Teen leadership program launched by police officers enters its second year
As a patrol officer in Roxbury, Jeffrey S. Lopes often saw teenagers out late at night and wondered what he could do to get them off the streets.
“For me it was ‘How do I help these young people?’ ” said Lopes, now a school police officer with the Boston Police Department. “I felt like the only way we’re going to help them is by bringing them into our circle.”
On Tuesday, Lopes and his colleagues launched the second year of “We Belong: Empowering Youth Through Leadership,” the program he established to help young people of color succeed by connecting them with civic leaders, nonprofit and business executives, and elected officials.
“A lot of our youth from the inner-city communities don’t believe in their potential to be great,” said Lopes, 28, who has been an officer for 5½ years. “We just want to show our young people that they have the potential to be whoever they want to be.”
The weekly program began in October 2017 with about 20 teenage boys from across the city, said Officer Nicole Grant, who helps Lopes with the weekly sessions.
She said nine boys completed the first year of programming, which included a five-day trip to Washington, D.C., an etiquette class at Cafeteria Boston, a Newbury Street restaurant, and presentations from executives at Kraft Group and Northeastern University’s Center for the Study of Sport in Society.
This year, the program was opened to girls. The 20 girls and 20 boys who enrolled will meet Tuesdays at the Boys & Girls Club of Boston Mattapan Teen Center, Grant said.
“We’re hoping that it brings attention to the youth in our community, showing them in a positive light,” Police Commissioner William Gross said. “It’s high time that people know about the youth who are going to be our future leaders.”
Donations and sponsorships pay for the program, which cost about $20,000 last year, according to Lopes.
The corporate sponsor is the Boston Medical Center Healthnet Plan, which hosted a kickoff event Tuesday for the new crop of teenagers at its office in Charlestown.
Petrina Cherry, vice president of sales and marketing for BMC Healthnet Plan, said the teenagers live in communities served by the nonprofit insurer. She said that Lopes and a colleague, Officer Jorge Dias, approached the company with an impressive plan.
“It was a step beyond community policing,” Cherry said. “You could tell that these were two police officers who really, really cared and wanted to make an impact on the communities in which they were working.”
Peterson Francois, 18, who lives in Dorchester, participated in the program last year. The experience made him less shy, he said, and gave him the chance to meet US Senator Elizabeth Warren and to step foot on a boat for the first time, to tour Boston Harbor.
“I got to meet a lot of awesome people,” Francois said. “They’re my family now.”