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Roxbury YMCA's 'Get Summer' Program Keeps Boston Teens Busy

BOSTON (CBS) - Keeping teenagers busy during the summer months is the primary goal of Boston youth organizations throughout the city. WBZ's Mary Blake reports on the YMCA'S efforts to curb street violence.

Walk into the Roxbury YMCA and you're in a bustling place. There is summer camp for grade schoolers, full day preschool for the young set and an engagement program for teens called Get Summer. Get Summer not only provides 15,000 free memberships to teenagers throughout Greater Boston. Five hundred teens are hired over the summer months and for 75 percent of them, it's their first job.

YMCA Roxbury Executive Director Kathryn Saunders has hired between 20 and 30 teens this year. "That really makes a huge impact, not just on being a safe place to be here, but they also learn some of those personal development and professional skills that start to happen at that 14, 15 and 16 years of age," she says.

Tavia Francis is 17. She is a student at Boston Prep in Hyde Park and works at the Roxbury "Y". "I do multiple things. I've grown my character through here. I have a bubbly character, I think. I talk a lot, but I speak good things," she laughs.

She's been going to the Y since she was six. "To me, the Roxbury Y is home. When I don't have anywhere to study, I come here. If I don't have anything to do, I come here. This is like, the hangout spot. If it's a hot day, instead of being outside, I'd rather come here. This is where everybody comes on a Friday night. It's teen night. There's free food. It's free pizza to be honest, free juice, everything, it's a really good environment to be in," she says.

Last week, to much fanfare, the Y opened a renovated teen center in the basement. A grant from T.D Bank and the Boston Celtics made it possible. There's the team green paint on the walls, new furniture, a new section for watching movies, new computers, even a renovated music studio, complete with a sound board and microphone.

"Now that the teen center has gotten this incredible update, I feel like the Y will be a very popular place this summer," Tavia says.

She admits feeling safe is an issue for her. "I just lost a cousin. He got shot, and um, he died. Also, this year, my best friend, she lost her uncle. He was shot in the head and he died. I, I've lost many friends this year. Some kids don't want to go outside and enjoy summer because when they walk out their door, they don't know if there gonna come back home, you know, and I feel like coming here is a good place to stay out of trouble."

Saunders says her staff deals with these concerns too. "Everybody's different. Some teens really want to talk about it, some not necessarily at that moment, but having the adults, having the staff and having everybody as a part of understanding that it affects us as adults, but what is the effect on the teens."

Kache Boyd is Teen Director at the Roxbury Y. She grew up in Cambridge, moved to the Washington D.C. area for a while and came back. She says it's been a Y love story ever since. She believes teenagers are the heartbeat of a community and Tavia appreciates that recognition. "Kache is a really down to earth person. A lot of teens, I would speak for them, think she's very cool and very caring, even though sometimes we call her very late, but she always picks up."

Boyd admits the days can be long. "I'm not great about turning my phone off just yet, but I'm getting better at it, I'm getting better at it," she laughs.

James Morton is President and CEO of the YMCA of Greater Boston and says all of the 15,000 teens given free Get Summer memberships last summer stayed safe and out of harm's way. "That is an enormous statistic supporting our contribution to the safety of the community," he declares.

He's hoping for that same statistic at the end of the summer of 2016.

Listen to Part 1 of Mary Blake's report

Listen to Part 2 of Mary Blake's report

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