BY TOM DALTON
---- — SALEM — Construction began this week on a little building serving a big role in the city’s Point neighborhood.
A crew started digging a foundation for an addition to the headquarters of On Point, a juvenile court diversion program that has become a popular hangout.
“We have to kick them out at night,” said James Lister, executive director of The Plummer Home for Boys, which staffs the youth program.
Salem Juvenile Court, the Police Department and the Plummer Home launched On Point more than a year ago. It is a 90-day program for Salem teens on probation aimed at preventing them from spiraling further into the court system.
On Point is located in the former Palmer Cove Park caretaker’s house, and now hosts counseling sessions, job skills training, a community service program, English classes, speakers and a music program. It’s open to the community several hours a week.
Most of the construction, funded by a $35,000 grant, will be done by students from North Shore Technical High School in Middleton. Salem Building Inspector Tom St. Pierre, a board member at the vocational school, helped arrange the project.
“He was a key player getting them involved,” said Police Sgt. Harry Rocheville of the Community Impact Unit, which is heavily involved in On Point. “He told me a majority of the kids involved in the program are from Salem and some from that neighborhood, so they have a vested interest.”
Although it may be too early for a final judgment, so far the juvenile diversion program has been a success, according to officials. Last month, more than a dozen teens graduated after completing counseling, community service and other requirements.
“You know the greatest thing about this whole program?” said Rocheville. “We have kids who have graduated and don’t need to be here anymore, but they still come during the week and on Saturdays. So we’re doing something right.”
Construction, which will double the size of the first floor, is scheduled to be completed this winter.
“This will allow us to do different activities with different groups of kids,” said Lister. “We just need the ability to spread out so kids can do more clinical activities, more (community) service and more fun stuff.”
Since the On Point program began, Rocheville said there have been more activities for young people and fewer signs of vandalism in the adjacent park.
“I think it’s having a big impact on the neighborhood,” he said.
Tom Dalton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.