Youth Program Gets Backing From State Senator

 

By ALLISON DUFFY
ADVANCE STAFF WRITER

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. -- Raymond Boye was a 17-year-old high school student with a 60 grade point average. He was not involved in extracurricular activities and was not active in his Park Hill community. But last September, all of that changed.

Boye is one of 32 Staten Island teenagers selected for the Citizens Committee for New York City Youth Organizing Program. He now maintains a grade point average of 80 and is involved in projects to better his neighborhood. He even facilitated a workshop on power relations.

"It's changed my grades," said Boye. "I used to come home from school and go outside. Now I come home and go to workshops."

Citizens Committee recruits 14- to 17-year-old at-risk teens from three locations in the city to participate in a training and internship program within their communities. Most of the Staten Island teens hail from Clifton and Stapleton.

State Sen. Diane Savino (D-North Shore/Brooklyn) pledged $2,500 to support the teens' work. According to Peter Kostmayer, president of Citizens Committee, it is important that elected officials meet the participants and share their own experiences.

"Having the support of a senator really helps us to do that work," said Beatriz Beckford, the Citizens Committee youth organizer.

Meeting with two students yesterday, Ms. Savino noted that both she and Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama began their careers as community organizers.

"It's probably one of the most useful things you'll learn as young people," she said, referring to the leadership skills they are acquiring in the program. "That's really the role of an organizer -- to agitate and educate."

The goal is to train students how to effect change in their communities. Participants brainstorm issues, implement solutions, and sustain their work through an internship. A $1,500 scholarship is awarded to all participants.

"You can't throw them into the community without giving them the tools," said Ms. Beckford.

Workshops are held each week at Dreyfus Intermediate School, Stapleton. The teens meet for two hours and discuss issues from gun violence to police brutality. Because they are not old enough to vote, students are encouraged to blog about these issues or post discussions on their Myspace pages. The Island's 32 teens will complete the program at the end of 2009.