YouthWorks has cut ties with a Southwest Baltimore nonprofit after a 15-year-old worker accused an employee of striking him in the face.

Police were called Monday to the Cooperative Community Development Inc., a nonprofit in Irvington with a mission to create self-sustained communities through revitalization, agriculture and other projects. The 15-year-old became irritated and flipped over a table before being detained by staff, according to a police report. The teen told police he was struck in the face by an employee at the nonprofit and had a swollen eye.

But Johnny Martin Jr., founder and president of the cooperative’s board, said the police report doesn’t tell the whole story. He said the teen started destroying property at the nonprofit’s temporary headquarters in Westgate and attacked three staff members. The worker was stopped by a male supervisor and taken to the ground, causing the teen to hit his face, Martin said. Martin also added that the teenager called family members to come up to the work site to confront supervisors. Martin had to lockdown the work site, he said.

Martin’s team sent out a message to the cohort apologizing that they had to witness the incident and said the nonprofit needed to shut down the work site until Aug. 4 to address what happened. Unbeknownst to Martin, the workers and their parents received a separate email from YouthWorks, which is a program within the Mayor’s Office of Employment Development, saying that it was closing the work site, but workers would be paid for the missed shift and possibly reassigned.

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A spokesperson with the Mayor’s Office of Employment Development said this is an ongoing investigation and they were not prepared to offer an interview. In a statement, the department said that it “hope[s] that The Cooperative reevaluates its practices and make[s] the necessary changes to ensure the safety and welfare of all children.”

Workers will not face a financial blow from the change, either. They are going to be paid for the remaining two weeks of the program. The YouthWorks program, which runs for five weeks from July to August this year, has provided job opportunities to young people for 50 years. (The Baltimore Banner employs interns through YouthWorks.)

Martin called the choice by YouthWorks “a fast, uninformed decision.” He is still unaware of how else he and his team should have handled the situation aside from shutting down the work site and calling police.

Martin said losing the YouthWorks workers is detrimental to the nonprofit’s mission because they relied on the help to get several different projects done around Baltimore, including a bus stop shelter with a canopy, an open community green space and a project with Plantation Park Heights Urban Farm and Morgan State University to build farm lockers. The cooperative, he added, was trying “to give them the tools to change their communities.”

Martin, who has lived in Irvington for 40 years, said the cooperative will have to figure out what they can for the summer as far as projects since they already bought all the supplies. He had plans to extend the opportunity for some of the workers until September 2024 with an application for a YouthWorks year-round internship.

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The day after the incident at the work site, he received an email from the Mayor’s Office of Employment Development that his application was rescinded and that they would not be moving forward with the cooperative’s work site. A big part of the program feels stripped away, he said.

“If we don’t have access to critical resources to move resources forward then we might as well be closed,” Martin said.

The cooperative is staying in a temporary headquarters while it tries to purchase a building in Irvington next to a garage the nonprofit uses to house tools and other materials. Martin said the organization is running into barriers because the conditions of the buildings the group is interested in do not match the high asking prices.

For now, the cooperative is prioritizing getting a permanent building for its headquarters and building up their membership so they can continue servicing communities. Martin is also adamant about getting answers from police, politicians and those within the YouthWorks program about what could have been done to prevent the canceled partnership.

This story has been updated to reflect the correct age of the YouthWorks worker involved.

jasmine.vaughn@thebaltimorebanner.com

Jasmine Vaughn-Hall is a neighborhood and community reporter at the Baltimore Banner, covering the people, challenges, and solutions within West Baltimore. Have a tip about something happening in your community? Taco recommendations? Call or text Jasmine at 443-608-8983.

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