Dorchester YMCA Provides Second Home for Teens

Last year, the Dorchester branch gave out 754 memberships and is targeting 1,000 for 2016

In the summertime, the Dorchester YMCA turns into a second home for teenagers. 

"Get Summer" allows any teen to get a free membership to any of the 13 branches of the YMCA of Greater Boston. Last year, the Dorchester branch gave out 754 memberships and is targeting 1,000 for 2016. 

"Some of the kids are here before I get here, which is about 8:30 in the morning. So they are in this building from 7am until 11pm," said Andrea Baez, Executive Director of the Dorchester Y. "It is constant controlled chaos in this building all day long, and all evening long." 

The reason for the program is clear: Keep kids off the streets. 

"In those 10 weeks of summer that there is little to no adult supervision for them, we are it," Baez said. 

One component of the program is the food offered to kids. The Greater Boston YMCA branches will serve some 200,000 meals this summer alone. 

"Everyone comes here to do their homework, play games, watch movies. And they also provide us with food, too, so it's like another home for us," said Rasheed Belus, a 16-year-old. 

That second home allows kids to play, hang out, study, and even cook. 

"At first, they're not always excited about it, like seeing raw meat for the first time," said Reggie Jean, the YMCA's Teen Director. "Cooking is really like building that relationship. What you put in is what you get out, and it's the same thing as the work that we do with the kids." 

Jean is also a success story for the YMCA's summer program. 

"I was in gangs, I was getting in a lot of trouble," Jean said. "But someone gave me an opportunity, someone was a mentor, and that's what I'm trying to provide back to these kids." 

Rasheed Belus is one of those kids. He wasn't going to school very much, so Jean and his team addressed it with dramatic results. Rasheed is now focused on getting into college and got hired this summer as a swim teacher at the YMCA. 

"It's the ones that you're able to help that really give you that energy to keep going," said Jean. 

Providing employment opportunities is a key component of the program. Every summer, about 60 teenagers draw a paycheck from the YMCA. For most, it is their first job ever. 

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