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The Teen Center at St. Peter's -- an oasis for Dorchester youth

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Now in its 17th year, the Teen Center offers high-quality support services for a community that lacks resources and faces tremendous needs.

Debbie
Rambo

As the summer sun beats down upon the Boston blacktop, bright and energetic middle and high school students from our Teen Center at St. Peter's get a break from their studies to experience some of the sights and sounds surrounding the city.

Each year, the Teen Center serves more than 300 Dorchester youths (aged 10 to 19) across its academic year and summer programs. These services are paramount in the Bowdoin-Geneva area, where a safe, constructive environment that fosters intellectual growth and healthy friendships can be hard for these youngsters to come by.

Now in its 17th year, the Teen Center offers high-quality support services for a community that lacks resources and faces tremendous needs. Its programs also serve healthy, home-cooked dinners to all of its students, and provide them transportation to and from its doors -- basic services that these children might otherwise go without.

Our program staff, the majority of whom are former Teen Center students themselves, intimately understand the Bowdoin-Geneva community and the needs and strengths of the children that they serve. Their spirit and expertise fosters a sense of kinship and mutual support that take its students to new heights and propel its alums to lifelong success.

Many factors drive children and their families to seek the Teen Center's programming. Chief among them are neighborhood violence and the high rate of poverty in the community. As tracked by Universal Hub, of the 54 murders in Boston in 2017, 26 happened in Dorchester. In 2018, 21 murders out of the 56 in Boston occurred in Dorchester. Dorchester also holds the highest child poverty rate of any neighborhood in Boston. According to the Philanthropy Massachusetts' Summer Fund 2019 report, over 9,000 children in Dorchester live in poverty. 97 percent of the children at the Teen Center belong to households experiencing poverty. The Teen Center's ability to offer a safe space, academic support, and leadership development is increasingly necessary as the neighborhood strives to reduce violence and poverty within the community and ensure each child has the chance to grow up in a safe and supportive environment.

While summer programming includes academic class work to help avoid "summer slide" and a wide range of sports and athletic activities, attendees of the Teen Center have also been able to take several field trips to places that their humble upbringings would otherwise preclude them from. So far in the summer months, the Teen Center has put together trips to Spectacle Island and George's Island, as well as a weekend overnight trip to Cape Cod. The students have also been able to experience outings at the USS Constitution Museum and Boston's Freedom Trail. They have canoed at Houghton's Pond, took surfing lessons at Hampton Beach, and attended the Save the Harbor/Save the Bay beach festival at Carson Beach.

Thanks to the generosity of donors, all of our Teen Center students will soon be enjoying an end of the summer session trip to Water Country.

We are grateful to our many donors and the many organizations and programs that help support summer enrichment programs across the region. The Teen Center, Summer Links, the City of Boston summer jobs program, and John Hancock's MLK Scholars program make it possible for young people to develop important job readiness skills. Save the Harbor/Save the Bay sponsors amazing programs for teens, the American Students Association-sponsored "Snapology" program brings STEAM education to our students, and local companies like City Realty make it possible for kids to have new and challenging summer experiences.

We are also grateful to Teen Center Director Joao Dos Santos and his dedicated staff for all that they do to make summer at the Teen Center such an amazing experience for our students. With another summer session soon ending, they turn their attention to the upcoming school year and afterschool programs for our young people.

To learn more about the Catholic Charities Teen Center at St. Peter's, go to ccab.org.

- Deborah Kincade Rambo is president of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Boston.



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