PITTSFIELD >> Instead of causing crime and doing time, city teens and young adults are taking the reins in reviving a downtown space that will give people their age skills, support and second chances to do right with their lives.
Over the summer a team of seven young men, ages 17 to 24, through the The Safe and Successful Youth Initiative have been working to renovate The Hub, the storefront center of Pittsfield Community Connection.
PCC is a multi-tiered effort to provide mentorship, interventions, services and programs to help city youths and young adults succeed in life.
Located at 243 North St., The Hub has been gutted and restructured to provide PCC office space, a recreation area open to all youth, and a community mercantile that will serve the dual purpose of teaching young people job skills while giving local product producers a new and highly visible venue where their goods can be sold.
"We hope to have the mercantile and case management begin by Sept. 1, with the rec area opening soon after," said PCC Executive Director Jon Schnauber.
He and PCC Program Manager Rachel Hanson said community members can help make the center's reopening more successful by either donating money, materials or contributing their time as a workshop leader, mentor or in various other roles as a volunteer.
Hanson said the main purpose of the mercantile at the Hub is to be "a training ground" to give young people career readiness skills.
Through the youth initiative program, the seven young men currently involved in the renovation project are not only receiving mentoring and training on how to do the work, but they're learning how to work with one another, and are all receiving a stipend for their work.
"Most of the guys who are in the SSYI program don't have any income coming in. They're working on completing school or building their skills or just getting on their feet," Hanson said. "The idea is for them to come here and learn the skills and learn the work so that when they do go out into the real world, they have something to offer. Here, they're learning that they can get income from other ways than on the street."
Her husband, McLain Snell, who has volunteered to help lead the youth initiative team through the renovations, credited the group for their willingness to work.
"They catch on quick and are doing good," he said.
Ellis Staley, 18, of Pittsfield, volunteered recently to come in on his day off from working to talk to The Eagle about his involvement in the youth initiative and the Hub renovation. His been involved with the program since March.
The youth initiative program is a comprehensive statewide network that connects law enforcement, employment, education, public health and youth development agencies to collectively reach out to and refer young men at risk of being violent or engaging in criminal acts to support programs and services.
The interventions are specifically tailored to assess the person's needs, provide intensive case management, mental health counseling, and employment and education services and positive behavior support to help steer them away from making destructive decisions.
Striving to be better
For Staley, the Hub, youth initiative and PCC are the guideposts leading him away from darker days. Being involved in the programs is voluntary, and the young man said he decided to take advantage of what they offer, which includes not being judged.
"I decided I didn't want to be a failure," he said. "Even though I've been in trouble in the past, I strive to be a better man."
Staley said although he appreciates the fact that there are other programs, like the city's Hoops Not Crime initiative, designed to steer kids and teens away from gangs and other disruptive activities, he much more appreciates the work and other kinds of opportunities to better himself.
Interested in building design, landscaping and construction, he said the renovation work — which included learning demolition, flooring and basic electrical work — was a perfect opportunity to get in on.
"There is so much more to life than basketball and sports," said PCC outreach worker Rob Jefferson. "There is education."
"These skills are going to stick with me longer than sports," Staley said. "This is exactly the line of work I might want to do with my career, so this is going to look great on my resume."
Staley is building his credentials further by studying at the Pittsfield Adult Learning Center to earn his HiSET credential. After that, he plans to spend two years studying at Berkshire Community College then transferring to a state school to complete a four-year degree.
Beyond the programs that the youth initiative and PCC and the Hub have made accessible to him, Staley said having the support of other people has been critical to getting him in the mindset he now has.
"Rob has been there for me, no matter what. When I'm overwhelmed, he'll take my 2 a.m. calls like it's no problem," Staley said of Jefferson, his PCC mentor. "It makes me feel great to have people in my community who actually care."
Jefferson said he's seen the youth initiative crew work to overcome their differences to do something for the greater good of the community.
"They're taking pride in what they're doing ... and it teaches them something other than what they're used to," Jefferson said. "A lot of young people don't see their potential or their options."
Hanson, the PCC program manager, said from her perspective, for teens and young adults in Pittsfield there's "nothing here for [them] to help them discover things about themselves and teach them something they don't know."
She, Staley and Jefferson said that's especially true for kids who might initially make poor decisions and get kicked out of or be asked to leave another program or youth center.
Jefferson said when there are no other outlets for young people, they tend to turn to the streets or fall under negative influence because of boredom or lack of alternatives.
Since Staley got involved in the youth initiative, Hanson said, "His attitude has changed because he's been given the opportunity to discover what he's good at."
"We're all determined," Staley said of his fellow work crew. "Not everybody liked each other at the beginning, but we had to become men because we were being given an opportunity, and now look — we're giving something to Pittsfield. And we're supposed to be incarcerated, the bad ones. It takes yourself to want to make change, but we're proof that it can happen."
Contact Jenn Smith at 413-496-6239.
For information ....
To learn more about PCC, to volunteer or make a contribution, visit pittsfieldcommunityconnection.org or call 413-442-1221. To become a vendor for the new mercantile at The Hub, call 413-442-1221.