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City launches Office of Youth Engagement & Advancement

Office will ensure teens have a voice in policies impacting them

Yawu Miller
Yawu Miller is the former senior editor of the Bay State Banner. He has written for the Banner since 1988.... VIEW BIO
City launches Office of Youth Engagement & Advancement
Pedro Cruz, head of the city’s new Office of Youth Engagement & Advancement. PHOT0: MIKE MEJIA, MAYOR’S OFFICE

When José Massó first met Pedro Cruz 23 years ago, the then 11-year-old and his brothers were rambunctious but determined when they entered the pool at the Blackstone Community Center in the South End.

Massó, then a lifeguard at the center, was impressed with Cruz’s leadership skills and his swimming. Cruz and the other youths in the center came in third place the year Massó coached them.

“I share that story often because it’s one of my proudest moments in my career,” Massó told a gathering of city officials, community activists and reporters gathered at the Blackstone last Thursday. “But I will say what comes second is today.”

Massó, now the city of Boston’s chief of health and human services, along with Mayor Michelle Wu and other city officials, were there to announce the creation of a new Office of Youth Engagement & Advancement (OYEA) under the Health and Human Services Cabinet.

The new office will be helmed by Cruz.

“This new office of youth engagement and advancement, also known as OYEA, will recognize the essential role of our young people in our city’s success today and into the future,” Wu said. “That’s why OYEA will focus on ensuring that our young people’s voices are part of every decision that we make in Boston.”

Wu said the office will help give young people voice in the city’s decision-making processes and work to identify gaps in youth programming offered across the city. The office will also coordinate the work of the Mayor’s Youth Council and the Youth Lead the Change participatory budgeting initiative, both of which were formerly under of city’s Department of Youth Engagement and Employment.

Cruz, who was born in Puerto Rico and raised in the South End, got his first job working at the Blackstone Community Center.

“That’s how I was able to learn and really fall in love with community work,” he said. “Those years were crucial for me, and really set the foundation for my life’s work.”

Cruz attended Mass College of Art and Design, then went to work for the Inquilinos Boricuas en Acción (IBA) community development corporation, first as coordinator of its Youth Arts Program, then as director of the Youth Development Program.

“I’ve worked for the past 15 years of my life with youth and community,” he said. “Everywhere from community centers, Boston Public Schools, nonprofits, and now going full circle back to the city. I break this timeline down because I think it is important for people to understand that I am a prime example of what happens when a city welcomes a family, provides them with services, housing, education, opportunities for the youth. I am what we mean when we say, ‘It takes a village.’”

Wu told the audience assembled in the Blackstone auditorium that Cruz’s history in the city is key to Boston’s approach to youth development.

“Developing and supporting young people across our neighborhoods is one of the most important responsibilities we have as a city,” she said. “The creation of OYEA will ensure that we are working closely with community to wrap around our youth, connecting them with crucial city services and enriching opportunities year-round.”

Among those in attendance at the announcement were IBA Executive Director Vanessa Calderón-Rosado, at-large City Councilor Ruthzee Louijeune and Center for Teen Empowerment Executive Director Abrigal Forrester.

Forrester said Cruz’s department could play a pivotal role in channeling more resources to youth services in the city.

“I’m excited to have the conversations at the City Council during budget hearings about how we infuse as much resources into the centralized department that’s going to be thinking about our children, and about our young people who are our future,” he told the Banner.

Cruz told the audience he is committed to making sure teens in Boston have the same opportunities he had.

“I promise to do everything in my power and my knowledge, and with all my energy, to make sure that the youth in this city have the same opportunity and access to resources that I did, because it was truly life-changing,”

City of Boston, Office of Youth Engagement & Advancement, OYEA, Pedro Cruz