Metro

THOMAS FARRAGHER

After shooting death, program offers safety, hope, and a future

Jonathan Ramos attended a 2013 candlelight vigil for his cousin Jorge Fuentes held by St. Stephen's Episcopal Church.

Aram Boghosian for The Boston Globe/File

Jonathan Ramos attended a 2013 candlelight vigil for his cousin, Jorge Fuentes, held by St. Stephen's Episcopal Church.

Like brothers everywhere, they fought. And so on that September evening four years ago, upstairs in their home on Dorchester’s Wheatland Avenue, they were no longer speaking to each other.

Jorge Fuentes was the big brother, 2 and a half years older than Manny. He cracked a little joke, an attempt to clear the air, to break the ice. But the younger brother was having none of it.

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“I brushed it off,’’ Manny recalled. “We were angry with each other. He wanted to walk the dog. He was at the door to my room and he walked away. He said, ‘All right. I’m going to go outside.’ Then he closed the door.’’

Presently, Manny Fuentes heard something he’d heard before. Gunshots on the street outside his window. Muzzle flashes dancing across his bedroom’s shades. Five shots in all. The last one struck Jorge in the head.

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“When I came downstairs, I saw my brother bleeding,’’ Manny recalled. “My mom came down and she held my brother. And she said, ‘You’re not going to leave me!’’ She said it to him and he opened his eyes. They rolled back and he closed his eyes and we waited for the ambulance.’’

The 2012 shooting death of 19-year-old Jorge Fuentes – still unsolved – was shattering. It snuffed out the life of a young man, once an angry contrarian, who had finally, and firmly, found his footing.

Thomas Farragher/Globe Staff

Manny Fuentes (left) and Gary Collins are lead counselors at a church summer youth program.

He excelled at the ROTC program in high school. He’d decided to join the Marines. And he became a leader — a standout counselor — at youth programs at his church, feeding the homeless in New York and collecting farm produce for food pantries in Virginia.

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“Jorge was a 5-year-old when the program started 17 years ago and in his life you could see the impact of the program,’’ the Rev. Liz Steinhauser told me this week, as the program buzzed around her. “It’s 3 and a half years later and I could cry right now. It’s been a long time since I cried.’’ And then she did.

Steinhauser, is the priest associate and director of youth programs at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in the South End, where the program that helped animate the life of Jorge Fuentes is in full flower. In part propelled by his brother’s death, Manny Fuentes has stepped into the role his brother had relished.

“It caused me to be an adult much faster,’’ Manny, 20, said. “I honestly wasn’t going down the right path myself. It registered that I had to make my brother proud. I have to be the big brother, the leader, the glue of the family like he was before he was gone.’’

Like his brother, he traced the path from camper to counselor. Like his brother, he sees love in the smiles of the kids he’s responsible for each day.

“I want to give them the best eight hours they can have Monday through Friday,’’ he said. “I want to give them something to distract themselves from being wherever it is that’s not a safe place or a happy place for them. I want to make this their safe place. Their second home. Somewhere they can be comfortable.’’

What does that look like?

For six summer weeks, 160 teenagers and 550 younger kids convene at six locations to eat breakfast and then get to work. And to have fun. Language arts, math and science, lots of reading and technology, and the arts. Then they’re off to the museum, the park, or the aquarium.

It’s called B-SAFE: Bishop’s Summer Academic and Fun Enrichment Program.

“We want young people to feel big,’’ Liz Steinhauser said. “And we want kids to try lots of different things. We want them to be safe. We want kids to feel connected.’’

That connection goes both ways. One of Manny’s fellow counselors is 33-year-old Gary Collins, who is taking a break from his commitment with the Irish military to add a lesson from Dorchester to the master’s degree in education he’s just received.

“They’re very grown up here,’’ Collins said. “And they grow up fast. Keeping them here is a way to maintain their youth.’’

Collins sees the magnetic pull Manny has with the kids. And he thinks: “I want to emulate that.’’

It’s a skill Manny Fuentes learned from his big brother Jorge, the young man who taught him that learning doesn’t end when the last school bell rings in June.

If you want to lead, it never ends.

Thomas Farragher is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at thomas.farragher@globe.com.
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