WATERBURY, Conn. (WTNH) – There is an unmistakable rusty image of the Brass City — blight consumes buildings on several Waterbury streets, and 20 percent of families live below the poverty line.
Crime ranks high and youth are at risk.
“Every time someone looked at me, they knew me because of something bad I did,” said Caydon Riola, who was expelled and arrested twice before his sophomore year.
He said that behavior was a silent cry for help.
“I was the dumb, risky, who-wants-to-do-a-bunch-of bad-stuff type friend,” Riola said. “Everybody liked that about me. I realized that wasn’t the type of attention that I want.”
The type of attention he received from the Police Activity League turned his life around.
“If I wouldn’t have gotten introduced to PAL, I would’ve been more involved in the streets and stuff like that,” he said. “I’m just glad that’s not the case.”
PAL gives kids the chance to try a variety of programs, such as sports, singing, theatre, and cooking. The group has been building relationships with youth since 2003. Before that, many kids didn’t have someone to step in and stop them from joining a gang or committing crimes to get by.
Christine Forgione, a retired Waterbury parole officer, knew some of those children who are now adults.
“We have these young men that also want to change,” Forgione said. “They are tired of doing the same thing over and over again.”
She now heads Project Longevity, helping adults who lived a life of crime to start new.
“It may have been a terrible mistake or may have been when they were very young, and they have taken the time to self-reflect and see what it is they want to do,” Forgione said.
Project Longevity aims to provide a support system for those transitioning out of a gang lifestyle. Case managers help men and women find employment, education opportunities, housing, addiction, or medical services.
“It’s unbelievable how many services there are,” Forgione said. “It’s just the research and we’re willing to do that legwork for them and kind of be that one-stop-shop and navigate through the process. We’re all human, we all make mistakes, nobody is perfect. The whole goal behind this is to give them that opportunity.”