YMCA staying

David Taber

EGLESTON SQ.—In a major reversal, the YMCA of Greater Boston plans to keep Egleston Square YMCA Youth Center open for the foreseeable future, YMCA of Greater Boston President Kevin Washington told the Gazette Dec. 4.

“The YMCA is committed to staying in Egleston Square,” Washington told the Gazette.

Washington told the Gazette that exercise equipment manufacturer Cybex has agreed to donate new equipment for use at the Egleston Square Y.

YMCA of Greater Boston spokesperson Kelley Rice told the Gazette that the Egleston Square Y is currently running academic support, mentoring health programs for youths, including weekly yoga classes and regular basketball games between Egleston Square youths and youths from the Roxbury YMCA.

The Y plans to hire a new full time director for the Egleston Square site soon, she said.

Last June, YMCA officials announced that they planned to pull out of the community center the Y runs at the Urban Edge-owned Father Jack Roussin Community Center at 3134 Washington St. at the end of the summer.

In response, an informal group started meeting to strategize about how to maintain youth programming in the area. That group included state Rep. Liz Malia, staffers from the Mayor’s Office, then-City Councilor Chuck Turner and representatives from Urban Edge, as well as community residents.

In late August—shortly after two non-fatal shootings on the same block of Washington Street where the Roussin Center is located—Y officials told the Gazette they had agreed to keep the Y open at least through December.

Maintaining strong youth programming in the square is important, “particularly at this time, when people are cutting back on services for youth,” said Chrystal Kornegay, CEO and President of Urban Edge, a local non-profit community development corporation.

The recent news that the Y plans to stay open for the foreseeable future is particularly welcome after two recent violent incidents in which young people were killed. On Nov. 21, three men, all in their 20s, fatally stabbed and shot each other in a fight at the Same Old Place restaurant at 662 Centre St. In October, 21-year-old Luis “Tito” Torres was fatally shot on Boylston Street near Washington Street. Both of those incidents were related to long-standing feuds between local groups of youths.

The Egleston Square Y hosted a memorial vigil for Torres in the days following his death.

“Given the circumstances we are facing right now…there is no doubt we are facing a gap in terms of resources and opportunities available to at-risk populations,” Malia said.

Both Malia and Egleston Square Main Streets Executive Director Betsy Cowan told the Gazette the Egleston Square youth services working group had discussed the possibility of a youth service provider other than the Y taking over the space, but that they are thrilled the Y has committed to staying. The Y and Urban Edge are still in the process of negotiating a new lease, Washington and Kornegay said.

Malia, who was a strong advocate for the local Y at an Urban Edge-hosted meeting to discuss the Y branch closure shortly after the June announcement—the same meeting where the working group was formed—told the Gazette that, after months of meetings with YMCA officials, she is feeling upbeat about the Y’s recommitment to Egleston Square.

“Their commitment seems solid,” Malia said, “YMCA staff has been around when we have had events in the community. They seem much more engaged.”

Cowan confirmed that Y staffers have been more involved in the community in recent months, and said there is also renewed support for the Y in the community. “It goes both ways. The community has renewed its commitment to come together and support the Y,” she said.

Cowan said she volunteered at a teen dance at the Egleston Square Y last week.

The Y’s move into Egleston in the early 1990s was the result of a fierce community campaign in the neighborhood.

At that time, Egleston Square was the scene of significant gang activity. Eddie Ortega, an ex-member of the local X-Men street gang, served as director of the Egleston YMCA from 1991 to 1998. Another former X-Men gang member, William Morales, took over after Ortega. William’s brother, Hector, had been gunned down in a shootout with police in the square in 1990.

Today, the Y is an important part of a small network of youth services organizations in the square, including Teen Empowerment—a non-profit devoted to supporting youth engagement in social issues, and 826 Boston, a youth writing program.

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