Castle Square youth programs empower next generation of leadership

Castle Square is home for more than 1,000 residents in the South End and Chinatown. With space dedicated to community, Castle Square supports youth development with the Square Roots afterschool program , a Teen Program for youth employment and training opportunities at the Square Tech computer repair center.

Square Roots elementary students are all smiles. The program is among several youth programs offered at Castle Square. (Image courtesy of Ling-Mei Wong.)

“We serve everyone from preschoolers to seniors,” said Irene Chan, Square Tech manager.

Castle Square’s 500 units were built in the 1960s and is permanently affordable, thanks to the efforts of Deborah Backus and Ann Moy. The Castle Square Tenant Organization (CSTO) was founded in 1988, after the development was bought by tenants. Today, Backus is executive director of the tenant organization, while Moy teaches at the Josiah Quincy Elementary School.

Its Teen Program began in 1996, when CSTO received a grant from the Department of Housing and Urban Development for drug elimination. A teen coordinator for leadership development skills was hired.

“We had an assessment with teens for programming they were interested in,” Backus said.

The Teen Program began as a drop-in program and became more structured as it expanded. Youth over age 14 learn about graphic design, photography, music and current events.

Teen Program intern Grace Tsoi, 15, learned about social justice through field trips to community agencies. The Castle Square resident said, “Once I started working here, I understood how the littlest issues affect people.”

Youth interns worked on summer projects in teams, led by Teen Program coordinator Madeline Mühlberg. Jordan Wong, 15, was documenting the old Quincy School through videos, while Anna Chen, 16, learned how to build computers through Square Tech’s training. Elizabeth Figueroa, 15, was raising awareness on senior care.

“When I come here, people are friendly and welcoming,” said Anna, a Charlestown resident.

For younger children, Square Roots is a licensed afterschool program with academic tutoring and enrichment activities for ages 5 to 13. The program is affordable at $155 a month with childcare vouchers.

Backus said, “Eighty percent of our teens who go to college come back in summer. Some of them we hire or they volunteer with our youth programs.”

The youth programs are designed to equip young people for the workplace. Square Tech’s teenage interns learn how to refurbish computers, game design and networking basics.

“This is not just program where they come, but they can learn a trade or skill to carry into their lifetime,” Moy said. “We can see teenagers growing up to be young adults.”

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Teen Program youth Anna Chen, Grace Tsoi, Jordan Wong and Elizabeth Figueroa. (Image courtesy of Ling-Mei Wong.)

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About Ling-Mei Wong 黃靈美

Editor of the Sampan, the only bilingual Chinese-English newspaper in New England 舢舨報紙總編輯。舢舨是全紐英倫唯一的中英雙語雙週報。
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