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Dan Holin, who used to run a Concord-Lowell volunteer partnership called the Jericho Road Project, is now director of special projects at UTEC in Lowell. (UTEC doesn’t use the longer title its youth founders originally came up with, but since people ask, it was United Teen Equality Center.)

UTEC describes itself as a nonprofit that “helps young people from Lowell and Lawrence, Mass., trade violence and poverty for social and economic success. It works to remove barriers that confront them when they want to turn their lives around and offers young people paid work experience through its social enterprises: mattress recycling, food services and woodworking.”

On May 15, Acton’s Pedal Power joined members of the Concord-based Monsters in the Basement bicycling club to share their bike-repair expertise with young people who wanted to acquire bikes and learn to maintain them. Holin, a serious biker himself, organized the event to give UTEC young people two things that he said they normally lack: transportation and fun.

At the event, one of them, Sav, recounted his story of change. Before UTEC I never talked to anyone,” he said. “I was a problem child on the streets. I was hanging around with gangs, selling drugs. I don’t do that now. Seven months ago, I moved from a place with nothing positive. Atlantic City. I let my family know I’m ready to live life. It was hard for me to get into something good: I’ve got a lot of tattoos and a record. But I’m in the culinary program here. It’s a family. They make you feel like you are somebody that has a chance. They give me love like a family. They changed my life for the better. There are so many new things to do here. Yesterday I went kayaking.”

More here.

Sav, in sunglasses, got a good bike at UTEC’s bike event in Lowell on May 15. The bike will provide transportation to his job at UTEC. It will also provide some much needed fun.

051516-UTEC-bike-clinic.jpg

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I am a fan of UTEC, the United Teen Equality Center, in Lowell, Mass., which has many programs for helping acting-out youth choose a better path. A couple aspects of UTEC’s approach strike me as fundamental to its success, which was recognized by the governor in his inaugural address.

For one thing, UTEC gives people a second, third, fourth, fifth … chance. (ROCA in Chelsea is like that, too.) It tries to remove barriers to success but holds that it’s up to the individual to take up opportunities. For another thing, teen decisions are key to the organization’s direction. After all, young people concerned about gang violence were the founders in 1999.

An impressive staff, led by Gregg Croteau, is also dedicated to making change.

One of UTEC’s initiatives, as I learned from a recent presentation at church, is called Teens Leading the Way. The members are actually working to change government policy. Right now they are focused on expungement of early criminal behavior after teens have served their time. They believe underage offenders must deal with the consequences of their actions but be able to start over and not be blocked from education and jobs.

Here’s what the website says, “Expungement essentially erases a criminal record, including police reports and arrest records, as if it never existed. This would be a unique opportunity for young people with criminal records to obtain a clean slate after completion of their sentences. In 2012 a report titled ‘An Exploration of Juvenile Records Maintenance Across America: A Way Forward for the Commonwealth’ looked into the status of juvenile records in Massachusetts and recommended policy changes to offer expungement to juveniles. …

“Teens Leading The Way youth … have coined the motto: “Erase our sentence so we may write a novel,” which highlights their belief that young people should be held accountable for their actions, but additional rehabilitative actions should be taken to remove barriers upon re-entry and to prevent recidivism.”

More here.

Photo: UTEC

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