaña, JCIT Coordinator

  “Knowing that I have that opportunity with the JCIT program to visit colleges like Tufts not only gives me reassurance but also a guarantee that college is the place for me. GO JUMBOS!” - Alicia (JCIT, 10th grade)

“Knowing that I have that opportunity with the JCIT program to visit colleges like Tufts not only gives me reassurance but also a guarantee that college is the place for me. GO JUMBOS!” - Alicia (JCIT, 10th grade)

  JCITs pose for a picture on the roof of Tisch Library where the city skyline is visible. (Left to right: Rachel, Destiny, Kathleen, Kiara, Taysha, Alejandra, Mara, Alex, Bella, Alicia).

JCITs pose for a picture on the roof of Tisch Library where the city skyline is visible. (Left to right: Rachel, Destiny, Kathleen, Kiara, Taysha, Alejandra, Mara, Alex, Bella, Alicia).

  Professors for the day! JCITs check out a Tufts University classroom and learn that class sizes are small, with an average of 20-25 students per class depending on your major.

Professors for the day! JCITs check out a Tufts University classroom and learn that class sizes are small, with an average of 20-25 students per class depending on your major.

  We found the elephant and were slightly disappointed when we learned it was not real. Anyway, Go Jumbos!

We found the elephant and were slightly disappointed when we learned it was not real. Anyway, Go Jumbos!

Winning with Heart

“Powerful.” “Happy.” “Proud.” “Excited.” “The struggle was worth it.” “In our unity is power. Victorious!”

These are some of the words and phrases parents shared as we made a sparkling cider toast at our No On Question 2 victory celebration a couple months ago.

I’ve been organizing parents at St. Stephen’s Youth Programs for a year and a half now, but it was one of our parent leaders, Janet, who first made me think seriously about whether our group could take on the daunting task of a statewide ballot question. It was September. We were sitting in my sweltering office, talking about schools, and she looked me right in the eye. “This is all good, Ariel, but when are we really going to talk about justice in education? When are we going to talk about Question 2?”

Question 2 was an initiative on the 2016 Massachusetts State ballot. It would raise the statewide limit on charter schools by up to 12 per year, without adding any additional funding sources. This would mean that money would be siphoned from the public schools that serve 96% of students in Massachusetts, not to mention a considerably higher percentage of students with special needs and English Language Learners. Still, I knew many students in our afterschool program who are doing incredibly well in charter schools, so I wasn’t quite ready to push hard for No on Question 2 as our campaign. Instead, I left it up to the parents to decide.

At our next meeting, we started by watching an ad for Yes On 2 that made the case for charter schools. Then we brought in an outside speaker to present the case for No On 2. At the end of the meeting, we revisited the Yes On 2 ad and asked, “What do you think?” Our parents were vehemently against it. “This is not about creating democracy; this is about someone wanting to get rich at the expense of our kids’ education!” “I can’t believe they’re just lying to us in those ads!” Even people who came in believing that charter schools were better voted unanimously to work to keep Question 2 from passing.

So, we did just that. We got to work.

Every week, we joined parents from around the state making phone calls to Spanish-speaking voters. Our parents went out into the neighborhood knocking on doors, and into their homes and communities convincing their families and neighbors. And they did an amazing job.

One of the Union organizers told me that parents of St. Stephen’s Youth Programs were the strongest, largest, and most effective group of Spanish-speaking parent leaders in the whole state!

In the end, we won No On 2, and we won with heart. Before I even got home on Election Night, parents were calling: “We won! Can you believe we did it? If we can do this, just think about what else we can do!”

In the months since the Election, when so many other things feel scary and uncertain, I keep coming back to this. We know what it means to stand up for our interests as a community, and we know what it feels like to win. And to anyone who doubts us: in these coming months and years, we’re not afraid to do it again.

By Ariel Branz, Lead Parent Organizer. To learn more about our Parent Organizing Program, contact us at ariel@ssypboston.org

  A toast to our victory

A toast to our victory

  Parent Leaders call voters on the HubDialer

Parent Leaders call voters on the HubDialer

  It’s a full house for phone banking!

It’s a full house for phone banking!

