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Youth Programs

Youth Council at Robinson Gardens

Youth Council at Robinson Gardens

Change is in the air at Robinson Gardens Apartments, and teens and young adults at the Springfield Housing Authority development are beginning to take notice.

Young men like 17-year-old Luis Marin are looking toward the future in a positive way, believing they can succeed despite the difficulties they face. And 15-year-old Abo Moge is growing more determined than ever to carve out her dream career as an interpreter.

“I know what I want to do, and now I know that I can do it,” said Marin, a high school dropout who yearns to be an automobile mechanic. He’s faced many setbacks in his young life, and found himself until recently spending more time in front of the television in his living room than trying to aim for a better life.

The three are among two dozen teens and young adults who have found a new focus with Jimmie Mitchell, a retired city educator and himself a product of public housing. Mitchell was hired in late 2011 by the Springfield Housing Authority as youth engagement coordinator at Robinson.

The job comes courtesy of the Talk/Read/Succeed! program, a collaboration of the SHA and 13 local schools and agencies, funded primarily through a W.K. Kellogg Foundation grant and managed by the United Way of Pioneer Valley. While the bulk of the grant is aimed at boosting reading skills in families with young children, Mitchell’s job lands him squarely on what may be the most immediate group at risk – teens and young adults who have drifted away from school and the job market.

And Mitchell’s attitude is one of determination to succeed.

“As long as I’m here, I’m not going to give up on any one of these kids,” said Mitchell. “They are what I was growing up, I am just like them. They look at me, they see they can be successful.”

Youth Council at Robinson Gardens

SHA Youth Engagement Coordinator Jimmie Mitchell, center, is surrounded by a group of young men and women at Robinson Gardens.

Mitchell, 62, is the oldest of the 10 children of Farris and Julia Mitchell. The family lived at Riverview Apartments, an SHA development in the Brightwood section of the city.

Mitchell remembers well his father’s penchant for urging his own children – and all young people within earshot at Riverview – to stay out of trouble, to stay in school, and to stay on track in their lives. His efforts reaped remarkable results, not the least of which is that each of the Mitchell children completed high school, and all attended college.

Now, Mitchell seeks to inspire others in much the same way his father steered him through the young years.

Every afternoon, he lands in his tiny office at Robinson Gardens, taking just moments to settle in before heading out to knock on doors and engage youth. So far, he’s been batting a thousand, with attendance at the Tuesday afternoon meetings continuing to climb steadily.

Those who attended a recent afternoon session had all good things to say about Mitchell and his outreach efforts.

“I want to get a job, and I know Mr. Mitchell can help me with that,” said 15-year-old Iyahna Ayala, a freshman at Chicopee Comprehensive High School. She has lived at Robinson Gardens all her life.

Youth Council at Robinson Gardens

Anjell Harris, 21, and Iyahna Ayala, 15, say Mitchell is making a difference among youth at Robinson.

Angel Serrano, 20, has a diploma from the High School of Commerce, but he hasn’t worked for awhile. He mostly plays basketball, baseball and football with his friends at Robinson.

“It’s fun, but I want to plan for my future,” Serrano said. “I need to find out what I want to do, and then do it.”

Mitchell frequently brings in speakers to help motivate and focus his growing group of young people. On a recent Tuesday, motivational speaker Andrew Keaton of ‘Brotherhood on the Move’ told of his own hard knocks days growing up at Robinson Gardens.

“You have to put yourself in situations where you are creating opportunities for yourself,” Keaton said. “You’ve got to keep yourself busy. You can be what you want to be, as long as it fits your skills. There’s nothing too small, and nothing too big, if it’s what you want to do.”

4552 days ago / Youth Programs
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