Dorchester Youth Collaborative reopens — under new agency
Shuttered outreach program joins up with Mission Hill nonprofit
AFTER SURVIVING BATTLES with both colon and prostate cancer in recent years, Emmett Folgert knows something about rebounding when things aren’t looking great.
So he insisted it wasn’t time to write him off in March, when the Dorchester Youth Collaborative that he ran closed its doors after 40 years as a refuge for young people in the Fields Corner neighborhood, a victim of uncertainty amid the pandemic. It was a devastating blow to young people who had come to rely on the program, which worked to steer at-risk young people away from trouble and reel in those who’ve already had been touched by gangs and brushes with law enforcement back toward more positive pursuits.
At the time, Folgert told the young people the agency worked with that, one way or another, he would continue to stay connected to them and be someone they could count on. He was vague about exactly how that would happen. But after several months of quiet conversations with other youth organizations, Folgert is back in action — operating out of the same second-story warren of rooms in the heart of the Dorchester business district where he’s been a fixture for decades.
Folgert struck an agreement to resume the Dorchester youth services as a program operating within MissionSAFE, a Mission Hill youth services nonprofit with a similar mission and target population.
“I’m so excited,” said Folgert. “We really were dead,” he said of the youth collaborative, whose board voted to shut down the organization in early March amid uncertainty about fundraising and a leadership succession plan when Folgert, who is 70, decides to hand over the reins. (The indefatigable mentor of hundreds of Dorchester youth says he has no retirement plans.)
“We’re going to be working with the same kids we’ve worked with for 40 years,” said Folgert, who will direct a program now known as Safe City Dorchester that operates as part of MissionSAFE.
Flionis said the two organizations had lots of programs that “were complementary but different.” MissionSAFE runs an afterschool program, while DYC has long operated what Folgert refers to as an “after afterschool program” — services in the late afternoon and early evening where kids without stable home lives can come to do homework and maybe get a meal under the watchful eye of the agency’s staff. MissionSAFE has a visual arts program, while Folgert has connections in the region’s film industry that have exposed young people to scriptwriting and work as extras in films produced here.
“There’s going to be just a huge synergy with all the talent on both teams,” said Flionis.
MissionSAFE has a staff of seven between full-time and part-time employees. The Dorchester Youth Collaborative operated with a team of 10, mostly part-time.
“We have the same goal for young people — working with young people who have been violence involved, or have been getting into trouble and not in school,” said Flionis.
Folgert has developed strong ties over the years with teachers and other staff at the Boston schools where many DYC kids are enrolled. He’s been able to work in tandem with them to try to keep students on track. It’s something that he was even pursuing during the early months of the pandemic, before the agency’s shutdown, when he’d check in with kids virtually or in masked, outdoor meet-ups, offering video game cards as rewards for those who were keeping up with their remote learning assignments.
Neema Avashia, a social studies teacher at the McCormack Middle School in Dorchester, has been one of the key school contacts Folgert has had. “We are trying to figure out how you continue to partner and support kids when no one is actually seeing kids,” she said in May of last year about her work with Folgert and the DYC team.
Now that things are reopening and students returned to school for the closing weeks of the school year that ended last month, Folgert said the work will shift toward helping young people come back from the extraordinary experience they’ve been through.
“They’ve been sitting around TVs for a year and half,” he said. “We’re going to do a lot of therapeutic mentoring to help them deal with the trauma of being locked down. They’ve lost ground in terms of socializing. We’re going to have to be very patient with them.”
If there’s a silver lining to the roller-coaster ride DYC has experienced it may be that reopening under the umbrella of MissionSAFE means Folgert is now relieved of some of the administrative duties he used to be responsible for and can focus entirely on the work with young people that has motivated him for 40 years.“It frees him up to use his vision and his genius,” said Flionis. “He’s back to what he loves to do.”