  Our youngest Organizer

Our youngest Organizer

Seven Years Strong! MLK Day 2017

 Volunteers paint the stairs at the 7th Annual MLK Day of Action

Volunteers paint the stairs at the 7th Annual MLK Day of Action

On Monday January 16, Martin Luther King Day, volunteers gathered at the Blackstone Innovation School. So much has changed since the first MLK Day of Action in 2010!  Seven years ago, the elementary school in South End had no library.  However, on this morning in 2017, a team of volunteers was busy covering brightly illustrated books in protective plastic so that they could be added to the Blackstone Library’s growing book collection (now more than 12,000 well-catalogued volumes).  This volunteer team was one of twenty-five action teams working on projects to improve the learning environment of the Blackstone.  Nearly 300 volunteers, coming from 45 different organizations-- including urban and suburban churches, synagogues, public schools, charter schools, local neighborhood associations, AmeriCorps groups, private businesses and nonprofits--came together to paint classrooms and hallways, organize storage areas, make flashcards, and create teacher appreciation gifts.  Seven years ago when the first MLK Day of Action at the Blackstone was organized, the projects addressed fundamental needs of the school building.  Thanks to the continuous and ongoing commitment of numerous community partners, with the Blackstone Library team volunteers being only one of many, the MLK Day of Action has grown from a single day into a myriad of opportunities for volunteers to contribute to the health of the school throughout the year.

 City Councilor Ayanna Pressley gave inspiring remarks

City Councilor Ayanna Pressley gave inspiring remarks

After gathering for breakfast and a morning orientation about the Blackstone and the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the volunteers were challenged to act.  The first action push came from the Revs. Liz Steinhauser and Marisa Egerstrom, both on staff at St. Stephen’s.  In recognizing the number people present and diversity of volunteer groups represented, they asked the crowd to get to know someone new and learn why they were investing their time and energy at the Blackstone on that day.  Then volunteers went off in their teams to work; tackled projects and completed them with gusto and skill.  Reconvening for lunch, volunteers listened as City Councilor Ayanna Pressley reflected on the words of Dr. King, pushing folks to become more engaged in their communities in order to bring about change and justice. Then, teen organizers from the B-PEACE for Jorge Campaign taught people how to organize their public schools into sanctuaries of safety that will welcome all students, including immigrants regardless of status.  City Councilor Tito Jackson closed out the day by recognizing the  volunteers’ hard work and sending them off with words of inspiration on the importance of community service and the need for more action in the coming months.

 Friends of all ages participated in the Day of Action

Friends of all ages participated in the Day of Action

Thanks to ALL of the volunteers who participated and team of leaders who helped plan the day, including City Year and the staff of the Blackstone.  Special shouts of gratitude to all the organizations who offered financial support for the day, including

All Our Children

Blackstone Square/Franklin Square Neighborhood Association

B-PEACE for Jorge Campaign

 City Councilor Tito Jackson spent time with teen organizers after they ran the Sanctuary Workshop

City Councilor Tito Jackson spent time with teen organizers after they ran the Sanctuary Workshop

Ellis Neighborhood Association

Emmanuel Gospel Center

Jewish Community Relations Council

Motus, a Building Impact Corporate Partner

St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church

Trinity Church in Boston

To get involved with St. Stephen’s Youth Programs’ partnership with the Blackstone Innovation School, please contact Maureen at maureen@ssypboston.org.

To remain active in the Sanctuary Campaign, contact Sarah at sarah@ssypboston.org.

By Maureen Burns, Lead Organizer of School and Community Partnerships

Announcing the first ever YLC Student Council Reps!

Congratulations to Diamond, Anyshja, John Lucas, and Franlys! After an impressive campaign run, these four middle school student have been selected as our Youth Leadership Corps student council representatives. They will be meeting regularly to help staff plan activities and events for  the YLC such as Fun Fridays throughout the academic year. It is our hope that this representative structure will provide more youth voice and participation across programming. This is just one step that we have taken so that our young people can begin to envision themselves as young civic leaders. 

By Megan Doe, YLC Coordinator

SSYP Hits the Slopes

On Monday, January 16 (Martin Luther King Day!), St. Stephen's Youth Programs partnered with Youth Enrichment Services to take 35 middle schoolers and teens along with 10 staff, alum and volunteer chaperones to Pat's Peak in New Hampshire for a skiing and snowboarding adventure. Once there, young people had formal lessons on how to ski or snowboard from trained YES instructors.  Young people then spent the morning and early afternoon engaged in experiential learning as they figured out many of the skills of skiing and snowboarding. Despite the many falls that come with early practice, students had a lot of fun! The shouts of young people encouraging and supporting each other rang out above all else. By the end of the day, all those involved adorned themselves with colorful glow sticks and did one final run down the bunny slope, glowing in the night sky. After taking off their equipment, the students danced at the lodge party, listened to a program that focused on the values of Martin Luther King Jr,, and reflected on ways to increase opportunities for young people of color.  Everyone--students and adults--came back exhausted and grateful for this awesome opportunity with YES and SSYP! We look forward to the next outdoor adventure!

