If you tried, you probably could hear a pin drop in the room. On a February evening, during a special visit to the Department of Youth Services (DYS) Metro Pre-Trial Detention Unit, nearly a dozen young men sat attentively and completely absorbed in the words shared by special guest speaker Jerome Allen, Assistant Coach for the NBA Boston Celtics.
While taking a break from the basketball court, Mr. Allen brought his coaching skills and personal experiences to connect with DYS youth and remind them that “it’s not about where you start; it’s about where you will go from here. You may have made some mistakes that are costing you something but you can break the cycle, learn from it, and change it.”
Over the years, thanks to Reverend Bob Gray- the Chaplain of the Boston Celtics, many athletes and adult role models like Coach Allen have come to talk to youth in DYS custody. Reverend Gray, who once worked as a Juvenile Probation Officer, connects youth with adults who share their personal stories and can deliver the message that dedication and hard work are the pathways out of tough situations.
DYS residential staff and youth were incredibly engaged and inspired by Coach Allen. After sharing stories about his personal obstacles, educational experiences, and professional successes, Allen opened the floor up to questions from the youth. Somewhat surprising were the questions the youth asked of Coach Allen. No questions were asked about fame, wealth, or even basketball. Instead, the youth connected with Allen on a deeper level and, asked the coach questions like: What was the moment that made you want to turn your life around? How were you able to cope with all the anger you felt from a rough childhood? What are the best tips you can give somebody who wants to change their life around?
The residents shared their thoughts on the visit and special guests, saying that they appreciated that “It was real, they were genuine and cool.” “They had a lot in common with our lives.” “They were cool sharing their situations and they made talking to them comfortable.”
This special guest visit is an example of the Department’s ongoing commitment to create opportunities that promote positive development and experiences for youth in custody. We appreciate all the athletes and role models who have visited DYS residential programs and spoken with our young people. DYS collaborated with the Celtics Office of Community Engagement and the Boston Public Schools Program of Student Voice and Initiatives to make this opportunity possible. These types of relationships undoubtedly bridge important connections that translate into big wins for youth.
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