I’ve been out of touch for a while, but Fern Forest Treehouse has been hopping with activity. One guy hiked his girlfriend up Mt. Abe with a ring in his pocket. At the summit, he popped the question. She said yes and later showed off the ring her fiancé had designed and had made for her. Another weekend, a family of four stayed a few nights with three- and five-year-old daughters, and we had a grand time playing games and roasting marshmallows over a campfire for s’mores. A mom brought her five-year-old son for a weekend, and he taught me to play Monkey Quest on the computer. Doug and Bettina paid us a second visit, this time with their new doggie Winnie. While they were here, these faithful friends made their reservation for next year.
This weekend four young people came to the Treehouse. H told Anny that the Treehouse sleeps only three, and she replied, “That’s okay. We’re all good friends.”
They drove up from Boston after work and arrived at 10:00 p.m. Almost immediately they hopped into the hot tub, and H and I listened to them chat until 3:00 a.m. I’d have dehydrated and run out of things to talk about, but these twenty-somethings needed to let off some steam. They work hard, and the next day we discovered just how hard.
Ray teaches fifth grade math at a charter school in Roxbury, a neighborhood 45 percent African-American and 32 percent Hispanic. Ray is intelligent and enthusiastic about working with young people, even though it’s often a struggle to keep children in school and help them develop positive self-images. Gabriel works with veterans at Bunker Hill Community College, coordinating with the VA to be sure veteran students are on task with the Administration’s required paperwork. A veteran himself, Gabe even edits their papers for them when requested. Barbara and Anny are on the staff of the Hyde Square Task Force, an agency established to help reverse the trend of youth violence in the neighborhood between Jamaica Plain and Roxbury, once known as the “cocaine capital of Boston.”
Anny fits in well with the Hyde Square Task Force because the program saved her when she was an adolescent hanging out with gang members and getting into fights. A quarter of the adult population in the Hyde Square community never completed high school and a third of households are run by single parents. In the ’80s, dealers sold drugs on the streets where gang violence was an everyday occurrence. Residents finally organized to discuss ways to keep their community safe and agreed that the focus needed to be on developing the skills of young people and their families.
Since its inception in 1991, the Hyde Square Task Force has grown into a professionally run nonprofit with a reputation as one of the most dynamic community-based organizations in Boston. The program serves a thousand youths ages six to twenty-one, focusing on arts and culture, leadership and college prep. Over the years HSTF has pushed for sex education in Boston public schools, written and performed music to create social change, and painted beautiful urban murals advocating peace and safety in their communities.
Barbara, originally from Schenectady, manages school-based and cultural programs and gets kids into dance and music activities. Anny got involved with the after school tutoring program when she was just 13, and the next year she became a youth literacy tutor. Now she’s an administrator and helps coordinate programs.I suggest that if you ever worry about the future of urban youth in America, you take a visit to the Hyde Square Task Force. Or, better yet, invite these young folks to come visit you. They’ll pick up after themselves. They’ll help clear the breakfast dishes. And they’ll tell you how much they love what they do. I have no doubt that the children they serve love them right back.