Peto Morales used to spend his Friday afternoons dealing drugs. Now he preps food and talks sense into anyone who will listen.
A former juvenile delinquent who blew through the court systems in Syracuse, N.Y., and Boston before deciding to change his ways, Mr. Morales got help from a Dorchester program for troubled youths. His case shows how grass-roots organizations here have benefited from being part of the Safe Neighborhood Initiative.
"What the SNI did was give us a new context to come together. It gave us new resources and a new perspective," says Susan Worgaftik of the Dorchester Center for Adult Education.
Through the SNI, funding became available for small-business training and loan programs that community groups had wanted for years. It paid part-time salaries for at-risk youths, like Morales, helping them to move off the streets and into the workplace. After completing an internship at a well-known restaurant in Cambridge, Mass., Morales was hired to work as a sous-chef there.
The SNI has also developed important links between law enforcement and social service. "The police at one time were the enemy," says Joe Carpineto, founder of Joe's Diner, the teen-work project that Morales took part in.
Now, the two work together. If programs run by nonprofit groups prevent youths from heading into a life of crime, that's a help to police. Police can educate small-business owners about how to keep their stores safe from break-ins.
"This keeps on building on itself," Ms. Worgaftik says. "People are beginning to recognize that if a neighborhood ... is going to be healthy, it must provide jobs for the community, after-school jobs for teens, part-time jobs for mothers.