Building Bridges With ‘Let’s Grow Together’ Initiative

It’s no longer the elephant in the room: Tension between police officers and minorities, while nothing new, has been in the spotlight more than ever in recent years. Here in Westchester, the emotionally fraught and racially charged relationships between cops and minorities, especially young people, have also received media attention and have raised concern in county communities. 

Last year, in an effort to ease tensions, build trust, and mend relationships between Yonkers law enforcement and the community, a new initiative called “Let’s Grow Together” was launched—and it has been making positive strides. One of the goals of the program, the first of its kind in the country, is to engage at-risk adolescents and police officers in a variety of activities, conversations, and interactions, so they not only can get to know each other, but try to understand each other as well.

“This program has given us insight into what these teens are going through,” says Yonkers Police Officer Eric Giusto. “When you’re an adult, you forget what it was like to be a teenager. But, when you spend time with the kids, you remember that you probably made some of the same decisions when you were that age. It makes you more empathetic.” 

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According to Alan Mucatel, executive director of human-services agency Leake & Watts, which partnered with the Yonkers PD in the initiative, the program has helped local teens get to know police officers as people and see them in a more positive light. “Conversely, the regular interaction with the teens has helped police officers gain a greater understanding of the unique challenges these young people face,” says Mucatel, who thinks the program could serve as a model for other cities. 

Andrew Perez, a teen in the program, agrees. “Before being in this program, I’d see all this negative stuff on social media about police, and it’s hard not to get caught up in that. But ‘Let’s Grow Together’ let me see the police as people. Now, I think of them as Eric and Shannen, not Officers Giusto and Hogue.”

“Let’s Grow Together” currently has 10 police officers and 20 youth participants from Leake & Watts’ Residential Treatment Center, which hopes to expand the program in the coming months. 

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