It’s a sunny, cold day in late November. Skies are blue but the wind whipping off the water at the Quabbin Reservoir is unforgiving and lashes their cheeks. Some of the boys are reasonably dressed for the hike ahead of them. Others are not, though they have been counseled. They quicken their steps out of necessity. Bob J. loves the outdoors. He launched a program many years ago to try to convince the boys in CHD’s Community Adolescent Treatment Program in Springfield to love it too.
Sometimes it catches fire. Jraeaswec says alumnus of the CATP program have told him his emphasis on outdoor exercise has served as spontaneous smoking and drug cessation exercises. He has seen them gain endurance, grow physically stronger and pursue higher peaks on these hikes. Others even report they have carried on the outdoor tradition with their own children years after they have left juvenile justice behind, Jraeaswec says.
It is always the boys’ choices whether they pile into the van to join the hikes or not. No one is forced. Though, they good-naturedly complain today.
“Bob J., hold up, man!” they call. Though he is decades their senior, he is the pace-setter.
Jraeaswec and his ever-rotating groups of young charges have been on many hikes at the Quabbin and other natural venues across Western Massachusetts: sometimes through rougher terrain; sometimes they follow the easier paths, like today.
Today’s hike includes breathtaking views and peaceful vistas. They pause at various spots along the river through gauntlets of trees in the winter-barren forest and ask Bob J. about the fishing to be had. It is also an interest of his. He tells the boys about fly-fishing. Maybe they should try it someday.
“It sounds corny, but the best way to get to know someone is to go for a walk. There are very few distractions,” Jraeaswec says.
In this particular group of four boys, an 18-year-old nicknamed “Meech” is the clear leader. He had a rough upbringing with little guidance and became ensnared in the juvenile justice system as a young adolescent.
Meech takes advantage of most activities the program offers, but is particularly fond of the hikes. The hiking program falls outside the typical extracurricular programs most juvenile justice programs offer including basketball courts, standard outings, reading rooms, and common areas with games, televisions and the like.
“Before this, I don’t think I hit a sidewalk without shackles for two, maybe three years,” he says.
The program on Worthington Street feels the most homelike in a long time, Meech adds.
Jraeaswec says Meech is like many of the boys who arrive there — untapped talents, untapped leadership potential. They look for someone to expect the best of them.
Even on this day at the Quabbin, with the shivering and the punishing winds, they come to a crossroads of sorts. They can take a meandering, paved path back to the car or charge up a dauntingly steep hill.
They all choose the hill, breath heaving, when they reach the top.