Jeronimo Lopez Youth Project
Like the slums surrounding many third world cities, barrio Jeronimo Lopez mushroomed over the past 20 or more years as the Nicaraguan economy drove more and more farmers into central Nagarote looking for work which few of them found. Shacks were thrown up, trees were cut down. It’s a place where most of the 200 families struggle to get by on less than $2 a day and rice and beans are about all they ever eat. It used to be a haven for teen gangs, but now with our Jeronimo Lopez Youth Project, most teens are part of the solution and no longer a problem.
The Youth Project is a year-round after-school program for 185 teens in the Jeronimo Lopez barrio. They tell us what they want to learn and we find the teachers. They also attend workshop on substance abuse, domestic violence, and HIV/AIDS. The program includes classes in English, computers, reading and writing, dressmaking, tailoring, baking, painting, guitar, hair styling, and sports. Community service is an important component.
The project’s most amazing community service feat has been creating a tree nursery and growing more than 20,000 trees from seed. The youngsters give them to residents throughout Nagarote who agree to care for them. (Click on Urban Reforestation Project above to learn more.) This project is sponsored by New England Biolabs Foundation.
The reforestation project included workshops for the youngsters on sustainable agriculture, global warming, composting and other environmental issues.
In 2008, Lorena Estrada, a student at Wesleyan University, spent two months as an intern.; She took with her 8 copies each of two books of interest to teenage girls and formed a reading group where the girls read the stories together, discussed the issues raised, noted new vocabulary in their journals and tried writing their own poems and stories. It was so popular and such an effective tool for teaching reading comprehension, critical thinking and love of reading that we have added reading groups to our menu of activities for the Youth Project participants.
Our Impact Study of the Youth Project had the following conclusion:
Demographically,the population is very young. Sixty percent is under 20 years old, and 40 percent of the barrio population is between 10 and 20 years old, the target range of the Youth Project. 25 percent of the households are headed by single mothers. There is a high level of unemployment/underemployment, as well as a low level of adult education. All of these factors are conducive to social ills such as youth delinquency. Overall the JLYP is well targeted to barrio needs.
A vast majority of people from the barrio know of the JLYP and the NNSCP. 75 percent of households have participated in an NNSCP project, and 15 percent of households have found employment because of their participation. There has also been a large impact through workshops and community service.
One of our goals in developing the Youth Project is to provide job skills. Although our scholarship program includes some money toward college, most youngsters finish their education at age 17 when they complete high school with virtually no skills. Unemployment in the area is huge and their prospects are dismal.By learning sewing, baking, hair styling, computer use, English, and tree cultivation and interning at the preschool, more than 30 of our graduates have found jobs and are helping to supplement meager family incomes.
History of the Jeronimo Lopez Youth Project
In 2002, under the guidance of N/NSCP, the residents of the Jeronimo Lopez neighborhood in Nagarote conducted a census and began community planning. They cited juvenile delinquency as one of their most pressing problems
The Norwalk/Nagarote Sister City Project selected the Jeronimo Lopez neighborhood as their area of focus and agreed to try to raise the money to support an outreach and development project for these kids. We were lucky enough to enlist the support of the Tauck Foundation for seed money to get the project going. Tauck matched the money we raised for the first full year of operation and continued to support the project through 2004.
We hired the best local people we could find to work with families in the neighborhood visiting each family, explaining the project and encouraging them to let their kids participate. We gathered together 57 kids, aged 13 to 17, and provided workshops in leadership and self-esteem. We asked them what they’d like to learn and they chose the activities: sewing, tailoring, art, hair styling and baking. In 2004, we added computer classes and in 2005, by popular demand, we added English and Photography. By 2007, we had a guitar class and in 2008, reading groups.There is also soccer for boys and volley ball for girls. We’re providing the teachers, sports coordinator, computers, sewing machines, sports equipment, art materials and other supplies needed.
They also chose to work on community service projects.The first was a health brigade to teach residents in the area the importance of proper disposal of waste. Subsequent community service projects included assisting the health department with vaccinations, starting a tree nursery, and planting trees.
The results have been rewarding. In addition to reducing teen crime and gangs, many of the youngsters have found jobs. Little by little we are breaking the cycle of poverty in the barrio.
It costs about $75/year for each youngster.
Make an on-line donation through
or mail a check to:
N/NSCP, Box 382, Norwalk, CT 06852-0382