Community groups using Rochester teens to positively impact others

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. – Two teens and an 11-year-old were arrested Monday night for smashing out windows and damaging two marked Rochester Police cruisers. It happened outside School No. 2.

The suspects were part of a large group of teens hanging out near the playground of that school – something community groups that cater to young people don’t like to see.

“At that age, they’re very influential, so what you’re seeing is 11 year olds copying 12 year olds and 13-14 year olds and it’s going to continue in that path unless we’re not having honest conversations and we have to engage the entire family,” Mercedes Vazquez-Simons said.

She is director of the Latino Teen Youth Development Center on North Clinton Avenue.

“Whether it be school life, social life, we’re going to try to show up at all of their spaces to let them know that you’re part of this community and we care about you,” she said.

The center welcomes children as young as 5. Many of those who come have already dealt with violence or trauma.

“A lot of them are victims to it. Their family members, some of them have sadly passed away. Me myself have dealt with that,” Nia Jackson said.

She is a peer mentor who lost her grandfather to violence.

“If we start younger and we work into a kid’s head that there is a space that they can come to if they need help and if they need somewhere to get away from that violence,” she said.

Josh King is also a mentor, who is trying hard to build connections with pre-teens.

“It’s like a reality now, for them. It shouldn’t be like that. They shouldn’t have to worry about walking down the street, like am I going to witness this? Do I have to worry about going to the playground?” he said.

Often, he says, it’s about fitting in.

“They wanted to follow the trend, or be cool or something,” he said.

But at the youth center, they don’t have to worry about that.

“We can get them something to eat, they have access to the Wi-Fi so we can help them with homework,” he said.

And while the teens work with their peers, the adults work with their parents.

“I think some parents have lost faith in themselves – not their child. They’ve lost faith in their own parenting abilities,” Vazquez-Simmons said.

The Latino Youth Development Center is open daily for kids ages 5-18. Parenting classes are available to those who feel like they’ve lost control of their pre-teens or teens. Call (585) 267-0830 for more.