By Doug Maine
Save Our Youth, a grassroots organization formed by Bridgeport parents and other concerned adults just two years ago to prevent youth violence, has grown to have a master list of more than 800 youths who have taken part in its various programs.
“We’re very diverse. We never know who we’re going to get at any event. We don’t target any specific ethnicity; we don’t target any specific part of the city,” aid SOY founder and Bridgeport native Isaac Vann, better known as DJ Redd Blaze, who serves as executive director and vice president of its executive board. “Our staff is 100 percent volunteer, from the president to the interns. We do it all from the heart. We do it all for free.”
Youths, from Bridgeport and beyond, can register for free on SOY’s website, www.SaveOurYouthWCHS.com. After they do, they receive notices about the group’s upcoming events, Redd said.
The group’s newest initiative is a co-ed Youth Kickball League, with divisions for ages 6-10 and 11-18. The registration deadline is May 11.
Youths from other cities and towns can, and do, take part in the group’s events, but, “we kind of put a focus on Bridgeport because in 2012, when we started, there was a lot of youth violence,” he said.
Most of SOY’s events are free.
“It’s really not hard to run an organization like this if you keep it simple,” he said. “We see a lot of organizations come up and they disappear,” because they run out of money, he said.
Though unpaid, staff members and other volunteers must undergo background checks. Gennifer Negron, SOY’s treasurer and human resources manager, said, “we do a full, thorough criminal background check on them ; we (check) the sex offenders list, and we also make phone calls, and that’s just the beginning.”
Programs open to all
Negron, a mother of four, was one of the group’s first volunteers. “I was more in tune with the needs of the community, and my father had recently passed away, and he was big on volunteering in the community and giving back,” she said.
“I’m not surprised to see how fast it’s grown in so little time. It’s amazing how a team gets together and focuses on a mission. I’m so proud of what we’ve done,” she said. “The need was there and the opportunity was there. Our challenge really is to get the community to support us, to participate in our events and fundraisers. The more support we get, the more we can do to support the kids.”
Other programs in the city tend to focus on one thing — a particular age group or activity, such as a sport, she said, while SOY is all-inclusive and invites non-English speakers. “If there’s a language barrier, we have volunteers who speak both English and Spanish,” Negron said.
All programs are open to youths up to age 18, though events are often targeted to particular age groups. “Any 18-year-old must be currently in high school to participate,” Redd said.
Though it’s harder to get the older teens to come out, especially for educational- or preventive-type programs, “we make everything fun,” he said. “Once they come, they love it. We get kids who cry when their parents come and they have to leave.”
Tammy Boyle found out about SOY through its Facebook page. After having her sons Michael, 14, and Mekhi, 12, in another afterschool program, she’s found SOY events…