Newlyweds Reach Out to At-Risk Neighborhood Youths

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Community Renewal

In the summer of 2006, Marco and Jennifer Chiappetta got married and settled in Washington Heights—the neighborhood they both grew up in.

While taking walks together, they were saddened by the sight of local schoolyards that had been abandoned by children and occupied by troublemakers and drug users.

Not willing to accept this shattered vision, Marco made a decision to go out to the park by his house on a regular basis to try to connect with the few children who visited it. With the thought that a single emotional connection could eventually spark a change in the culture of the neighborhood, Marco headed to the park with a football in hand.

That day, he made his first connection with a 13-year-old boy named Jonathan Barahona, whom he had never met before.

Marco, who grew up in a single-parent home and struggled as a teen, had seen Jonathan hanging out in the neighborhood during school hours, when Jonathan had no business being on the streets. Jonathan was a loner and a bully, and had developed a tough exterior after years of being roughed up by others. Throwing the ball around with Marco brought out a side of Jonathan that rarely came out, and they agreed to meet again the next day.

Jonathan arrived like he said he would, but he brought a friend with him.

And so it has been. Within one month of that first football catch, upwards of 60 children began showing up to enjoy the camaraderie and positive atmosphere of Marco’s activities. The Chiappettas seized the opportunity and began to teach principles of discipline, dedication, respect, humility, honor, courage and unity.

The couple also opened their home to these children and quickly found themselves with a full house every night of the week.

Marco and Jennifer incorporated leadership activities into the fabric of these children’s lives, including athletics, community volunteer work and fundraising activities. Marco and Jennifer offered stability and encouragement many of these children had never experienced before. Even for children whose parents took an active interest in them, Marco and Jennifer served as a bridge between the generations.

As time has passed, the original children have become mentors themselves. Jonathan no longer uses violence to solve his problems and has become a mentor who teaches his own leadership classes in the Bronx.

Marco and Jennifer, who had personally funded many of the group’s grassroots efforts from their own personal savings, have formalized their activist work into the “Patchwork of Young Leaders Society,” which was recently approved as an IRS 501(c)(3) entity.

Patchwork’s mission is to serve urban communities through afterschool and summer programs that nurture leadership abilities through emotional connections. Already, they are achieving their goal of developing adults who proactively give back to society, as community leaders, organizers and fundraisers.

On Monday, July 20th, the New York Yankees, as a part of HOPE Week, surprised the Chippettas and the children they work with by dropping by the couples’ household for lunch. To follow Marco and Jennifer’s lead, keyword search: “mentor” “youth”

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