This is an excerpt from a piece written by Sharon Sheridan.
It was the first day of B-SAFE, St. Stephen’s Youth Program’s summer enrichment program in the South End and Lower Roxbury neighborhoods of Boston. One girl in Priscilla Alcantara’s group kept wandering off, unwilling to talk to the other sixth-graders, because her friends were in a different group. Alcantara, a teen staff member, asked if Priscilla wanted to talk to her instead. Alcantara, 17, stayed with the girl and helped her feel comfortable making new friends.
For 14 summers shy youngsters have been making new friends during B-SAFE, a fun academic enrichment program which serves 625 elementary and middle-school children. It also employs 30 Junior Counselors in training and 100 Counselors-in-training at six locations in the Boston area (four are stand-alone summer sites in Dorchester, Mattapan and Chelsea). Four days a week, the youngsters attend morning academic programs followed by lunch, reading time and afternoon field trips to parks or cultural institutions. Fridays, they take day-long field trips outside the city, usually to a farm, park, lake or beach.
B-SAFE is the summer portion of St. Stephen’s year-round programming. Begun by St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Boston’s South End in 2000, B-SAFE partners with about 52 Episcopal churches, 1,000 volunteers, area schools, colleges, museums, cultural organizations, artistic groups, farms and parks. Churches provide program space, lunches, transportation and admissions costs for field trips, other in-kind donations and volunteers. Local organizations and businesses provide hands-on enrichment curriculum, tours, and instruction.
B-READY is their after-school program. It provides elementary and middle school students with one-on-one tutoring, homework help, and academic enrichment throughout the school year. In addition, for middle and high school aged students, it includes leadership training, social organizing, and college and career mentoring. Teen employment in year-round programming is an essential part of their model. It keeps students in long-term, year-round relationships with St. Stephen’s. They experience being positive role models, learning valuable job skills, earning income, and accessing academic and emotional support.
Year-round programming helps to bridge the educational gap between inner city students who attend poorly-funded schools and their more wealthy suburban counterparts. Research shows that learning gaps between low income inner city students and their more affluent suburban peers are cumulative and attributable to “summer slide” in their academic skills which result from their lack of access to ongoing learning and enrichment during the summer months.
Children and teens come from neighborhoods around the program sites and reflect those neighborhoods — often living in public housing, in families receiving public services, attending underperforming public schools, sometimes coming from foster homes, or involved with the court system – according to Reverend Liz Steinhauser, St. Stephen’s priest associate and director of youth programs. They represent a rich variety of cultural and religious backgrounds. Moreover, “the majority of the kids that we’re working with would not have a summer program to go to” without B-SAFE, Steinhauser said.
Participating teens benefit from meaningful jobs, training around issues such as healthy relationships and bullying, and the chance to visit colleges and receive mentoring. Michael Cordero, 16, entered the St. Stephen’s program as a third-grader and now is a staff member working with third- and fourth-graders for the summer. “St. Stephen’s just kind of opened up … a whole new world,” he said. “The neighborhood I’m in, it’s not bad. It just doesn’t have as many opportunities as it should.” St. Stephen’s has given him a job, the chance to see and learn new things and just be himself, he said. Priscilla Alcantara said it had opened doors for her as well, including involving her in community organizing and service during the school year including reopening a greenhouse at a local school.
Funding comes from their host churches, partner churches, foundation funders, individual donors and volunteers and is dependent upon the generosity of those people and groups. Please take a look at the many options of making a donation.
Also, please read more about the B-Safe Program and download an application if it is right for you!