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Our Residents

Robinson Gardens Youth Group – an ongoing success story

Robinson Gardens Youth Group – an ongoing success story

Jose Rivera and Jimmie Mitchell outside the Big Y on St. James Avenue in Springfield.

Jose Rivera and Jimmie Mitchell outside the Big Y on St. James Avenue in Springfield.

As a charter member of Springfield Housing Authority’s Youth Group at Robinson Gardens Apartments, Jose Rivera is well qualified to describe the impact the weekday afternoon sessions have had on him.

“It was a good thing for me, and for everybody,” said Rivera, who at 21 is now a former member, though he visits regularly and has stayed in close contact with Youth Engagement Coordinator Jimmie Mitchell, who leads the group.

“Mr. Mitchell is like a mentor to me. He’s like that for all the kids. He makes you focus on the things you need to do to be successful, and he helps you stick with that,” Rivera added.

Rivera is in good company. He’s among 59 youth who live, or who have lived, at the family development in the Bay section of the city, and who have fallen into the growing net cast by Mitchell. And he’s among a few dozen who have ‘aged out’ of the program, going on to college, the military, job training, or gainful employment.

In Rivera’s case, he has a car, a job at the Big Y, and a plan for the future. And he gives credit to his time with the Youth Group, and the steady guidance Mitchell provides. Rivera continues to meet regularly with the man he considers a second father, someone he can always turn to for advice.

Mitchell, a retired counselor from the Putnam Vocational Technical Academy, was hired by SHA in October, 2011 to guide young people at the family development. Nearly four years into it, he has made strides in not only keep young people off the streets and away from danger, but thinking – and acting – on positive things that will lead them to good, productive lives.

SHA Executive Director William H. Abrashkin noted that the group is part of the Talk/Read/Succeed! program, which unites two dozen local agencies and groups for a holistic approach to early literacy at Robinson Gardens and Sullivan Apartments. The program connects the two developments with Dorman and Boland Elementary Schools.

“As T/R/S! developed, we realized the importance of also reaching older children in the families served, so that they would become positive supports rather than a negative influence for their younger siblings.  Thus the Youth Group was started,” Abrashkin noted.

Josh Rivera has a similar story.

Now 20, the Central High School graduate has a full-time job, a snazzy car, and the ability to save money to reach his personal goals. And he says with certainty that it all started with the Robinson Gardens Youth Group.

Josh Rivera was active in the Robinson Gardens Youth Group for three years, and said it helped steer him on a positive path.

Josh Rivera was active in the Robinson Gardens Youth Group for three years, and said it helped steer him on a positive path.

“I came here every day, and I liked it,” said Josh Rivera, who is no relation to Jose. “We did a lot of talking about what we were going to do with our lives after high school. We made plans, and we had Mr. Mitchell to keep us going on things.”

Like other former participants, Josh Rivera said the after-school sessions made all the difference in his life.

“It helped me stay in school,” he said. “I used to skip classes a lot before I came here. But after school, we’d always be talking about being successful, and what that means. It just made me think a lot and realize there were things I wanted to do.”

Josh Rivera works at Smith & Wesson, and drives a silver convertible Mitsubishi. And he still stops by regularly to visit Mitchell, whether to just chat in general or to talk about big decisions he’s considering.

“He’s a role model for me. He’s definitely made a big difference in my life,” Josh said.

Mitchell said, “Josh makes me feel good because of what he’s accomplished. Through him I can see that my work is paying off. His success is my success.”

There are many other such success stories in Mitchell’s portfolio. Four are now in college, several others in job training programs or the military. Most have held down summer jobs while attending school, and some, like Rivera, are gainfully employed.

Nakei Quarterman illustrates the data well. At 18, she owns a car, works two jobs, and is saving funds for acting school in New York City. And she gives credit to the afternoon program she attended every day through her years at Central High School, where she graduated last June.

“Mr. Mitchell definitely helped me lot,” said Quarterman, who is 18. “He got me my first job, and he got me one of the jobs I have now. He pretty much helps you with anything that’s on your mind, and he gives great advice.”

Like many teens who have gotten too busy to attend the afternoon sessions, Quarterman stops by when she can, to see what’s going on in the group and most importantly, to talk with Mitchell.

“I do that all the time, just talk to him about what’s on my mind,” she said. “He gives me advice about how to keep going with my school plans. If something good happens in my life or at one of my jobs, he congratulates me.”

What is the secret formula Mitchell mixes together to draw youth into the program, and keep them coming, day after day?

To a one, youth agree that his support and perseverance are key. He’s there every afternoon, he’s always available by telephone, and he doesn’t give up, even on the most reluctant. And his focus is on schooling, and jobs.

Abrashkin said the impact of the after-school teen group cannot be overstated. He is hoping to bring the concept to other family developments – as with anything, funding is an ongoing issue.

It is so encouraging to see young people drawn to healthy activities, in which many become involved,” Abrashkin said. “Jimmy Mitchell knows how to reach our youth, and they flock to him for assistance and direction.  He is a truly gifted man and our young people are very fortunate that he shares his gifts with them.”


3408 days ago / Our Residents,Talk/Read/Succeed!
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