Prototype Program Connects the Dots for North Carolina's At-Risk Youth

Three Graduates in Green, Blue and Gray
Friday, April 26, 2019 - 9:45pm

Have you ever lost a job? Have you ever wondered whether you had the skills/education to find a job? Have you ever simply felt alone in a strange town without a safety net of family or friends? Consider shouldering all three of those scenarios simultaneously. A young person transitioning out of the juvenile justice system may feel the weight of all these pressures (along with the additional stigma that may accompany having been held in secure custody). As we commemorate Reentry Week here in North Carolina, I attended a graduation event at North Carolina Central University (NCCU), for a special group of young men who graduated from the Communities in Schools program, Reentry 2 Resilience (R2R) – a program designed to smooth the reentry of juvenile justice-involved youth to their communities.

Reentry programming is a valuable and necessary component of the comprehensive continuum of care used by juvenile justice professionals throughout North Carolina to proactively engage delinquent youth. In practice, work to aid reentry begins as soon as young people enter the juvenile justice system. Prior to and following adjudication, young people may receive an individualized complement of necessary services through the department, partnering agencies and/or other programs. These services are based on individual needs, addressing the causal issues behind the behavior while holding the youth accountable for their actions. Whether a juvenile is committed to a secure, controlled environment or is referred to one or more of their community’s Juvenile Crime Prevention Council programs, the aim is to help them assimilate into the community, equipped with the skills and tools necessary to be productive and successful in life. This could include helping them to attain a high school diploma or its equivalent, apply for college, learn a technical trade or master personal financial skills.

The Community in Schools (CIS) Reentry program works with post-release youth and their families to continue developing the skills they received while in the care of the Juvenile Justice section, which are necessary to take the first steps toward a productive adult life. R2R is the first and only program like it in the nation for CIS, filling the post-release void with programming/resources for young men (and in the future, young women) and building upon the tools and skills they received while in the state’s care. So, while North Carolina may be last to raise the age of juvenile jurisdiction, this prototype program is blazing a pathway to opportunity, hope and a second chance, with a goal of preventing recidivism.

The CIS program graduates spent their day Wednesday touring the NCCU campus, and the evening culminated with certificates, awards of excellence and acknowledgment for a hard journey completed. It was an opportunity for friends, family and the support network to share the accomplishments. Additionally, the program provided graduates with new blazers, to help them express their new-found confidence as each embarks on their new path to success. Keynote speaker for the event, Sean Ingram (of the Sean Ingram Academy) told graduates, “I know you all have dreams for your lives - you have to build relationships with people who can help you achieve your dreams.”

In addition to the many state juvenile justice professionals who help young people build better lives, lasting success takes support from communities. Ingram also shared this:

“When you were in school, somebody handed you a connect-the-dots, and all you saw was dots on a page. If you were like me, you sat there wasting time trying to figure out what the picture was without actually putting your pencil on the first dot and starting. That picture is your goal, so don’t make life more difficult by guessing. Go to dot number one and start connecting the dots and your goal will be there for you at the end.”

Oftentimes the most meaningful interactions evolve from merely taking time to talk with our youth on a regular basis. Get involved with a community-based or ministry-based program. Mentor a youth. Coach a sports team. Show them you care and be consistent. I challenge each of you to help a North Carolina young person from becoming a legal statistic, by helping them connect their dots.

 

 

 

*The Reentry to Resilience program is run by the Communities Schools organization through grants provided by NCDPS and the Bob Barker Foundation.
Author: 
Matt Jenkins, Communications Officer