SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

July 30, 2013

Summer jobs program to make a difference downtown

BY ETHAN FORMAN
STAFF WRITER

---- — PEABODY — Broken and uneven sidewalks, faded street signs, walls and mailboxes tagged with graffiti, trash-strewn streets and dilapidated buildings are common in many downtown neighborhoods, not just in Peabody.

Yesterday, during a walking tour of downtown Peabody with city and state officials, plenty of the above was on display as a dozen young people looked to make an impact here, in Salem’s Point neighborhood and in Beverly’s Gloucester Crossing area by addressing some of these issues.

“Trim down the weeds, get rid of trash, get street cleaners, street sweepers and get more people to volunteer to help out the community,” said Ariel Zorrilla, 17, of Peabody, about how to solve the problems.

The tour, the second of its kind in Peabody, was organized by the North Shore Community Development Coalition and its summer youth jobs program. The six-week program pays low-income teens minimum wage for a 20-hour-a-week summer job, funded by the North Shore Workforce Investment Board, North Shore Career Center, Forest Foundation and Mass Promise Fellowship. The program pays for materials, supplies and T-shirts; attracts in-kind donations and offers to train kids in soft job skills such as resume writing, said Jackie Rose Giordano, director of external affairs for North Shore CDC.

“They do walk-throughs of each city, and they pick out things they want to work on,” said Sarah Dionne, 20, of Salem, the Forest Foundation youth programs intern.

While walking down Washington, Oak and Sanborn streets, the teens pointed out faded street signs and missing bricks in sidewalks. On Washington Street, there was a TV left out for the trash with a couple of used diapers nearby. They saw a weed-filled vacant lot on Oak Street in which the chain-link fence had been ripped out of the ground.

The teens spent the last two and a half weeks looking at problems in local downtowns. They toured the Point neighborhood with officials on July 23 and are scheduled to walk Gloucester Crossing on Aug. 5.

Yesterday’s tour included North Shore CDC’s CEO Mickey Northcutt; state Sen. Joan Lovely, D-Salem; fire Chief Steven Pasdon; Superintendent Joseph Mastrocola; Director of Community Development and Planning Karen Sawyer; Health and Human Services Director Sharon Cameron; and Mayor Ted Bettencourt’s chief of staff, Christopher Ryder.

In Salem, trash was “a big thing,” Dionne said. “Here, weeding is going to be a big thing.”

Dionne said the kids want to beautify the outside of the Elks Lodge on Oak Street and the Arcworks Community Art Center on Foster Street. The garden the students planted at the art center last year has become overgrown. They plan to spruce it up.

Jason Dinh, 14, of Salem said the plan is to enlist volunteers to make sure the garden is kept up after the young people leave.

You might forgive Alex Pelletier for saying the train tracks that run through the heart of Peabody’s downtown are no longer in use, as he noted their overgrown, garbage-strewn appearance.

“They are also dangerous for people when they are walking,” said Pelletier during his presentation. He suggested turning the railroad into a bike path.

Officials pointed out that trains come through once or twice a week at night, but those in attendance said the tracks could at least be cleared of trash.

Rebecca Conant, a recent Peabody graduate, said faded and vandalized signs are a problem. One of the stop signs in the area, for example, is blank.

“The city should replace the signs, like the blank ones or the vandalized ones to make it safer to drive around, especially at nighttime,” Conant said.

Standing by a hole in a brick sidewalk, Milagro Silva, 15, of Salem said many of the sidewalks on side streets are unsafe, with broken or uneven concrete.

Derrick Silvano, 17, of Beverly said a house on Sanborn Street has an overgrown yard and looks abandoned, making the neighborhood look bad.

Brad Talkington, a recent graduate of Peabody High, said rusty, exposed pipes and poles on Winter and Foster streets “can be dangerous if someone trips or falls on one.” The first step in dealing with the problem is to address owners but not push too hard on them, he said.

Sawyer said there is a lot of value to having young people take a fresh look at the warts of a downtown.

“I think they are filling a great void,” Sawyer said. “The best part about watching these kids identify and fix the problems is that they become even more committed to the community.”

Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at eforman@salemnews.com or on Twitter at @DanverSalemNews.