Our Opinion: Unified policy needed to help Pittsfield kids

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Pittsfield's youth, particularly those at risk, have a problem — and that problem requires a coherent and sustained effort to resolve.

According to 2015 U.S. census statistics, 28 percent of Pittsfield's children are living in poverty, which is a tragedy in itself. A by-product of that cold fact, however, is that many of the city's young people live without hope for "a better tomorrow," in the words of The Reverend Ralph Howe, founder of Fenn Street Community Development (Eagle, November 13.)

When stated clearly, the issue is simple: In their discouragement and frustration, kids deprived of other opportunities often turn to drugs and crime. One of the best ways to pull them out of that cycle is to provide them with activities to keep them occupied and allow them to develop their own skills and talents along with self respect

"Let's face it, kids got to stay busy," said Warren Dews, a minister for Price Memorial African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, and a board member of the Boys and Girls Club, as well as sales chief and events officer at The Berkshire Eagle. "It keeps them out of trouble."

Currently, there is no shortage in Pittsfield of interested and well-meaning parties willing to address youth poverty and its associated ills, but progress on the ground is being impeded by conflicting ideas as to the best way to alleviate the problem. For example, the City Council Committee on Community and Economic Development just heard a petition to build a new youth center in the city's West Side neighborhood, to provide a venue for young people to gather, join in various activities, get advice and receive training. While this is a commendable plan, others feel that the city's existing resources, such as the Pittsfield Family YMCA and the Boys' & Girls' Club of Pittsfield, are underutilized and ought to be fully exploited before sorely needed funds are spent on new buildings.

Mr. Dews noted that the Boys' & Girls' Club of Pittsfield, containing an ice-skating rink and two separate gyms, is the largest branch of that organization under one roof in the entire country. While many of the city's youth already take advantage of the venue, there is no question that both the club and the Y have room to accommodate many more. Dues for the organizations are not a problem, Mr. Dews said; vouchers can and have been provided.

Sometimes, the impediment is merely psychological. "North Street," Mr. Dews said, "is like a wall. It's the holy divide." Many of those who live in the West Side neighborhood, he added, just don't think about crossing to the east side, where those facilities are located. He hopes to implement a solution — regular scheduled shuttle service the the Boys' & Girls' Club and the Y using local churches, where kids can wait in safety, as bus stops.

Ideas like Mr. Dews' are cheap, sensible and effective ways to attack this persistent problem — certainly a lot cheaper than building new facilities. What Pittsfield needs most at this time is for those of good will to come together to hash out various solutions (many of which have merit, even as they may conflict with one another) and coordinate their energies into a unified policy for saving the city's youth. They are, after all, our future. Nothing is more important.


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