Money seized from drug dealers in western Massachusetts is being used to do good things. The funds are helping keep at-risk youths off the streets and reuniting families torn apart by drug abuse.
Hampden District Attorney Mark Mastroianni has awarded $30,000 to two Springfield-based nonprofit agencies from the Drug Forfeiture Grant Program. The fund consists of money and property forfeited by court order following a criminal conviction for a drug dealing offense.
Mastroianni has given out $100,000 since starting the program two years ago.
" I see so much tragedy everyday, some of it so horrible it is overwhelming. So, to see something positive like this that I can have an impact on in these programs it is an enormous sense of accomplishment for me."
The latest recipients of funds from the program are the YMCA of Greater Springfield and Square One, an early education and child care program based in Springfield. The Y received $20,000 to fund two initiatives and Square One received $10,000
Kirk Smith, President and CEO of the YMCA says $10,000 will be used to help support a youth boxing program and $10,000 will go to a summer camp for inner-city children.
" Money that was meant for evil is now being used for good."
The youth boxing program was started two years ago by Springfield Police Lt. Rupert Daniel. He said it has helped get about 150 teenagers and young adults off the streets. Daniel said at times he’s dipped into his own pocket and relied on donations from others to buy boxing equipment and pay for travel to tournaments.
" As a police officer you want to find something else for these kids, but nothing is free. The DA's help has been fantastic."
Square One will use the grant from the district attorney for a pilot program that will provide supervised weekly visits between children and parents who have temporarily lost custody of the children because of drug abuse. Square One President and CEO Joan Kagan said the supervised visits are a prelude to reuniting the families.
" It is very traumatic for a child to be separated from their mother. They are victimized by it. We want to help the child through the process and provide this type of programming."
The visits will take place at Square One’s family resource center on Main Street in Springfield.
" There are resources and play things so there can be a quality supervised visit in a child-friendly setting."
Mastroianni said he hopes the drug forfeiture program continues. That will be up to his successor. Mastroianni has been confirmed by the U.S. Senate to be the U.S. District Court judge in western Massachusetts.