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Interns Right Size This is the second in a series of guest posts researched and written by five summer interns with the DPH Youth Violence Prevention Program. Their names are (l to r) Sanjay Raju, Lisandra Carranza, Amy Nwaobasi, Joseph Fox, and Imani Cosby.

We’ve all heard the saying that "it takes a village to raise a child" – but what happens when the village is in need? This is the story of a community organization in Springfield that faced just such a situation – and responded. They’re called AWAKE, Inc., which stands for Alive With Awareness, Knowledge and Empowerment. AWAKE is an organization that was founded with the purpose of reaching out to youth with the very message encapsulated in their name.   

Recently we visited Springfield for a chat with co-founder Chelan Brown and some of the young people who participate in the program. We wanted to find out what AWAKE is all about, why they’re needed, and the positive impact they’ve had on the community.

Founded in 2003 as a grassroots organization, AWAKE runs many community and youth development programs and has a mission to provide access to youth, community, and social services for youth and families in order to create a healthier, safer community for all.  AWAKE coordinates comprehensive youth development and family support programming that focuses on encouraging behavior change, coordinating intensive case management, mentoring, and leadership development for youth and families.  AWAKE is most known for our expertise in reaching and providing quality youth development services to highest and proven risk youth.  They work with youth ages 13-25, and their families.

AWAKE programs include:  Helping Young People Excel (HYPE), A Better Choice (ABC) High Risk Youth Intervention Program, Keepers Of the Peace (KOP) Street Outreach Program, Springfield Youth Network Youth Leadership Program, Springfield Trauma Response Network (STRN), and the Springfield Youth Corp.

Young people making a difference: the AWAKE Springfield Youth Corps 

Operating for the last few years without a great amount of funding, AWAKE is recognized in Springfield as experts in reaching proven risk youth and their families.  AWAKE has been so successful in this area because as the research shows, they hire outreach workers from the community who have a vested interest in saving the lives of local youth.  AWAKE’s outreach workers know the youth, and because AWAKE has been doing this work for the last eight years, they have built solid relationships with many street gangs, and youth who are most likely to be perpetrators or victims of serious violence, and their families. 

In December of 2010, after losing six area young people to violence and or other sudden death, AWAKE launched the Rebuilding The Village (RTV) initiative during an Emergency Community Meeting called to galvanize the community – a meeting attended by more than 75 local residents, community members, youth, and city leaders.  The folks at AWAKE believe that it takes a village to raise a child, but when the village is broken, all too often the child will be broken too. AWAKE aims to help mend the village so its families and children can be whole, well, and safe. The RTV is a community wide coalition of residents, clergy, youth, parents, youth workers, non-profit organizations, community and health organizations, educators, and clinicians with a mission to “Rebuild the Springfield Village”.  The RTV Initiative coordinates community action teams which work from action plans they have developed to decrease youth crime and foster a village of support for young people and their families.  RTV is the missing link to solving many of the social ills we face by focusing on the Village Building model which says that we are all part of ONE Village, and we will ALL stand up and accept the responsibility of saving our youth, our families, and our communities.

Without funding, the AWAKE RTV initiative includes participation by the following partners:  Greater Springfield Council of Churches, Baystate Medical Center, Behavioral Health Network, Families On A Mission, Academic & Behavioral Clinic, and the Urban League of Springfield.

The RTV activities include matching one adult with one youth, providing intensive trauma support services, providing family support services, works closely with the Springfield School Department to decrease the drop-out rate, mobilizes clergy and other faith based leaders to restore the church back to being the pillar of the community, and works hard to make the general community of families, parents, and youth aware of the services that are available to help them succeed and make good choices.

AWAKE’s innovative programs for youth include services that engage youth directly  on the street to enroll them into AWAKE programs;  provides immediate assistance when there’s been a violent crime, acting as a liaison between the police, hospital, and families of the victims, and provides services around Positive Youth Development and Leadership through the work of the Springfield Youth Network (SYN), which is an AWAKE-sponsored alliance of young people who are the forefront of promoting youth rights in the city.

AWAKE staff have assisted local individuals wanted for various crimes to surrender to authorities, have coordinated intensified case management and wrap around services for youth to include placing them in employment settings, helping with CORI issues, helping youth who drop out re-enroll back in school or enroll in a GED program, helped families who have lost their children to violent crime and/or sudden death with burial and after burial trauma related services, and worked hard to build trust with the community in order to receive information on violent crime to share with law enforcement when appropriate. 

All these programs have helped reduce violence and engage young people to be more active in the community. Participating youth feel they have a place where their voice can be heard and they can feel safe. AWAKE has taken it upon themselves to rebuild and unite their city, one young person at a time.

This program is funded by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, Youth Violence Prevention grants within the Child and Youth Prevention unit.


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