Gathering Draws Hundreds on Saturday Night

Youth Link members and friends shown playing African drums at the Corey Street basketball court in the Bunker Hill Public Housing Development during a special event that attracted hundreds of at risk local youth last week. Shown seated from left to right: Jose Parra, Kathy Cruz, Daniel Rivera, teacher Dan Maguire, Darryl Knight and Enid Bula. Shown standing wearing a Red Sox t-shirt is Youth Link Director of Operations Matthew Swartz and Youth Link Founder and director, Jay Paris.

Last Saturday night, hundreds of men, women and children from all walks of life from this neighborhood and beyond gathered for an evening of dancing, music and poetry on a  basketball court at 25 Corey Street in the Bunker Hill Public Housing development.

Once the sun went down, the bright stage lights came on and lit up what was easily one of the best local get togethers in the housing development in recent memory. Local police, challenged local children, parents and friends appeared to be unified. The event went off without a hitch.

Youth Link sponsored the night of fun.

Youth Link was born five years ago. It is the creation of Jay Paris, a Princeton graduate and former nationally ranked rower who wanted to give back to society.

“I wanted to make a difference in the lives of people who needed help,” said Paris. There was no doubt about that if one took a look around at that Corey Street basketball court last Saturday.

There was a symphony of sorts, by a live orchestra. Dancers, rappers, poets and other interesting local people came out and performed something called, Spoken Word.

Spoken Word was born out of the Post Modern Art Movement in the 1980’s. It is an entire mix of words, music and dancing. Many onlookers were very intrigued by the performance.

Youth Link’s Director of Operations Matthew Swartz was largely responsible for the outpouring of interest in the celebration.

Swartz has devoted his adult life to helping others and he hasn’t just helped to set up large gatherings. He and his family have aided Youth Link in raising funds and in expanding their message wherever younger people are living in need or at risk.

“Youth Link is a country wide program that continues to grow every year with the help of private donations, grants and fundraising,” Swartz said.

Five years ago, Paris and Swartz met at the Riverside School in Lowell where Swartz had founded a vocational culinary arts program.

Paris recalled how impressed he was with Swartz’s ability to interact with at risk youth. Paris asked Swartz if he would run a similar type of program for at risk youth in Dorchester’s Franklin Field area. Swartz agreed. A working partnership was formed.

Today, Swartz is in charge of nearly 400 young people whose ages range from 12-22 years old.

These are largely inner-city kids who are on the brink of      going down the wrong path and getting into trouble.

Swartz’s specialty is teaching these kids responsibility. One way he does this is showing them how to cook food and then how to  cater events.

“Many of my kids go on to get jobs and do things they never dreamt would have been possible before starting the program. The progress that many of them show is the reason I love coming to work everyday,” he said. “This isn’t just about a job for me. It is my way to give back. Giving back is what I am all about in my life,” he added. Giving back and making a difference in peoples’ lives is what drives Swartz.

“Rapes, homicides and violent crime have declined in the Franklin Field area of Dorchester. YPI or Youth Police initiative brings, gangs, cops and at risk youth together for the common good,” he said.

According to Swartz, the Boston police in Charlestown are friends with many of his kids in his program. And the Boston police were instrumental in allowing this event to happen. Swartz believes everyone needs to figure out a way to get along and to help reduce crime, which is what Youth Link is all about. He is hoping to gain a foothold in Charlestown for Youth Link and this may come to pass. Paris and Swartz both hope to continue to grow the organization and to expand their program all over the country. If you are interested in Youth Link check them out,

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