Worcester teens and police connect through music

Worcester teens involved in a program that connects police with at-risk youth through art and music held their first live show Friday night.

AMPP Worcester took the stage at the Raven on Pleasant Street, performing three songs as part of Teens Rock Worcester organized by the Worcester Music Academy.

About 15 kids are involved in the Art and Music Police Partnership (AMPP), a program funded through a state Shannon grant. Worcester Police Officer Justin Bennes, who is on the department’s gang unit, mentors the teens.

“It’s enlightening to see the power that their words have and how much passion that these kids have and the talent that they have inside of them,” Bennes said. “A lot of these kids at first were very quiet and not wanting to talk a lot about issues other than music, and now they’ll joke and make fun of me, say I listen to Nirvana.”

The teens from across Worcester rehearse up to a few hours twice a week. Together with the Hollywood Rock Academy in Los Angeles, they created a song and music video.

Entitled “17 Lives,” the song honors the victims of the Parkland, Florida, school shooting in February. The song was especially meaningful during Friday’s show, hours after the deadly school shooting in Texas. The band held a moment of silence in honor of those victims.

“The whole point of the video was to try to bring hope to the people from Florida who were involved in the shooting,” said Rey Aviles, 17, who is from Florida but now lives in Worcester and is involved in AMPP along with his 13-year-old sister, Eliana.

Johneric Lavergne helps the band with production, providing his time in what he calls “music therapy” two afternoons a week.

“They’re so impressive,” Lavergne said of the teens. “These kids are just looking for an outlet, and they found it over here at the AMPP program.”

One of the goals of the program is to foster positive relationships between police and youth.

“I’m really lucky to get to know Justin. He’s taught me tips about guitar,” said 15-year-old Phil Giarusso. “It’s really fun, and I’m really lucky I get to do this.”

But the partnership also provides kids with opportunities they might not otherwise receive.

“I didn’t grow up with my mom and my dad a lot,” said Tina Le, a 14-year-old singer. “This is like a home to me. Seeing new people and jamming together, I just feel welcome, and I have a home.”