Teens take center stage at Duggan Park Apartments
There’s a new place for teens to go after school at Springfield Housing Authority’s Duggan Park Apartments.
The Youth Group at Duggan runs every weekday afternoon at the Goodwin Street community center that is home to Talk/Read/Succeed!, SHA’s family-based early literacy program running at three housing developments. When school is over, teens who live in the family development in the Indian Orchard section of the city are welcome to stop by.
Under the guidance of Brandi Moore, newly hired Youth Engagement Coordinator at SHA, teens gather with a few important items on the agenda: Homework with help if needed, projects and discussions aimed at self-reflection and self-improvement, along with a good dose of fun.
“We stay as busy as possible, starting out with the homework,” Moore said. “When you’re doing well in school, the rest is much more likely to fall into place. So we stress that.”
The expansion of youth programming under the T/R/S! program has long been a goal, as a means to close the gap from early childhood and adult programming to offer constructive and welcoming places for teens.
SHA Executive Director Denise Jordan said quality youth programming is a step towards helping young people individually as well as making the city stronger.
“Having a constructive and fun place for teens to go after school is an important piece of our work with families,” she said. “At Duggan, our participating youth are getting positive activities and forming strong bonds with neighbors and with our trained staff.”
T/R/S! is in its 11th year at SHA, united three public housing developments – Duggan, Robinson Gardens and Sullivan – with their feeder neighborhood elementary schools – Indian Orchard, Dorman and Boland. Other agencies and organizations are also involved, including the Springfield School Department and City Library, the Springfield Education Association, Baystate Medical Center, Behavioral Health Network, and the Eric Carle Museu
The youth component has been particularly successful at Robinson Gardens, where for the past decade an after-school and summer program has guided dozens of teens towards academic success, job training, internships and for some, college.
SHA Resident Services Director Pamela Wells explained the philosophy behind the youth programming.
“The primary goal is to promote safe and healthy passage through teenage years and to build participant’s capacity for success in school, home and the workplace,” Wells said. “The program also provides opportunities for enhancing social and emotional skills.”
She added, “The program has been operating at Robinson Gardens for a number of years and has proven successful. We have watched many graduates of the program finish high school and either enter the workforce or enroll in either a training or higher education.”
Moore is working to do the same at Duggan. As a start, she has been busy recruiting Duggan residents aged 13 to 19 to stop by on weekday afternoons and partake of the programming. The numbers have grown in her first few months on the job.
Besides schoolwork, Moore leads regular discussions that encourage teens to get to know each other and inspire reflections that lead to positive plans for the future – and that can be measured in days, weeks as well as beyond.
She said that as word is spreading, more youth are spending time after school at the center.
“We start out with the homework to help keep them on track with school and to identify any issues the teens may be having with a particular subject or anything else,” Moore said.
After that comes journaling, with teens often writing out goals and how they will reach them.
Moore, who has worked with young people for several years, believes that setting goals, both short-term and long, make a big difference. That is especially true when the teens are checking in on them weekly, sometimes even daily.
“We make sure their academics are on those goals, and anything else they want to accomplish. We do a discussion check-in on that where they can check off what they’ve done, and talk about how they’re going to approach the rest,” she said. “I tell them if they accomplish two out of 10 goals in a week, they should feel good.”
The afternoon ends with some quiet time, where youth can play games, read or talk amongst each other.
Moore is a lifelong Springfield resident who worked for several years as continuing education coordinator at the Westover Job Corps Center in Chicopee, and educational and job skills training program for teens and young adults across the region.
That work, she said, prepared her nicely for the Duggan program.
Teens who stop by after school give the program high grades.
“It’s good here,” said David Hunter, who is 14.
“I like it that we’re together and we can talk about stuff or just have some fun after we get our school work done,” said the eighth grader at Kennedy Middle School.
Vivianna Martinez, 15, agreed.
“I like it here because I can hang out with my friends, and if I’ve had a tough day, I can talk to Brandi about it. I like working on the goals because it keeps us focused,” added the ninth grader at the Roger L. Putnam Vocational Technical Academy.
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