This summer, Boston youth got a dose of what it’s like to work in the health care field and to be peer leaders and educators, thanks to the Boston Public Health Commission’s Summer Enrichment Program. Although they won’t be donning white coats right away, 149 teens graduated from the program in a ceremony on Thursday, August 16, at the William E. Reed Auditorium in Dorchester.

“The summer program is a unique opportunity to introduce Boston students to health careers and to help them become leaders in their communities, working to stem teen dating violence and substance abuse,’’ said Dr. Barbara Ferrer, the Commission’s executive director. “Our youth can be our most effective vehicles for conveying positive health messages.”

The youth, ages 13-18, graduated from one of three six-week summer enrichment programs: the Boston Area Health Education Center (BAHEC), the Peer Leadership Institute, and the Start Strong Initiative.

Founded in 1978 to increase the racial, ethnic, and linguistic diversity of Boston’s health-care workforce, BAHEC’s Youth to Health Careers (Y2HC) program exposed 93 Boston teens to a broad range of health occupations through coursework and job shadowing at Boston Medical Center, Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM), Boston University School of Dental Medicine, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Tufts School of Dental Medicine, Rosie’s Place, as well as a number of programs within the Commission.

The students also received instruction in math and science – including algebra, pre-calculus, biology, and chemistry – took college preparatory classes, conducted mock job interviews, made college visits, and explored the roots of health outcome disparities.

Another 56 students worked as part of the Peer Leadership Institute and Start Strong Initiative, programs which are designed to foster positive youth role models and peer health educators. As part of their summer program, the 21 Start Strong peer leaders developed tools and organized events to help teens build healthy relationships and develop conflict resolution skills, including the annual Break-Up Summit. The 35 PLI graduates completed a substance abuse prevention leadership program.

“These young men and women should be proud of the work they did this summer and all that they accomplished,” said Liam Day, director of Youth Development and Health Promotion at the Commission. “They are scholars, professionals, performers, and definitely leaders.”

The Commission’s Summer Enrichment Program has served more than 10,000 teens over its nearly 35 years of providing resources and opportunities to help young people lead healthier lives, become community activists and leaders, enter college, and give back to their communities.

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