Battling the influence of the streets

Youth at the Worcester Youth Center.
Youth at the Worcester Youth Center.

By Miranda Aufiero, Anthony Begins, Joseph Everett and Tim Shaffer

“Anger.” This is the one word Hilda Ramirez uses to describe the overall demeanor and attitude of young people before they arrive at the Worcester Youth Center.

Ramirez, executive director of the center, is in a daily fight to keep the youth of Worcester off the streets and on a non-violent path. And she’s fighting a rising tide. The crime rate in the city is on the increase and Ramirez believes the youth are the key to curing the evils of the streets.

“Youth are honest, they tell you why things like this are happening, we just need to listen,” says Ramirez.

Despite the efforts of police, the crime rate in the city has been growing slightly year over year – mirroring a growth in other cities in the state. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigations yearly reports on crime, there were 1,390 violent crimes within city limits in 2005. In 2009, that number rose to 1,790, with population remaining about the same. Included in those figures are the number of documented aggravated assault crimes, which have risen by 492 cases since 2005. The burglary rate has increased by 16 percent. Larceny and theft have risen by a total of 849 cases per year since 2005.

A youth at the Worcester Youth Center practices his break dancing moves.

A youth at the Worcester Youth Center practices his break dancing moves.

Ramirez believes that the work being done at the center will help mitigate these numbers. It’s a problem rooted in poverty and poor home environments that points youths toward the street.

“The younger kids that drop out of school are often recruited by gang members,” says Ramirez.  “And a lot of them accept because they have nothing else to do with their time.”

Ramirez says the young people do not attend school for a number of reasons. Whether it is expulsion for reasons ranging from fighting to bringing in weapons to school, or merely because they have absentee parents, all of these dropouts will most likely be affected by the violence on the streets. Ramirez made a point to say that these youths have no positive role models, and many are in custody of the juvenile court system, foster system or live in single-parent homes.

“And once they start committing crimes, it can become a way of life,” she added.

Center to the philosophy of the Worcester Youth Center is the idea that the best tool for preventing these young people from falling into this life of crime is prevention.

The mission statement of the Center reads “to provide a place where young people can build lasting, positive changes in their lives.” This goal is accomplished by Ramirez and her team through scheduling and leading the youths down a more virtuous path.

“Youth need a lot of structure,” Ramirez said, “and when they don’t have that, they get into these bad situations.”

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