Naugatuck teens speak up about pandemic impacts

(Left to right) Adrianna Peguero, City Hill 8th grader, Alex Caruso, a Naugatuck High school junior , Laura Guerrera a Naugatuck Youth Services social work intern and a youth advocate coordinator Ellis Sadler talk during a Community Conversation Circle on Tuesday at the Naugatuck Event Center. Andreas Yilma Citizen’s News

NAUGATUCK — Young people have been greatly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, including experiencing a loss of a sense of community and a lack of communication among each other, but now they will have a platform to speak their thoughts and get together.

Naugatuck Youth Services held its pilot event for “Community Conversation Circle” on Tuesday at the Naugatuck Event Center with four group members who discussed how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted youth. The program is aimed at youth and young adults to help strengthen communication. The forums are limited to 10 people to allow enough time for each person to speak.

“The circle is about building community and letting everyone’s voice be heard with different perspectives,” Naugatuck Youth Services Executive Director Kristin Mabrouk said.

The organization trained a group of youth in Oct. as “circle keepers” to carry out restorative justice and community building practices, according to Mabrouk.

“What we have found over the years, learning those restorative justice practice and skills can be really valuable in relationships navigating general conflicts that come up in everyday lives,” Mabrouk said.

One group member asks a question related to pandemic and each person speaks while holding a large gavel that acts as a talking piece to make people feel comfortable, according to Ellis Sadler, 21, a Naugatuck Youth Services youth advocate coordinator.

Group members asked each other, “Did you expect the pandemic to go the way it did?”

Laura Guerrera, a senior at Western Connecticut State University and social work intern at Naugatuck Youth Services, said she didn’t think it would last as long as it has but said it makes you become more aware of your surroundings.

“Be grateful for the friendships and relationships that you do have,” Guerrera said. “I think it definitely did put a different mindset on a lot of things that have to be changed.”

“I didn’t anticipate it being as long as it was. I thought, when it first started, ‘this is going to be gone by the end of the summer’. This will be all good but it just dragged out,” said Alex Caruso, a Naugatuck High School junior and club member.

Another question asked was how did they think the pandemic affected the school environment?

“We’re so used to being online that being in person again, it’s difficult to learn in the same way because we’re in a classroom,” Caruso said. “We have to focus instead of going on our phone.”

“I feel like everybody caught a really bad case of ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder),” said Adriana Peguero, a City Hill eighth-grader. “Nobody could pay attention in class.”

Mabrouk said she anticipates more people will turn out for the next community conversation circle on Dec. 14 at the Naugatuck Event Center from 5 to 6 p.m., where they will discuss the same topic.

Mabrouk said the program has a lot of potential and hopes it can one day be offered weekly for any age group in the community.

“I hope for people to be able to feel less alone and more connected or to be able to see a perspective different form theirs that they hadn’t previously thought about it,” Mabrouk said. “Everyone has different experiences. We can build and learn from one another. That’s what building community is all about.”

Visit to register for the event.