'The kids are the stars'

Samuel Acevedo has witnessed two opposite aspects of urban youths' lives: crime and salvation.

As a lawyer working with the New York City courts to determine the best interventions for juvenile offenders, he routinely encountered adolescents whose lives were decimated. "You didn't have much to work with there - no structure, no real family left. School had pretty much given up on them," he says.

But he also served as a youth minister at the Salem Pentecostal Temple in the Bronx borough of New York, just a few blocks from where African immigrant Amadou Diallo was killed by police officers last year. There, he found confirmations of his belief in "the transforming power of Jesus Christ": kids (and adults) rescued from despair. "If you really want to deal with a kid," he learned, "you gotta pop the hood and get to his soul."

But the one thing missing was a holistic approach that would equip young people to lead balanced lives and develop their minds.

Last fall, Mr. Acevedo moved to Boston to be part of a community collaboration that matched his goal, becoming director of the Higher Education Resource Center based at the Congregacin Len de Jud, where he also wears a hat as a youth minister.

"I've never felt more peace, more certitude of my life's purpose," he says, simultaneously reaching out a hand to greet students and volunteers arriving for the evening's SAT prep classes.

All of the component parts - from private grants to volunteer tutors and counselors - are essential to the center's educational mission, he says.

But at the core, the project is a calling for him and many others.

"The youth pastors wake something up inside them, say to them, 'You're worth it, God loves you, you have a right to achieve a higher education.... My job is to say [to the overburdened ministers], 'You need a center? You have one. This is an extension of your ministry.' We've begun to get a nucleus of churches who relate to us in that way. They want to send their kids to someplace they can trust.

"This is an experiment, and as far as I'm concerned, it's working. The kids are the stars. The minute I forget that, that it's about them and God's purpose for them, then we become just another social-service experiment."

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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