Wake County Court Counselors Make Time for Their Own Brand of Volunteer Youth Outreach

Tuesday, July 9, 2019 - 10:38am

Dedicating personal time to a cause after putting in a full day’s work (toward the same cause), is a sure sign you have a passion for what you do.

Donald Pinchback, chief court counselor for District 10 (Wake County), and his Juvenile Court Services staff can make that claim without hesitation.

In the state’s juvenile justice system, court counselors fill their days helping youth who find themselves heading down a wrong path. On any given day, these professionals may fill the role of intake counselor; a guide through diversion (programs used to provide needed resources to children and their families, or to curb negative behaviors as an alternative to commitment); or perhaps provider of community supervision for delinquent juveniles (those who habitually commit offenses).

As business at the Wake County courthouse complex closes for the day, several District 10 court counselors assume the role of evening volunteer, by leading two unique programs. HALO and HAMM were both started by the Wake County team to help delinquent or at-risk youth develop skills to help them succeed in life.

HALO (Helping Adolescent Ladies Overcome) is a girl’s group that has been in existence since 2005. Originating when the office recognized a need to serve the higher numbers of girls that were coming into the system (as a result of gang proliferation, human trafficking and other negative factors), the group offers support for girls facing struggles. Staffers Sandra Brown and Mary Jordan began the program and have been involved as coordinators ever since. Today, they lead HALO along with their colleague LaToya Williams.

The program consists of a series of 12 weekly sessions, the first one involving parents, as expectations and goals are laid out. Program staff members build personal connections with the youth in circle-style interactions, allowing the girls to get to know staff as people and not just as court counselors. One simple message for the girls is the phrase “I am enough.” They are encouraged to confront negative issues they might otherwise internalize, empowering the girls in a way that builds self-esteem and trust.

The program is supported by partners such as Haven House Services. Girls hear from guests including therapists, healthcare providers and organizations including 4-H. Sometimes a session is a “field trip” for exposure to someplace that the kids may not get to see otherwise, such as the nearby corporate offices of Red Hat in downtown Raleigh.

With the success of HALO, the office decided about a year ago to launch a boys’ counterpart: HAMM (Helping Adolescent Men Mature). HAMM focuses on developing positive skills: from learning to tie a necktie, to being a gentleman who opens doors for others, to vocational skills. Counselors Kenneth Judge and Antwon Williams serve as coordinators.

Both of these prosocial programs spawn creativity. In HALO, girls create visions boards (image collages showing dreams and goals), while HAMM provides journaling opportunities to encourage the boys to reflect on what they’ve learned and record what’s happening in their lives. The programs conclude with a final graduation ceremony featuring food (always a big draw) and completion certificates.

LaToya Williams described the benefits of providing this space for troubled youth to congregate with others struggling through their teenage years: “They have their own separate needs. The kids are looking for people who talk like them.” In some situations, the kids lack positive role models. “If it’s not at home, it has to be in the community that they find these things,” Williams said.

These programs have demonstrated the resiliency of kids, and the success stories are many.

In one case, a girl participating in HALO seemed withdrawn, became frustrated easily and acted out at times. After court counselors sought testing, the young woman was diagnosed with dyslexia. After getting the services and tutoring she needed, she graduated high school and now wants to attend college.

One young man being raised with his brothers by a single mother began in HAMM facing major issues in school and at home. After a couple of sessions, the court counselor was able to figure out what was affecting the youth and became a positive influencer in his life. Small successes in HAMM turned into big successes the further he went along. Now, he and his brothers are all getting along, doing chores and accepting responsibility. He recently got his first job offer. The program positively impacted not only the young man, but his entire family.

The model has been successful because it doesn’t take a “cookie-cutter” approach to programming – rather, programs evolve to serve the group’s needs. And, of course, thanks go to a humble and committed group of Juvenile Justice professionals who reach above and beyond their job duties purely out of the goodness of their hearts.

“Most people have a story of why they’ve come here” to work as court counselors, Pinchback said, and that passion leads them to pursue additional opportunities to help kids. Pinchback recalled early on in his career, while just beginning training to become a state trooper, he came across this quote from President John F. Kennedy:

“Children are the world’s most valuable resource and its best hope for the future.”

Those words led him to his true calling, working with kids as a court counselor.

“I like it when the children we help come back, knock on our door wanting to see their court counselor,” Pinchback said. “Why do we do this? Because we get to change lives.”

For more information on these programs, contact Juvenile Court Services, District 10.

George McCue