HARTFORD -- Eric Heredia, 17; and Traevaughnn Morrison, 15, are part of the Peacebuilders program, a violence-prevention initiative with the Hartford Public Schools and the City of Hartford.
Last year Heredia said he was expelled from Hartford Public High School for fighting. "I was on probation and the court assigned me here [Compass Youth Collaborative]," he said. "I came here last August and my first thought was, 'Why?' "
The programs and advice from Peacebuilder outreach worker Carlos Gonzalez have helped Heredia.
"He knows what I'm talking about and has dealt with the same things on the streets as me," Heredia said. "Before someone might say something and I'd go off and fight. Now I let it bounce off me, walk away. It's not worth it to end up in jail or worse."
Morrison, sitting at the same table as Heredia at the Compass Youth Collaborative administration office on South Prospect Street, nodded.
"I had a bad temper with my mother," he said. "I wouldn't listen to authority. I disobeyed."
Morrison had heard Compass Youth Collaborative may help his situation. So he visited Shiloh Baptist Church and the Wilson-Gray YMCA on Albany Avenue, where Compass Youth Collaborative meets in the city's north end.
"It has helped; I'm not so angry," he said. "It's knowing how to cope, deal with stuff. Try to avoid the bad situations, channel my anger. Listening to someone who has been there with drugs, gangs and stuff connects.
"I know people my age who are in jail. That's not where I want to be."
Morrison and Heredia are spokespersons for Compass Youth Collaborative, which offers youth development programs five days a week through the school year to support and enhance students' academic success.
Compass Youth Collaborative president/CEO Bob Pawloski says more than 600 children and young adults participate in Compass Youth Collaborative programs at Hartford Magnet Middle School, Burns Academy of Latino Studies, Asian Studies Academy at Bellizzi School and at Naylor School.
When Heredia and Morrison speak, one of their messages is stay off the streets, stay out of trouble.
Heredia said he sold drugs from age 12 to when he started in the Compass Youth Collaborative last summer. Morrison said he sold drugs for one year when he was 14.
Both say they no longer do that.
"It's hard with the temptations that are out there," Heredia said. "But I have goals."
Heredia, who now attends Bulkeley, wants to be successful, have a family and own his own business.
Morrison, who attends Weaver, aspires to go to college, to be an accountant, banker or to work with computers.
"Can't do any of that if you're in jail and make the wrong choices," Heredia said.
So they've been trying to make better choices. They've been parts of cleanup crews in the city. They've cut grass and picked up debris at Columbus Park, Hyland Park and Sigourney Street Park. Morrison also was part of a group that planted a garden on Garden Street.
"What does it mean? Doing good things is saving lives," Heredia said.
Every day is a challenge for Heredia and Morrison. They admit following the proper road sometimes is difficult because of peer pressure and temptations.
"I'm a better person than I was when I first came here," Heredia said. "Hopefully I can help some other young people in Hartford chose the right road too."
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