Community Service, For Real

| October 24, 2000

Community Service, For Real
Music mixed on turntables pulsates through oversized speakers. A crowd of 40 teens gathers outside a new juvenile detention facility in the South Bronx. 'Why is the basketball court inside the jail nicer than the one at our school?' asks one teen through a loudspeaker. 'New York City just spent $8 million to reopen a juvenile facility that they promised to turn into a community center!' shouts another. This is not your average community group.

Welcome to Youth Force, an organization started in 1994 in the South Bronx and led primarily by 14-to-25-year-olds. In the hopes of saving their peers from being swallowed whole by the seemingly inescapable cycle of gangs, drugs and jail, Youth Force recruits most of its organizers directly from the juvenile-justice system, writes Mark Berkey-Gerard in the October issue of online youth zine Horizon.

Over the next two years, in fact, family courts and police officers will refer more than 1,000 juvenile offenders to Youth Force. Most of the delinquents, who are disproportionately African-American and Latino, stay on as volunteers once they have completed their community service.

'The blank stares you sometimes see on the faces of retail and fast-food workers are noticeably absent in these community organizers,' writes Berkey-Gerard. 'The teens protest. They organize. They budget and they raise funds. And they do it with their trademark young, urban attitude.' -- Anjula Razdan
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