Lynn Youth Outreach Groups Make Pitch for Funds

March 11, 2011 at 1:02 pm Leave a comment

LYNN – With his imposing stature and steely glare, Francisco Paulino, a former leader in Lynn’s Crips gang, used to spend his days stirring up trouble on city streets.

Now, with the help of Straight Ahead Ministries, he has transformed into a role model for city youth who may be leaning toward following in his violent footsteps.

“I realized that maybe I didn’t have to wear blue when I got out of jail, or gang bang…that I didn’t have to do none of that anymore,” he said. “I felt like they gave me hope and talked to me about things that I didn’t see possible.”

Hundreds of kids like Paulino have been helped by Straight Ahead since it was founded in 1991, but with looming budget cuts, the program, and others like it, may be headed toward a dead end. With that in mind, city leaders gathered at Lynn Police Dept. headquarters Wednesday to stress the importance of garnering additional funding.

“We’re pleading for more money to make sure these programs remain a priority,” said Maroli Licardie, executive director at Family & Children’s Service of Greater Lynn. “Potential budget cuts might mean these programs won’t exist next year. We want to continue them and provide the youth with programs so that the city will become a better place to live.”

Gang-involved arrests in the city are on the rise, according to attorney Barbara Kaban of the Children’s Law Center on Union Street, with 288 tallied in 2009 and 333 in 2010. “The average age of kids being inducted into gangs is 11-13 years old and they stay involved way into their 20s,” she said. “We’re all working hard to reduce violence, but we still have a bad gang problem in Lynn.”

In an effort to curb those numbers, city programs have been created through the Shannon Anti-Gang Violence program, which funds 28 municipalities for law enforcement suppression of gangs, intervention with youth in the juvenile justice system as well as those currently in gangs. However, funding has slowly begun to dwindle. In fiscal 2009, the program was funded at $13 million, which plummeted to $6.5 million in fiscal 2010 and $4 million in 2011.

Equally hit hard are the Youth Violence Prevention Programs run statewide, which are funded by the Department of Public Health. Fiscal 2009 was at $3.9 million, which dropped to $2 million in 2010 and $1.5 million in 2011.

Still, day or night, Antonio Gutierrez of Straight Ahead is out on the streets at all hours, talking to kids about steering away from gangs and directing them down the path to positive activities.

“It hurts, because it will leave these kids without another option,” he said. “But we can’t turn our backs if the money gets cut because the battle continues and we’re just getting started.”

Other groups on hand at the meeting included Teen Scene, a violence prevention drop-in center at Family & Children’s Service and KAYA (Khmer Americans Youth in America), which is offered at the Lynn Community Health Center.

Police chief Kevin Coppinger stressed the importance of the youth groups remaining in the city.

“Every bit of help that we can get to make the city a safer place is a win-win for everyone,” he said.

By Robin Kaminski / The Daily Item

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Entry filed under: Lynn, Straight Ahead. Tags: , .

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