January 24, 2008 — Vol. 43, No. 24
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Holiday brunch lauds youth keeping MLK’s dream alive

Talia Whyte

Nine city youth activists were honored at the Reggie Lewis Track and Athletic Center in Roxbury on Monday morning as part of the second annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day brunch hosted by local nonprofit Youth Enrichment Services (YES).

The activists were nominated for recognition at the “Going to the Mountain Top” brunch by a variety of community organizations for their leadership, character and service to the city.

According to Peter R. Haffenreffer, chairman of YES’ board of directors, the brunch was created to address what the organization saw as a lack of events celebrating up-and-coming youth leaders who are actively living Dr. King’s dream. And it was about time, Haffenreffer said, to pay tribute to those teens making a positive impact.

Oscar Brazoban, 16, was nominated by the Hyde Square Task Force for his work with elementary school students as a summer counselor and his help running campaigns to improve his community.
“I am happy about this opportunity to be recognized,” said Brazoban, “because there aren’t a lot of people talking about good teenagers in the city,”

Another honoree, 18-year-old Irene Jor, said she was happy to be a “voice for the voiceless,” both in Boston and abroad.

As a senior at the Academy of the Pacific Rim Charter School in Hyde Park, Jor has traveled to South Africa, Mozambique and Namibia to do community service. She is also a peer educator and mentor through Safety, Trust and Relationships (STAR), a teen-dating violence prevention program at Casa Myrna Vasquez, the state’s largest provider of domestic violence services to victims of abuse and their children.

YES has a long track record of encouraging Boston youth to make positive choices. The nonprofit organization was founded in 1968 by the late Richard Williams, who felt inspired by Dr. King’s call to action after a meeting with the civil rights leader. In the four decades since, YES has offered over 125,000 low- and moderate-income Boston-area kids the opportunity to participate in outdoor and practical learning activities, such as skiing in the winter and backpacking in the Berkshires during the summer.

Kai Palmer-Dunning, 16, a youth honoree and active YES member, joined the organization three years ago. He said that while he loves being a part of YES for the opportunities it affords him to engage in activities like downhill snowboarding, he also appreciates the life skills he has learned — skills that he believes will serve him well into adulthood.

“I was shy at first,” he said. “But now, I think I am more opening to people. I am better at learning in school.”

Shawn Moore, 16, and Elizabeth Wu, 18, are junior volunteers who teach other YES participants how to ski. They agreed that the agency provides opportunities for youth to grow into leaders.

“Through YES, I get to meet cool people I will keep in touch with for the rest of my life,” Moore said. “The program is also great because we live in the city, and a lot of kids like us don’t get the opportunity to do things like this.”

The brunch’s keynote speaker, Ron Bell, director of the Commonwealth’s Office of Civic Engagement Office, encouraged the assembled youth to continue keeping Dr. King’s dream alive.

“[YES President] Mary Williams and the people at YES are doing the programs Governor [Deval] Patrick and I support,” said Bell. “You all are real models, not role models because you all are setting realistic, positive changes in our community. Dr. King would be proud.”

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