Peer Jury Program Hits 10-Year Milestone

In December 2010, an innovative effort to help troubled youth in Downers Grove, Illinois, celebrated its 10-year anniversary. Brian Slodysko of the TribLocal newspaper reported on the successes of the Downers Grove Peer Jury system:

The concept is simple: if a juvenile offender pleads guilty to committing a crime – ranging anywhere in severity from possession of alcohol to retail theft and even burglary – they are given the option of facing a jury of their peers who will then assess punishment.

“Research shows peers actually respect their peers in terms of their opinions and being held accountable,” said Lori Wrzesinski, the director of youth services for Downers Grove Township. “It basically is about what we can do to hold you accountable to ensure that you don’t repeat it.”

Lori Rhoades, a recent college grad and former Downers Grove North student said her time serving on a peer jury made her realize everybody makes mistakes.

“It changes perspective … which is how it should be, breaking down generalizations made about teens,” Rhoades said. “We tend to think certain types of people will misbehave. All kinds of people can make mistakes and learn from that and regain themselves.”

Never, Ever Give Up

In November 2010, Marilyn Jones of the Christian Science Monitor profiled a woman whose approach when advocating on behalf of troubled teens is direct and simple: Never, ever give up.

The result of the attitude has mean a tremendous range of services for struggling youth in Massachusetts:

Mary Baldwin – or simply “Molly,” as everyone knows her – became interested as a teenager in community work and especially in prisons. “I found that our penal system is ineffective, expensive – and dangerous,” she says. “I thought, there’s got to be a better way.”

So almost 23 years ago, when the state of Massachusetts gave her a $134,000 grant to start a program to prevent teen pregnancies, she dived in.

Today Baldwin, and “some fabulous teachers and coaches,” have parlayed that first grant into an $8 million project called Roca (Spanish for “rock”). Last year, Roca served more than 700 youths through an educational and training intervention program, as well as another 150 young people through less intensive services.

Innovative Program Emphasizes Etiquette for Struggling Youth

Etiquette lessons? For at-risk youth? In Lakewood Ranch, Fla., the answer is a resounding — and apparently effective — “Yes, ma’am!”

Sara Kennedy of The Lakewood Ranch Herald explained the story of The Academy for Leadership and Social Development:

Stephanie L. Hefner became interested in offering etiquette classes for at-risk youth after she realized her grandmother had started a charm school in Manatee County decades ago. …

The academy, based in Lakewood Ranch, is designed to teach confidence, respect, integrity and empowerment to at-risk, underprivileged and disadvantaged young people. …

Among the topics Hefner addresses are how to deal with peer pressure and bullying; setting goals; skills for job interviewing and socializing, and the importance of community.

At-Risk Alabama Youth Complete ‘Operation MAD’

Early in November 2010, 11 at-risk teens between the ages of 10 and 18 celebrated their graduation from an innovative outreach program known as “Operation MAD” (for Making A Difference).

Sara Cure of The Huntsville Times described the program:

To participate in the program, children and young adults must have referrals from juvenile court, pastors, parents, counselors and others.

For 90 days, the participants meet twice a week for two hours, with one hour devoted solely to homework tutored by volunteer students from Alabama A&M University.

Classes vary week by week with instruction on substance abuse, peer pressure, criminal behavior, gang awareness and even employment placement.

Operation MAD also invites guest speakers on topics such as awareness of sexually transmitted diseases, and takes the class on field trips, including a visit to the Limestone Correctional Facility.

Teen Boys Need Better Info About Sexually Transmitted Diseases

Only one in four teenage boys who engage in high-risk sex is receiving adequate counseling about sexually transmitted diseases, according to a new study from the Johns Hopkins University.

High-risk sex was defined as having sex with prostitutes or while drunk, or having sex with someone who is infected with HIV.

The boys in the study who did receive counseling received it from their doctors.

This study appeared in the Journal of Adolescent Health.