Serving the Bowdoin-Geneva neighborhood of Dorchester, the Teen Center is a safe haven offering after-school and summer programs that include academic enrichment, sports and recreation, wellness resources, free meals and transportation, and other support services for many of Boston's youth.
From helping to soothe infant babies during nap time at Catholic Charities Boston's Yawkey Child Care Center, to stocking grocery bags at the agency's Food Pantry in Dorchester, a group of motivated teenagers are having a powerful impact at Catholic Charities this summer.
Through funding from the City of Boston's Department of Youth Engagement and Employment Successlink Program as well as the John Hancock MLK Scholarships, 45 members of Catholic Charities Teen Center at St. Peter's landed meaningful summer employment in various areas of the agency, all providing invaluable life experience.
Breyner Depina, a Teen Center alum and now a junior at Framingham State University, has been working as a supervisor for counselors-in-training at the Teen Center this summer and hopes to get a full-time job there after graduation.
"This place made such a difference in my life," he said. "A lot of kids who come here have challenging family situations, or they are new to the U.S, but here, they feel welcome and have an opportunity to experience things they otherwise wouldn't."
"This is a way to reward teens who have been working really hard and also a way to provide them or their families with some extra income for the summer," said Joao Dos Santos, director of the Teen Center.
Serving the Bowdoin-Geneva neighborhood of Dorchester, the Teen Center is a safe haven offering after-school and summer programs that include academic enrichment, sports and recreation, wellness resources, free meals and transportation, and other support services for many of Boston's youth. While the pandemic had a slight impact on membership, the center's seven full-time staff and team of volunteers were able to serve 250 teens this past school year, with 150 enrolled in the summer program.
The teens' help has not gone unnoticed. Kathleen Nichols, director of Child Care Services at the Yawkey Center, said the teens have made a tremendous difference in the classrooms and on the playground, some working with groups of children and others being assigned to an individual student as a one-on-one mentor.
One Teen Center member, Lucille Pino, said he has become particularly close to a toddler with special needs; Nichols said the young boy lights up when he sees Pino enter the room and that Pino has helped him to become more engaged with the other children.
"The kids are all smart in their own ways and have so much curiosity," said Pino. "I've learned a lot from them."
Another Teen Center member, Tatiana Mopes, who speaks English and Cape Verdean, said that she has formed a strong connection with one of the babies who initially had a hard time being away from his mother and spent much of the day fussing. Also coming from a Cape Verdean-speaking family, the baby was instantly comforted by the sound of Mopes' voice speaking in a language that felt safe and familiar.
"The mother loves knowing someone who shares her language and culture is making her child feel at home," said Nichols.
The teens' warm, welcoming presence can also be felt at the Yawkey Food Pantry, where Beth Chambers, director of Basic Needs, said a group of five Teen Center members has been busy emptying food delivery trucks, stocking bags, greeting clients, and helping transport food to their vehicles all summer.
"The teens are so respectful, and I love hearing them talking and laughing as they help our clients," said Chambers.
"I like working here because I get to support people that need something, and I love helping," said Kees De Pina, a Teen Center member who has been working at the Yawkey Food Pantry this summer. "I hope to work here again in the future."
While the Teen Center is advertised at local community health centers and in some Boston Public Schools, Dos Santos said its wide-spread network was primarily fostered through word of mouth among the teenagers themselves -- through young people seeking to support other young people.
"We are a real community, and we want to help the teens and their families in any way we can," said Dos Santos.
To learn more about Catholic Charities Teen Center at St. Peter's or to support their work, visit ccab.org/teencenter.
SHANNON LYONS IS THE PR AND COMMUNICATIONS MANAGER FOR CATHOLIC CHARITIES BOSTON.