July 18 - 25, 2007
By LILLIE LAVADO, The Hartford News Staff Writer
To fans of 1990’s pop music, OPP is the title of catchy novelty song by the group Naughty By Nature. But for Elizabeth Torres, OPP is the name of the youth service agency that turned her life around.
Torres joined OPP (Our Piece of the Pie, formerly known as Southend Community Services) as a teenager and as a result she went straight to college at CCSU where she is now a senior majoring in psychology. Torres is currently interning with OPP. She said she returned to the organization because of its mission to “help [youth] go into the real world while working on a news paper or art.”
Torres tearfully told her story last Tuesday at the grand opening of OPP’s new North End Youth Learning Center at Veeder Place at the corner of Sargeant and Garden Streets.
Visitors to last week’s event were greeted by OPP members Edwin, Jeron, and David, students at Weaver High School and the University of Hartford. The trio held the doors wide open pointing the way and explained that OPP “teaches teenagers about business.”
Several other city youths who are members of OPP gave un-scripted descriptions of the organization’s various programs, such as JAM (Junior Art Makers), Hartford Voices, the youth newspaper Echoes from the Street, and Crunch Time. They permitted visitors to peak into their lime green, turquoise, orange, and yellow work rooms where other youth carried on their activities.
Jasmine Zene, a sophomore at Bristol Central High who lives in Hartford’s Northend, introduced visitors to OPP’s Fashion Design program. Jasmine got involved with OPP after her mother brought her an application she found at Capital Workforce. She modestly stated that she was “lucky to be chosen out of 600 other applicants.” Jasmine, and the other “lucky” youth, work four hours, five days per week, for six weeks and get paid for it. They receive “training for the real world” Jasmine explained, and she added that the experience of addressing dozens of strangers should help her reach her goal of becoming a “talk show host … like Oprah”.
JAM member and Windsor High student Grace Rodriguez described the group’s plans to decorate OPP’s communal area with a democratically chosen theme. Toka Okamato, manager of JAM, was just as enthusiastic as his youth “employees” as they listed possible themes of non-violence, peace and education which the group came up with in an open discussion.
While OPP’s programs are geared toward helping youngsters fulfill their potential, they also benefit the community as a whole. Classical Magnet School seniors Rashonda Allen and Chantel Mitchell are both part of a program which exemplifies this commitment to community service: City Scan. This summer, City Scan will embark on a campaign to inform city residents about sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), using surveys, door-to-door canvassing, OPP-created public service announce¬ments, and a bus which does STD screenings on-board.
Chantel has experience with this kind of community service and told a story about their previous lead paint campaign, which informed parents to get their children tested. Fortunately one child was treated early for lead poisoning thanks to their spotlight on the issue.