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Fight for Youth Programs

Today, a coalition of city leaders, law enforcement officials, and community groups will converge on Beacon Hill to ask legislators to continue funding anti-gang and youth violence prevention programs.

They're fighting Governor Deval Patrick's budget proposal to cut The Shannon Community Safety Initiative. It was one of many programs cut as the governor tried to close a $1.3 billion budget shortfall.

Now, supporters of the initiative are asking the legislature to reinstate and double the funding next year. WBUR's Monica Brady-Myerov reports.TEXT OF STORY

MONICA BRADY-MYEROV: The Shannon Community Safety Initiative was created a little over a year ago after Boston was shocked by a quadruple homicide. Four young men who attended Wakefiled High school were shot in the basement of a Dorchester home. Legislators responded by appropriating eleven million dollars in grants for programs that fight gang violence.

Since then, 15 coalitions and 34 communities have received Shannon grant money to beef up existing programs and seed new ones. Marc Draisen, executive director of the Metropolitan Area Planning Council, says the grants have been used to help community groups share strategies on gang violence across city and town lines.

MARC DRAISEN: One of the key precepts behind this program is that gangs do not respect municipal boundaries but in the past most state and federal funding went to individual police departments or community groups for one city or town. The critical point behind this program is that cities and towns need to cooperate with each other.

BRADY-MYEROV: One way they do that is by bringing anti-gang units together to share information. Somerville has also used the money to hire more at-risk kids as outreach workers and keep the Somerville school gym open during school vacations. Mayor Joseph Curtatone says it adds up to a safer city.

JOSEPH CURTATONE: In Somerville alone youth arrest decreased 34 percent last year. The number of students reporting involvement in extra curricular activities increased from 58 percent in 2004 to 63 percent last year the number who did volunteer work increased from 25 percent in 2004 to 31 percent in 2006.

BRADY-MYEROV: Chelsea used Shannon grants to expand after school programs at the Boys and Girls Club and pay for transportation to bring kids in from other communities, says Josh Monahan, co-coordinator of the grants for the city.

JOSH MONAHAN: It has enabled them to keep one of their, I think their rec room open for general use for these kids to get off the streets. It has enable them to keep that open for a longer period of time because they are able to hire more staff.

BRADY-MYEROV: At the Dorchester Youth Collaborative a drop in center for kids at-risk of joining gangs, director Emmett Folgert says now is not the time to cut outreach. He notes that Boston's murder rate is outpacing last year's and there is an increase in shootings.

EMMETT FOLGERT: Kids come into safe haven like this like they climbing onto rafts in a storm. Its scary out there.

BRADY-MYEROV: The DYC doesn't use Shannon grants currently, but Folgert will apply for funding if the grants are doubled next year as community leaders are requesting today.

FOLGERT: You know what money does? When you come down to it a little bit of money puts a lot of really good adults with kids during high crime hours during this crisis of violence.

BRADY-MYEROV: Every day a dozen or more kids come by the center to hang out and get a dollar to buy a snack, after they answer Folgert's question of the day.

FOLGERT: Tell me one good thing, one bad thing that happened to you. One good thing: I think I did a good job on the MCAS and the bad thing is I fell asleep during the MCAS. It always puts me to sleep.

BRADY-MYEROV: That's 17-year old George Ashby.

GEORGE ASHBY: The reason I come here is, like, it's a safe environment and I know I won't get hurt here so I can just sit here and use the computer, play some video games, eat some food.

BRADY-MYEROV: If the legislature fails to fund the Shannon grants, money will run out this summer. While governor Patrick's budget cut the grants, it does add 250 new police officers and his administration says it hopes to restore funding to youth outreach programs when possible.

For WBUR I'm Monica Brady-Myerov.

This program aired on March 29, 2007. The audio for this program is not available.

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