Peacebuilders Keep Hartford Kids Safe


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Alexus Brito and Jerrod Hall are among the teens helped by the Peacebuilders.
Photo by Ken Liebeskind
By Ken Liebeskind

They’e working to bring peace to the streets of Hartford.

The Peacebuilders initiative, founded by the Hartford Office for Youth Services in partnership with the Hartford Police Department and St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center, helps Hartford youth looking to get off the streets. The group focuses on the Frog Hollow, Barry Square and Upper Albany areas of the city, where many Latino youth reside.

The organization has an office at 2 Hartford Square West, where it welcomes troubled teens, who are assisted with their problems and recruited to serve with the Peacebuilders to help other youth.

“Led by a staff of local youth leaders familiar with the circumstances and the communities of the neighborhoods they serve, Peacebuilders works to reduce violence by connecting potentially violent and aggressive youth to formal systems and positive opportunities,” according to the group’s website.

The goals are to reduce the likelihood that a youth will be a perpetrator or a victim of violence, reduce the level of delinquent behavior among participants, and increase teen’s empathy for others and his or her attachment to the communiy.

They do this by helping teens navigate the systems essential for their success, such as education, life skills, recreation, career and family.

Jerrod Hall, 20, who lives on Branford Street, was arrested on a gun charge in 2011 and spent nine months under house arrest before he was assisted by the Peacebuilders who helped him graduate from Weaver High School and get a job as a youth developer at Naylor Elementary School.

“I was on my porch and I was what they were looking for and they found a gun in the back yard and charged me with it.,” Hall said.

He said it wasn’t his gun.

He is grateful for the help he received from the Peacebuilders, and today he is a team leader with the organization.

“I set the rules and routines for others to follow. I pass out notebooks and utensils, and the kids write stuff down. I help them with life skills,” he said.

He said Peacebuilders “keeps Hartford kids safe by doing stuff for them like movies and basketball and jobs. It turns them out to be men and women.”

One of the young women being assisted by Peacebuilders is Alexus Brito, 15, who lives on Montowese Street and attends the Medical Professions and Teacher Preparation Academy.

“I’ve been involved in the life skills program, went out on field trips, and I got a summer job working at a summer camp as a counselor. It’s a farm camp where kids ride horses and take cooking classes,” she said of the ways Peacebuilders helped her.

Brito said the Peacebuilders “keeps me off the street after school hours. The friends I hung around with smoked and drank a lot, and the Peacebuilders does community cleanup and helps kids in trouble.”

Iran Nazario, the Peacebuilders program director, said the organization currently has 107 kids in the program.

“Every year we receive a contract and we assess kids, and if they achieve all the goals, we exit them from the program. We’re looking to recruit new ones to move forward,” he said.

Team leaders like Jerrod have shown initiative by volunteering their time. “They receive six weeks of training, and once they complete it they go out to the community and do cleanup and programs with their peers,” Nazario said.

Peacebuilders also works with St. Francis Hospital when shootings or stabbings occur.

“If a youth is injured and transported to the hospital, we go to the hospital and assist with services and in delivering news to the family. If a child is deceased we assist with support and burial services,” he said.

Peacebuilders also works with Hartford police at concerts and parades. “We meet with the police to make sure the events go safely,” Nazario said.

The Peacebuilders are looking for 13 additional youth to help this year.

“We recruit them by going out on the streets where kids are out the most,” Nazario said.