By Jeremy Kazanjian-Amory, Sr. Manager of College Access & Success

Bringing Together Teens and Alum for Long-term Success

On January 5, St. Stephen’s Youth Programs hosted its annual winter alumni gathering. The event has two goals: to create a space for graduates of SSYP who have gone off to college or careers to reconnect with each other and to offer those graduates continuing support as they take these next steps in their lives.  The event has also become a time for our current teens, the Counselors-in-Training and Organizers working for SSYP, to meet and learn from our alums. 

Last year, the winter event included a panel of graduates who talked about their experiences following high school and alumni shared advice with teens about how to overcome a variety of obstacles. This year, the event had three different parts; all were designed to provide teens and alumni with resources of support toward long-term success. 

First, our currently employed teen staff met with Gabe Baldwin, a teacher of mindfulness techniques. This was the initial session in a series of workshops promoting mindfulness, emotional regulation, and active listening.  Through this series, teens will build the skills to take care of themselves as they navigate the challenges that present themselves in both high school and beyond. 

At the same time teens were practicing mindfulness, graduates were talking about the growing alumni program SSYP is rolling out this spring. In addition to ongoing support for FAFSA renewals, college transfer applications, and scholarship forms, SSYP is launching a new professional networking program. This network will help connect our alumni with  people who are working in the fields our graduates are interested in pursuing. Following this announcement, alumni talked with each other, sharing stories and resources. It was wonderful to hear young adults speaking about their successes in a wide range of experiences and offering strategies and tips for overcoming the challenges they have faced. They learned from one another and gave feedback to SSYP about additional ways we might offer support. 

Then, the teens and alum joined together, forming small groups to foster discussions of the hopes for and fears about life after twelfth grade.  It was moving to witness the openness of both groups: the teens were willing to learn and alumni were sharing their experiences with honesty and wisdom. The event reaffirmed how committed our teens and alums are to SSYP and each other. There was that deep feeling of community and family that is so often mentioned as a key quality of SSYP.  We look forward to seeing what develops next!

SSYP is recruiting current professionals from different fields to be part of that support network for alum. If you are willing to meet with students during the spring to talk about your job and answer questions, please contact Jeremy at jeremy@ssypboston.org

By Jeremy Kazanjian-Amory, Sr. Manager of College Access & Success


Fourth Annual Vigil to Honor Victims of Gun Violence

In September 2014, beloved St. Stephen’s Youth Programs community member Jorge Fuentes was shot and killed while walking his dog in front of his house in Dorchester. Just a dozen weeks later, an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut was attacked by a domestic terrorist toting an assault weapon. These senseless deaths left their communities reeling in shock and sadness- and with a new resolve to address the problem of gun violence in all of its forms across the country.

Every year, on the anniversary of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, the Massachusetts Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence honors the victims of that massacre, of gun deaths across the country since that day, and those shot and killed in Massachusetts in the past year. Every year, members of the B-PEACE for Jorge campaign attend to light candles to honor, in particular, the memory of Jorge, and also the new names added in the past year which inevitably include people who have touched the lives of people in our community.

This year, St. Stephen’s Youth Programs teen organizer Victoria Omoregie spoke at the vigil, kicking off a powerful lineup of anti gun violence advocates that included Imam , Boston’s Director of Public Safety Dan Mulhern and Attorney General Maura Healey. She talked about growing up in Dorchester, and told a story of a shooting that happened in a park in her neighborhood that caught a toddler in the crossfire of a shootout. After that day, her family started driving to a far away park in a wealthier and whiter neighborhood where that kind of violence was unthinkable,and then eventually stopped going to the parks altogether and began playing video games inside their home instead.

The speakers following Victoria echoed her message that all people should be safe in our city, “safe, regardless of their race or gender or immigration status or religion or sexual orientation. I want people to be safe from gun violence, and from all kinds of violence, in their schools, parks and neighborhoods.” With a new presidential administration poised to take office, the well-being of our most vulnerable family members, friends and neighbors is uncertain. We know and feel it is more important than ever to join together with our whole community and and Commonwealth and country to heed the words of Mother Jones who said, “Pray for the dead, and fight like hell for the living.”

