“I came to the Worcester Youth Center looking for a job,” recalls Yesenia Maysonet. Her friend recommended a youth leader stipend position, so Yesenia walked in, interviewed and was hired the same day. Within a year or two, she was supervising other peer leaders, creating new community service projects and running the snack bar. She chaired the Teen Action Group and attended Executive Board meetings, fascinated by the behind-the-scenes process of decision-making.
While attending Clark University, she continued to work at the Center, but after seven years was ready for a change. Her move to education program staffer at Worcester’s Boys & Girls Club was a natural, given her skills developed at the Center. She collaborated with Youth Center staff on a variety of projects and shifted to case management. Completing her psychology degree, she took a graduate community development course at Clark.
In 2010, a series of shootings rocked Worcester. Youth from different parts of the city – and from different youth organizations – needed to find a way to get along. The Boys & Girls Club hosted an anti-violence rally. Yesenia convened a group of youth workers to focus on social issues and leverage the city’s social service agencies to reach their goals.
She moved to Orlando, Florida in 2012, eager to build on her Worcester experiences in a new place. A program director for Boys & Girls Club of Central Florida, her team oversees 250 kids in kindergarten through fifth grade in Pine Hills, one of Orlando’s lowest income and highest crime areas. Modeling her Youth Center training, she empowers her staff. Meeting with them one-on-one, she explains, “I need to train you to replace me.” She also volunteers with teen leaders, who are much like Worcester youth. The Youth Center, she says, was “a great stepping stone.”