Youth initiative helps keep Holyoke teens off the streets

Project's funding is in jeopardy due to state budget cuts

HOLYOKE, Mass. (WWLP) – A game of basketball has the power to help inner city teenagers turn their lives around.

A group called the Holyoke Safe and Successful Youth Initiative were engaging dozens of young men and women with their third annual Community Celebration and Basketball Tournament at Springdale Park. For the young participants, aged 14 through 19, playing the game means helping create positive outcomes in their lives.

“I think it gets the kids off the streets, gets them to do something productive,” 14 year-old Anerlio Rivera said.

“Well, it keeps me off the street, helps me out, helps me work; change my life around,” 18 year-old Jose Antonio Estrada said.

“It means a lot. I meet new people; playing basketball, I have fun,” 19 year-old Ricardo Velazquez said.

The program’s community engagement director, Israel Rivera, can speak from experience how important it is to give these young people proper direction at this sensitive time in their lives.

“I myself was once a troubled youth, and now, I have changed my life. I am trying to take this moment to help people, help the youth to change their vision and change the community, what it will look like for them,” Rivera said.

This youth program is in jeopardy, however. Its director, Jacqueline Lozada, told 22News that the Legislature has gutted 35% of the program’s budget. She is hoping that other funding sources can be found to keep the Holyoke Safe and Successful Youth Initiative continuing its good work.