Facility Fun Day for Staff and Juveniles

Author: Jerry Higgins, Communications Officer

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has not provided many outlets for fun for juveniles and staffers within Juvenile Justice’s secure custody facilities. Though youth development centers and juvenile detention centers offer as many creative and educational activities as possible, in the facilities there are limited opportunities for the youth (and staff) to “blow off steam.”

This summer, Juvenile Justice staff came up with the idea of holding “fun days” for the 11 state-run facilities. The days would include athletic competitions like basketball and volleyball, not only for the youth but staff. Because it was summer, water games, such as water balloons, dunk tanks and large “slip and slides,” were a must to cool off. And, as with any summer fun time, youth were treated to plenty of hamburgers, hot dogs and fried chicken, as well as snacks they do not regularly get such as ice pops and cotton candy.

“We were in a unique situation because of COVID-19,” said Eastern Region Manager of Facilities Stanley Melvin. “This was a reward for enduring the shutdown because of the pandemic. The educational calendar was out. We wanted to do anything to distract them with arts and crafts, sports and food. This was a way to refocus everyone’s mindset as we move forward.”

Prior to the pandemic, youth had the opportunity to attend a week at Camp Willow Run on Lake Gaston in northeastern North Carolina. Facility and camp staff could monitor youth scaling a climbing wall, walking tree-to-tree on wire cables 20 feet above the ground or just enjoying nature for the first time in the wilderness.

That opportunity wasn’t available this year, so it was up to staff to plan these events. Some of the planning involved using materials and equipment available at the facilities. Other plans looked at finding sponsors to provide food and other items the youth did not have access to in the normal day.

“The planning wasn’t difficult once we made sure we were meeting regularly to discuss it,” said New Hanover Juvenile Detention Center Director Elderwin Reed. “Organization and planning are big when you have to deal with a lot of kids out in various areas of the center. We figured out where the food would come from and what games we could play. Our Youth Services Behavioral Specialist Tashima Harris was the lead for games and food and got donations. We had good input from the staff.” 

While planning what type of events and food to have was similar between juvenile detention centers and youth development center, other logistics were different. 

“At the JDC, you had kids who go to court, so you never know how long they’d be there,” said Western Regional Manager of Facilities Charles Dingle. “You have to squeeze it in (fun day) and get it done. There’s less pressure at the YDC because the kids are going to be there for a while. YDCs have more latitude to do an event like this.”

Melvin said, “There are more youth at the YDC and most have four distinct housing units. You have to plan on (the potential of) kids not getting along. There had to be some separations if needed, so our staff had to be creative. The JDC did not have as big a group. We could even bring the cookout food to them. The kids were held accountable for their actions (before and during the event). Even if they weren’t able to participate, we wanted them to be a part of it.”

Staff agreed that the fun days not only brought much-needed smiles to the youth but also to staff. The interaction between both groups was positive. Kids had fun beating the staff in volleyball games and staff had fun tossing water balloons with the kids.

“Our staff was thankful and I heard many say it’s the first time kids could be kids,” said Chatham YDC Director Fleuretta McDougald, whose facility had a food truck and gigantic slip and slide that got plenty of use on the hot day. “Since I’ve been here (2017), we’ve always had a summer and Octoberfest activity. Safety and security were keys to the success. The kids put a whipping on us in the volleyball tournament and could talk smack to us within reason.

“I loved the comradery between different team members. You have staff who work different shifts and haven’t worked together, work toward a common goal and maintain their level of excellence.”

Reed added, “Staff really enjoyed themselves but still had to do their jobs. I think it really helped the morale of the staff and the juveniles.”

Melvin said he hopes the fun days can become an annual event, for the staff as well as the juveniles.

“If you didn’t realize you were in a YDC or a JDC, you’d see these were kids just acting like kids,” Melvin said. “Our staff encouraged the kids when they did well. Schools have field days and we had fun days. You see the good that comes out of it. The staff take on a project and can let their hair down. And, for the kids, it’s an incentive for positive behavior.” 

NOTE: To see photos from various facility fun days, please go to the NCDPS Flickr album.

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