By Sarah O'Connor, B-PEACE Organizer

Life of a JCIT

My name is Bella Vidaña and I am the JCIT Program Coordinator. I believe that the JCIT program is a hidden gem at St. Stephen’s Youth Programs. Our JCITs, which stands for Junior Counselors-in-Training, are a group of ninth graders who have dedicated every day of the week to leadership development, peer mentoring, civic engagement and self-expression in a variety of ways. We are located on the top floor of St. Augustine and St. Martin in a space that feels more like a living room and home than it does a temporary, two-hour, hangout space. It has become a safe haven for many, including myself.

Within these walls we speak of current events, our passions, what we like and what we do not like, who we are and what we strive to be. We speak of diversity, our differences and our commonalities. We speak of how we can continue to be a better global citizen both in the local communities around us and the communities that may be far but dear to our hearts, including our home countries. And last but not least, we have created a space where everyone feels comfortable enough to be themselves.

How have we created this type of space, you ask? We have created this space by implementing and participating in activities that encourage a deeper knowledge of the topics mentioned above that may not be discussed in schools or at the home. Most recently, the JCITs participated in an activity called Take a Stand. As I read aloud a number of statements that involved race and ethnicity, sexual orientation, differently abled, and religion, the ninth graders had the choice to move to four different corners labeled Strongly Agree, Agree, Disagree, and Strongly Disagree. They were then given the opportunity to vocally express why they were standing in the corners they chose if they felt comfortable sharing. Through this activity they were provided the chance to think and discuss topics that they may have never thought about or discussed. They were also given a chance to stand up for social and global issues they believe in, which I have found to be one of the most vital parts of youth development.

From the start of program on September 26th until now, I have seen a growth in my ninth graders that I appreciate an endless amount. We are a small army of around eight but we are fierce and we will only get stronger from here on out. If you are reading this and you are a ninth grader or know of a ninth grader that you think will benefit from this program, we will welcome you or them with open arms and lots of smiles and laughs.

If you would like to learn more about the JCIT Program at St. Stephen’s, contact JCIT Program Coordinator, Bella Vidaña, at bella@ssypboston.org.

By Bella Vidaña, JCIT Coordinator

Bringing Professionals and Teens Together

Career exploration remains a cornerstone of the College and Career Program here at St. Stephen’s. The goal of this program is to expose teens to the variety of different pathways out there, as well as provide space for them to think critically about what they are passionate about. One way we do this is through Career Panels, where volunteers from a variety of different fields come in and talk with teens about their own educational and professional journeys. This fall we have held two different career panels, one focusing on the health field and one on social justice.

    During the health panel, students learned about public health opportunities, what it takes to become a veterinarian, and the different career opportunities within the mental health and counseling fields. Panelists talked about their own educational journeys, and what inspired them to pursue their own path. Teens asked questions and networked with the panel, and walked away with a broader sense of what it means to pursue a career in the health field.

    During the social justice panel, students were exposed to careers in labor organizing, community organizing, environmental justice, criminal justice, higher education, and community health fields. Panelists were asked to define what social justice means to them, and then talk about how it relates to their work. Teens then split up into smaller groups where panelists led a discussion on how social justice has been a motivating factor in their own lives. Both panelists and students walked away from it inspired by having the chance to talk with one another, and motivated to continuing to do social justice work in our communities.

    This spring we will have three additional panels. On January 19th, we will have a panel on Education, on February 26th we will focus on STEM careers, and finally on April 27th we will spotlight the trades and alternative careers. If you are interested in being on a panel please reach out to Jeremy Kazanjian-Amory, Sr. Manager of College Access & Success at jeremy@ssypboston.org.

By Jeremy Kazanjian-Amory, Sr. Manager of College Access & Success

Advent Action: #SalsaShutDown with Cosecha and St. Stephen's

On Saturday December 3, nearly 300 people--including many Episcopalians from St. Stephen's Boston and Episcopal City Mission--gathered near Downtown Crossing to show their support for immigrants and immigrant rights. The #SalsaShutDown action was organized by Cosecha, a movement fighting for permanent protection, dignity, and respect for the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States. The SalsaShutDown action was a kickoff of the MigrantBoycott effort which will demonstrate the economic power of immigrants, both as workers and consumers in the United States. But mostly today was about the joy of dancing and bringing some of that energy to the holiday shopping scene.

