State lawmakers push for more funding for at-risk youth programs

The House Budget Committee has $6 million in funding allocated for next fiscal year.

BOSTON (WWLP) –  More than one-third of young people are at risk of engaging in gang activity in Holyoke and Chicopee, but state lawmakers hope to bring that number down. They’re calling on the state to budget nearly $9 million for at-risk youth programs like the Safe and Successful Youth Initiative.

The House Budget Committee allocated $6 million for next fiscal year, but lawmakers like State Rep. Aaron Vega said it’s not enough. “We know that this program gets young men off the streets, out of gangs, and gets them the support that too often they don’t have in their home or in their community,” he explained. “This is really the state’s responsibility because what we also want to do is make sure that our jails are not being refilled.”

Communities with SSYI programs saw a one-third reduction in aggravated assaults and 25 percent reduction in homicides over four years. Urban communities like Holyoke and Springfield have SSYI programs that offer job training and education services to young men at high risk for violent criminal activity.

Julius Delgado, who used to be a gang member, told 22News that SSYI helped him turn his life around after being shot in the head at 16. “I didn’t believe that there was something like that or people like that that were actually down to help me and motivate me to do something productive with my life,” he said. “If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t be right now talking to you. I’d probably be dead in jail.”

The proposed state budget for next year is $40 billion. But with much of the money going to core services like health care, programs for at-risk youth often take a hit. Holyoke SSYI Director Jacqueline Lozado tols 22News “Everyone should want a safe community–should want to invest in a safer community–for their own children, for ourselves and for our future.”

The House is expected to debate the budget next week.