JP Observer – JP police activities for youths build trust; need support from community

By Sandra Storey / Special to the Gazette

       Boston police at Jamaica Plain’s District E-13 do so much for and with young people in the neighborhood, just the list of activities nearly fills a page. Year-round events and programs are organized and managed by the Community Service Office (CSO)—and supported by Jamaica Plain Coalition: Tree of Life/Arbol de Vida (TOL). They range from summer “camp” to parties to ongoing programs.

       The friendly, productive interactions, which were started years ago, are designed to build trust between JP young people and police.

       Now, CSO police officers Angie Oller and Antonette Ramsay and Tree of Life staff say they need to expand programs to include more young people and services and provide needed continuity in the relationships they form with youths and families.

       For example, the CSO has access to a van that holds only 13 young people. Another van is needed so more kids can go skating or bowling and to other activities. Getting another van, even a used one, would be extremely helpful, they said.

       And families need follow-through, according the organizers. Having a person who could log activities and make calls would really help. That person might also be able to compile statistics and information about the effects of programs.

       “They are awesome,” Yolanda Torres, a resident of the Mildred C. Hailey Development (formerly Bromley-Heath), said recently. “I have teenagers, and I know that if I need the CSO officers, they will be there to help.”

       In a telephone interview on January 11, Ramsay and Oller and former TOL Director Margaret Noce described some of the many programs and activities that the CSO has for youths and families in a year and what their growing needs are.

       Oller talked about setting up games, including softball, in the parking area around the Washington Street police station one day in the summer. Eight or nine patrol officers came for a little while to participate with the young people, she said.

       Free summer camp involves young people meeting at the station daily for a week to go for different activities. Parents are given an agenda of what will happen each day, according to Ramsay. “Camp is limited to 13,” she said, “because we have only one van.”

       More than 300 people attended the District 13 barbecue last summer, Oller said. “The captain and officers interacted with people, who were invited to go into the station for a tour.”

       Other activities they talked about with enthusiasm included a fishing derby at Jamaica Pond that attracted more than 400 people last summer. Noce said a moms group at the Mildred C. Hailey (formerly Bromley-Heath) Housing Development helped plan and put together a large Halloween party.

       “They have helped us in many ways,” Zoe Perez, another grateful mother who lives at the Hailey development, said recently of the CSO officers. “We have been able to attend events. They even encouraged us to play tennis with our kids. They have helped with food, clothing and toys during the holidays.” 

       Current Tree of Life Director Carol Miranda put together a list of CSO activities for a community fundraising letter. Along others, she named: Holiday Activities: Thanksgiving Turkey Dinner giveaway; Thanksgiving Dinner delivery w/ ETHOS (partnering with South Street Youth Center Teens); District E-13 Community Christmas Party; Emmanuel Church Toy drive; Hailey Housing Development Family Toy drive. Youth Activities: Girls Group at Match Middle School; Girls Group at Margarita Muniz High School; Meet the Faces Behind the Badge; and school vacation week activities. Family Activities: Healthy Families Initiative: series of parenting workshops for parents with children 11-16 years old (in collaboration with Mass Housing); Zumba with a Cop in the Park.

       Ramsay said over the past 10 years she has observed that, “We couldn’t do it without our community partners and parents.” She pointed out that regular officers can’t take time to put together and carry out all the programs, and there are only four people in the CSO. “We can’t do everything,” she said.

       More young people and families could be served with more resources to support the CSO youth and family programs. “We need extra money to follow up with families and to see if we are making a difference,” Noce added.

       Ramsay agreed. “One of the purposes of the relationships that form is to build trust,” she said. “To really build trust our goal is to be consistent with the families. We need funding to do that.”

       Expanded services are also being requested these days, Noce said. For example, some Boston Public Schools have been asking the CSO to run more girls clubs. They have boys clubs already.

       Police, like other municipal agencies, can’t ask for donations or fundraise directly. Local 22-year-old nonprofit Tree of Life, working with fiscal agent Community Cares, Inc., is doing that hoping the CSO youth and family programs that are so valuable to the community can grow.

       “Over the past 10 years I have observed that the biggest things to pay attention to are community, commitment and consistency.” Ramsay said. “That’s where change comes from.”

       Community support to continue this kind of positive change is needed now. For more information about these activities for JP youths and families, contact the CSO of District E-13 at 617-343-5624. For information about these activities and how to help support them, contact JPC: Tree of Life /Arbol de Vida at 617-501-3918.

                  Sandra Storey is founder and former publisher and editor of the Jamaica Plain Gazette. 

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