Haven for city teens in peril
There are the periodic public squabbles that break out over who is doing what to quell violence in Boston neighborhoods and who is bears responsibility for stopping the cycle of retaliatory attacks that often make bad situations worse. Such was the case earlier this week with finger pointing over the Sunday shooting of a Roxbury 6-year-old.
Then there are those like Emmett Folgert who labor outside the limelight, keeping a lid on further mayhem and helping young people get their lives onto more productive paths.
The longtime director of the Dorchester Youth Collaborative has spent more than 35 years working out of a barebones outpost in Fields Corner that thousands of teens have turned to as a refuge from troubled streets. With a mix of grants and donations, the center has persisted through all those years, cobbling together a program that includes of sports activities, early evening homework sessions, and impromptu poetry and rap writing. But Folgert tells the Herald’s Peter Gelzinis that government grants have gotten tight and private donors “seem to be under a lot of pressure as well.”
Folgert has not just been a mentor to countless numbers of kids on the edge of trouble and involvement in area gangs, he’s been a father figure to many of them.
Consider brothers George and Johnny Huynh, whose story Globe reporter Billy Baker beautifully told in this heart-wrenching 2011 piece and in this incredibly good-news follow-up in 2013. Or Damone Clark, a teen Folgert mentored but whose cancer he could not stop. They became so close that, at Damone’s request, Folgert delivered the eulogy at his funeral when he died a year ago at age 17.
Then there is the everyday hard work Folgert does networking and connecting kids to opportunities that seem to come much easier to well-off kids in the suburbs — like summer jobs hawking hot dogs at Fenway Park, part of the ongoing battle to win out over gangs and their promise of easy money.
Though it all, Folgert has managed to be an advocate for kids on the brink of trouble — or already in it — while also maintaining good relationships with police.
If the Dorchester Youth Collaborative goes under, Police Commissioner Bill Evans tells Gelzinis, “then the Boston police lose a key resource in the continuing effort to build a dialogue with kids in a critical location in this city.”
The BPD’s Superintendent-in Chief William Gross says, “Emmett Folgert and the Dorchester Youth Collaborative have built more bridges between the black, Asian and Latino youth population than almost any place I know. We can’t lose it.”
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