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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Harbor Point Students Look To Better Community

Several weeks ago a group of young Harbor Point residents came together to discuss ways in which they could take action to improve the quality of life for the Harbor Point community.

Under the guidance of UMB junior Brandon McDowell, the group of ten came up with a “quick hit” plan to sell candy around Harbor Point and its neighboring communities in order to raise money for a campaign.

The group then brainstormed ideas for which elements of life in Harbor Point that they would most like to see improved. After about two hours of animated discussion and spirited debate, the youth had agreed to divide into three subgroups, each of which would research a specific part of the Harbor Point community that they felt needed to change. UMB professors Lorna Rivera and Joan Arches of the College of Public and Community Service as a branch of Healthy Initiative Collaborative: Community University Partnership (HIC CUP), started this group last year. Youth in Action, has been meeting every Wednesday evening in the Harbor Point housing development for about a year and a half now.

This semester Youth in Action has spun off independently in collaboration with the Boston Youth Organizing Project. The project aims to provide the youth of Harbor Point with an opportunity to learn valuable organization skills. It also provides them with a safe space for youth, generally aged 14 to 18, to hang out and share constructive ideas with one another.

Harbor Point is a privately owned development consisting of about 1,500 residents. Rivera said because Harbor Point is privately owned, it is not provided with any city services from the government, and the private social services provider for Harbor Point, Housing Opportunities Unlimited, is inadequate in accommodating to the developmental needs of the youth of the community. “They don’t do enough for the community,” Rivera said.

Rivera and Arches started Youth in Action as part of a Service Learning class at UMB. Rivera noted that, “[Youth in Action] was modeled on the idea of empowering the youth to identify problems in their community and to plan action.”

McDowell, a Community Planning major, has been involved with Youth in Action since its creation. “The program lets youth of the community see they are central to it,” McDowell said. “It also gives them vehicle to organize.”

McDowell explained that Youth in Action helps those involved not only through challenging them to think through and plan to improve the community, but it also educates them and gives them and opportunity to develop.

“The development of the youth is what’s most important,” McDowell said. “They are learning leadership and organization, and they also challenging stereotypes. It proves their doing something positive with their time and taking the initiative to improve the condition of the community.”

McHenry Noel has been attending Youth in Action meetings for a year and a half. In last week’s meeting, Noel acted as moderator for much of the debate among the youth. He clearly exhibits the leadership skills that McDowell encourages, and he is aware of the impact Youth in Action has had on himself and the community. “It makes me think more about life and learning, and it gives the youth here a voice,” Noel said.

Another of the young Youth in Action members who has exhibited organizing and leadership skills is Alex Osorio. On Wednesday, Osorio, who also has been attending Youth in Action meetings for a year and a half, helped the group stay focused on their goals. Osorio echoed Noel’s sentiment that Youth in Action is providing the youth of Harbor Point with a voice.

In addition to Osorio and Noel, Jonathan Soto, also a Harbor Point resident, has been involved with Youth Action since its beginnings. Soto says he has benefited greatly from the Youth in Action meetings. “It gets me off the streets, and it gets me to be ready to speak,” he said.

According to McDowell, it is not only the action of the youth involved and the guidance of UMass students and teachers that keeps Youth in Action running effectively. “It is a combined effort between the residents of Harbor Point, the tenants’ task force, whom provides the space [for meetings], and the Boston Youth Organizing Project (BYOP). BYOP connects and pools the power of multiple youth groups in the Boston area so youth can recognize the inter-relation of the issues that all youth face and challenge them together,” McDowell said. “It is the commitment of these different institutions and organizations that have developed Youth in Action into a recognized force within their community.”