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Summer program strives to keep peace on streets

Amid the heartbreaking story of a 16-year-old gunned down allegedly at the hands of two other teens, Boston officials are shifting their summer focus to younger youths, hoping to intervene before trouble arrives.

Mayor Martin J. Walsh and his public safety team are expected to announce Tuesday a new effort targeting 11- to 14-year-olds, among the most difficult population to reach and turn around. Often, they elude police and parents until it is too late.

“If we can touch these kids at a very young age, we have an opportunity to make a difference,’’ said Daniel Mulhern, a former Suffolk County prosecutor now leading the mayor’s public safety initiatives.

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The city’s push to reach a younger cohort comes just before the start of summer and just after prosecutors Monday charged in Dorchester District Court that Du’Shawn S. Taylor-Gennis, 16, and Raeshawn X. Moody, 14, worked in unison to trap and fatally shoot Jonathan Dos Santos, 16.

The effort also follows the shooting of a child as he rode his bicycle on a weekend afternoon in the Bowdoin-Geneva neighborhood. A surveillance camera showed a young, unidentified shooter last month circling the area of 296 Bowdoin St., allegedly hunting for a target. The shooter fired a barrage of gunshots, striking 7-year-old Divan Silva.

That shooting prompted Police Commissioner William B. Evans to express a sentiment felt in many corners of the city: “There should be outrage in the city,” Evans said.

The city’s new push emerges from an older program called the Summer of Opportunity, created in 1994 in response to an explosion of youth violence.

At the time, the city teamed with the John Hancock company and the Boston Police Department to provide alternatives for 40 teens, aged 15 to 19. A six-week, paid summer internship and training program were provided annually, followed by a paid work internship during the school year.

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Earlier this year, John Hancock officials turned to Walsh’s safety team for fresh ideas about the program, and Boston officials decided that more resources should be devoted to younger children, who were too young to get hired and too old to participate in summer camps.

Mulhern said the new effort came after months of discussion among city officials, police, and officials at nonprofits on how to reach the Facebook-YouTube generation, whose beefs often start on social media and end violently on the streets.

“In my experience, we’ve had a difficult time connecting that age group with real, meaningful opportunity,’’ Mulhern said.

“It’s also a pivotal time for young people.”

Their middle-school years are ending, high school is about to begin, and many are starting to break away from restrictions in their lives, Mulhern added.

“So they are particularly vulnerable to negative influences in the neighborhoods, and there is an equal opportunity to influence them in a positive way,’’ Mulhern said.

The Boys & Girls Clubs of Boston will manage the new effort. John Hancock will provide a four-year grant — $175,000 annually — to provide intensive yearlong development support to 50 high-risk youth. A new name for the program is being conceived.

Mulhern said the Boston police gang unit and Youth Violence Strike Force will refer young participants to the program.

The adolescents will spend time at Camp Harbor View on Long Island this summer, and officials will continue to support them at school. Officials will provide social worker support for their families, Mulhern added.

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After he took office last year, Walsh pledged that his administration would try to address the root causes that allow violence to persist in certain neighborhoods and seek out innovative ways to address entrenched issues that lead to crime.

Mulhern said officials recognize that enforcement and intervention alone are not enough to stem the tide of youth violence and prevent needless tragedies.


Meghan E. Irons can be reached at meghan.irons@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @MeghanIrons.