The day began in Sproat Hall at the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts with a reflection led by the Rev. Marisa Egerstrom. She showed the early-arriving Episcopalians how political action is also spiritual action.  Together, we linked the efforts of Cosecha with the story of Advent and the ways in which Mary and Joseph were also migrants in their homeland, facing oppression under the powers of the Roman Empire. Then, we all received salsa dancing lessons and practiced our steps before exiting in small groups to gather at local stores to show off our newly developed dance skills. All of this was to bring attention to immigrant rights and protection, especially as we face uncertainty of how federal policies may change under a new administration. 

For the Episcopalians who were part of the action, it felt like we were taking well-organized steps (to a salsa beat) toward building the Kingdom of God. 

To see video and other photos of the day, check out Cosecha's Facebook Live video. And to get connected to the next action like this, contact Marisa for more information marisa@ststephensbos.org

By Liz Steinhauser, Senior Director of Youth Programs

  SSYP Teen Organizers at #SalsaShutDown

SSYP Teen Organizers at #SalsaShutDown

  Pre-action salsa lesson in Sproat Hall at the Cathedral of St. Paul

Pre-action salsa lesson in Sproat Hall at the Cathedral of St. Paul

  Cosecha and Diomass leaders show unity in Downtown Crossing

Cosecha and Diomass leaders show unity in Downtown Crossing

  SSYP Teen Organizers lead the upbeat chanting of "no music, no music" to keep the beat and dancing going even when the sound system is shut down

SSYP Teen Organizers lead the upbeat chanting of "no music, no music" to keep the beat and dancing going even when the sound system is shut down

  St. Stephen's leaders show their style at Primark

St. Stephen's leaders show their style at Primark

SSYP Alumna makes it BIG!

Among the programs of SSYP is our College Access and Success Program. In addition to supporting our teens who are in high school make a solid plan for their post-graduation lives, we also continue to offer mentoring and support to alumni once they are IN college (or another type of program).

One of our alumna, Perla Fernandez, graduated from BPS's Urban Science Academy in 2010. She and we were SO excited when she was accepted into and began attending Wheelock College, as the college has excellent justice-focused academic programs and we could continue to see her since she was right here in Boston! 

In 2014, Perla returned to St. Stephen's as part of one of her Wheelock classes, to serve as an Ubuntu Arts student facilitator.  She helped a team of SSYP teens  learn about the South African philosophy of Ubuntu. Perla served as a mentor for this group of youth by creating a safe space and leading discussions about discrimination, violence, peace, and social justice. Together, they created art [see attached] in response to their learning and feelings that was displayed at Wheelock College’s Towne Art Gallery AND qualified to be displayed at the State House for the annual Violence Transformed exhibit.

And now, that same piece of art will be going to the National Museum of Afro American Artists for an exhibit later this month!!  Congratulations, Perla, for this recognition of your project and for your upcoming graduation from UMass Boston with a Master's degree in Elementary Education! We are so proud of you and your hard work! 

Special thanks to Wheelock Professor Ann E. Tobey, of the Juvenile Justice and Youth Advocacy Program, for this information and for your dedicated commitment to running the Ubuntu Arts program every year! 

By Liz Steinhauser, Senior Director of Youth Programs

A Belated Halloween Blog

This year St. Stephen’s had a blast celebrating Halloween with parties on and off site! 

St. Stephen’s elementary program LEARN decorated bags, made masks and participated in a costume relay. The middle school program YLC participated in a pumpkin carving competition and set up a spooky haunted house for the elementary age kids to walk through!  

St. Stephen’s JCITs (Junior Counselors-in-Training) organized and volunteered their time by helping out at the local Blackstone Park Halloween Party. The JCITs ran a Cookie Decorating and Chalk Art booth. Both were a big hit with the children that attended the event! Furthermore, St. Stephen’s JCITs provided the community with the opportunity to raise funds for a family in Haiti that is connected to St. Stephen’s. In the end they were able to raise a total of $98. The family they raised for was extremely thankful and the JCITs felt accomplished and good in the fact that they were able to dedicate their time celebrating to a bigger purpose. 

On Halloween day, YLC hosted a party at the nearby O'Day park. Both St. Stephen’s LEARN and local kids from the community received bags stuffed with candy and enjoyed activities such as face painting, pin the head on the skeleton and "What's in the Box?” The party was a success and we thank our young people for facilitating a fun day for all! 

By Megan Doe, YLC Coordinator