Somerville one of only 10 nationwide winners; 2015 award recognized City’s support for local youth; All-America City banner to be unfurled at Fireworks on July 2.

SOMERVILLE – The National Civic League announced this week that for the third time since its inception in 1949, the City of Somerville, Massachusetts, is a recipient of the coveted All-America City Award, widely considered one of the most prestigious awards bestowed upon cities. The annual award (aka “the Academy Award for cities”) celebrates and recognizes communities that engage residents in innovative, inclusive and effective efforts to tackle critical challenges. Somerville is one of only ten winners nationwide, and the only community from New England, to have been selected as a finalist in 2015. Somerville previously won the award in 2009, and 1972.
Mayor Joseph A. Curtatone announced this week that a celebratory banner will be unveiled on Thurs., July 2 during the City’s annual Fourth of July Fireworks Celebration.
This year’s award recognized cities that support vulnerable youth, and during a four-day competition beginning June 11, delegations of community activists and leaders (more than 500 in total) presented their stories of positive civic change to a jury of 13 leaders from the public, private and nonprofit sectors. To empower the city’s youth to speak for themselves, Somerville’s City-organized delegation of 32 community members was led by 15 young people from the Somerville Center for Teen Empowerment, and the Somerville Public Schools’ World Percussion Ensemble and Somerville High School Chorus, each of which were met with wide acclaim from a panel of judges, event organizers, and fellow finalists.

Somerville’s presentation highlighted how youth and community leaders, including police, collaborate to create positive change, foster stronger relationships between young people and police officers, and use music and art to celebrate and promote diversity and inclusiveness.
“This award was earned not just by the daily efforts of the many community members, agencies and city and school staff that work to support our youth, but by the impressive group of young people who competed on our behalf and by their determination, their voices, their stories and their community pride,” said Mayor Joseph A. Curtatone. “They say it takes a village to raise a child, but it also takes strong, supported, and empowered youths to work with the community to better the lives and opportunities of all youth and that’s just what this team did, does, and I hope will continue to do.”

How Somerville Works with Vulnerable Youth
The City’s application focused on a range of programs community-wide that support local and vulnerable youth offered both by the City and Public Schools as well as local organizations, with three efforts highlighted: the nonprofit Center for Teen Empowerment (TE), using music education as empowerment in the schools, and the City’s Pocket Change workforce development program for low-income, out-of-school young adults.

• Teen Empowerment is a youth organizing and social change program that trains youth community organizers to create positive social change in their communities. Among other efforts, they work build positive relationships between youth and police including through innovative programs like youth-police dialogues TE has contributed to a significant decrease in violent crime among youth and to an increase in youth-police events and programming. According to data from the City’s annual Youth Risk Behavior Survey, levels of violence, substance use, and feelings of depression decreased between 2004 (TE’s implementation in Somerville) and 2014.

“The fact that we had the opportunity to travel with people from the City who work to maintain a sense of community in Somerville, and came home with a win, was an incredible experience,” said Sassiane Estany, a Program Coordinator with Teen Empowerment. “We became so close with other youth in our community, Somerville police officers, local business owners and city officials, and made new connections with friends from California, Florida, and Washington. It is truly an honor to have had the chance to show other cities how Somerville youth found their voice, and I can’t wait for another chance to show that Somerville will always be an All-America City!”

• Using Music Education as Empowerment. Somerville Public Schools enable students to learn to play an instrument beginning in middle school, free of charge. When combined with additional and unique opportunities, such as the World Percussion Ensemble which teaches rhythm from all over the world and incorporates peer mentorship in the classroom, these programs have led to a dramatic increase in participation in music education. Since 2005, middle school enrollment in musical instrument instruction has increased eighty-five percent, and high school enrollment across various programs has increased significantly.

“We are attracting the students who are typically in the margins, because they have no experience with musical instruments, because they may not have confidence to enroll in another school program, or because they do not feel accepted,” said Marcus Santos, Director of the SHS World Percussion Ensemble. “Music can be a catalyst for social change. We place beginning students with peers who are more advanced, and students learn exponentially. It’s powerful to see how excited these students are about music.”

• The Pocket Change Initiative aims to reduce unemployment for low-income youth in Somerville by 10 percent over 10 years. It connects low-income, out-of-school young adults to full-time employment opportunities and reduce their chances of unemployment. Because many of the program’s participants have little formal work experience, the program links them with “micro-level” jobs around the city that provide a bit of “pocket change” and teach on-the-job skills. Pocket Change participants also take part in a series of soft-skill workshops that focus on job readiness skills, such as interviewing, resume writing and group dynamics, and hard-skill training such as CDL licensing, restaurant training and other certificate programs.

The full list of 2015 All-America City Award winners includes:

Carson, California; Salinas, California; Stockton, California; Tallahassee, Florida; Somerville, Massachusetts; Tupelo, Mississippi; Geneva, New York; Marshall, Texas; Spokane, Washington; and Yakima, Washington.

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