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In attempt to curb violence, Springfield gives young residents free passes to community centers

Keshawn Dodds, executive director of the Boys and Girls Family Center, holds up a new universal city pass in Springfield, Massachusetts, on September 25, 2023.
Alden Bourne
/
NEPM
Keshawn Dodds, executive director of the Boys and Girls Family Center, holds up a new universal city pass in Springfield, Massachusetts, on September 25, 2023.

The city of Springfield, Massachusetts, has introduced an initiative to allow young residents to access community centers and other facilities for free.

The program is called universal city pass and the card can be used to get in at no cost to places like the Springfield Boys and Girls Club, the Springfield YMCA and the South End Community Center.

The idea came from meetings Mayor Domenic Sarno held with community leaders, seeking solutions to a recent increase in gun violence in the city.

Francena Brown leads Families Against Violenceand said she thinks the program will be a great success.

"A lot of these kids are not able to come to these centers because they can't afford it or their parents can't afford it," she said. "By this coming to be free, these kids can start coming to some services and start coming to the centers where they can play basketball or they can have some education. They need their father figures and a lot of them don't have their father figures in their lives."

Keshawn Dodds, who is the executive director of Springfield's Boys and Girls Family Center, said he thought the passes could have a big impact.

"We want to make sure our kids are safe and have a place to go and grow and be better adults," he said.

The city plans to distribute the passes through senior centers, libraries, barber shops, and bodegas.

At a press conference in Springfield announcing the program Monday, Sarno said the cards would also be handed out by the police.

"Our officers are patrolling the area or maybe a family member — somebody — reaches out and says, 'jeez, I'm having a hell of time with my kid, my grandson, my granddaughter, where could they go?' This pass can go to all these places for free."

The passes are officially only good for one week but those behind the program said free memberships would be extended well beyond that for youth who are interested.

Before joining New England Public Media, Alden was a producer for the CBS NEWS program 60 Minutes. In that role, he covered topics ranging from art, music and medicine to business, education and politics.
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