Nobody can deny that the kids at Juvenile Hall have made mistakes before. Some are fairly minor, some more serious. Some come from broken families, some are homeless, some are your next-door neighbors. What they have in common is that all of them need a second chance.
At Juvenile Hall Auxiliary, the nonprofit arm of the Contra Costa County Probation Department, that is our very mission. Since our office is in Juvenile Hall itself, I have firsthand experience with the kids here.
I have walked alongside them, eaten with them, and tried to give hope in some of their worst moments. I want to be the first to tell you that for these kids, their time at Juvenile Hall is a unique opportunity. It is a time for us as a society to change values, open new doors and create a better future.
The Probation Department runs Juvenile Hall and it does a very good job, especially considering devastating budget cuts these past few years.
The department provides a safe, structured environment for the kids, including a full-time kitchen, laundry room, custodial staff, medical staff and counselors.
There is even a gym, library and school at Juvenile Hall. With these resources and evidence-based programming, the Probation Department works hard to try and change values.
But there is still work for the community to do.
At the hall itself, the kids need more support, such as classes that teach them life skills. To this end, Wells Fargo has been teaching a non-branded, financial literacy class at Juvenile Hall since August.
The class covers the basics of budgeting, banking and the value of a buck. Youth take the hands-on banking course from Community Development Officer Gregory Young or Vice President District Manager Regina Gentry and receive school credit from the Contra Costa Office of Education for their work.
Once out of the hall, these kids need a chance to apply the values they have been taught. Our nonprofit opens new doors with college scholarships and paid internships funded through community donations.
This year we have been blessed with grants for our programs from Wells Fargo, the Margaret and Dean Lesher Foundation and the Orinda Women's Club.
Sure enough, we are finding that classes in Juvenile Hall have a direct impact on the youth.
Having employed many youth from Juvenile Hall, I know too often they have been surprised that even when earning a paycheck, it can be all spent before the next one comes around. Now these youth will have budgeting skills before job experience and a paycheck.
During this holiday season, we prepare more than 200 holiday care packages filled with hygiene products and clothing to be hand-delivered Christmas Eve. We sing carols and visit with the kids. But without doubt, the best gift from our community is a second chance for our most troubled kids.
For more information, please visit www.ReachingOurYouth.org or call 925-957-2718.
Janet Young is executive director of the Juvenile Hall Auxiliary.