Author: Jerry Higgins
An internship is a great way for someone to determine a career path. Sometimes the internship “path” can take one on a different route to the same job as others.
That’s the case of Catawba County juvenile court counselors Lauren Henley and Eva Sanchez. Both ladies knew they wanted to work with youth and make a difference. Neither knew much, if anything, about the state juvenile justice system, but their paths not only crossed from two different directions but today they work in the same office in Newton.
Henley started her collegiate career at community college, then to Appalachian State University to studying elementary education. Sanchez went to community college and Lees-McRae College in Banner Elk to study criminal justice. Both needed internships to graduate.
“I actually did not know anything about juvenile justice,” Henley said. “I ran into an old friend who explained to me she was going to school for juvenile justice. It sounded more like what I wanted to do in making a difference.”
“I really wanted to work with at-risk youth and was interested in juvenile justice. It sounded like it was right up my alley. I switched my major to Criminal Justice and took CJ courses but was not able to take any JJ courses. I did a four-month internship with Juvenile Justice in the Watauga County office and learned what it meant to be a juvenile court counselor.”
Sanchez, who got her associate degree in latent evidence (part of the Forensic Science section) at Catawba Valley Community College, said, “Honestly, I knew nothing about juvenile justice; just basic information in classes I took in college. I knew I wanted a job where I could work with kids and make a difference in their lives.
“Alexander Juvenile Detention Center was convenient and somewhat related to the path I wanted to take. I did a three-month internship there but wasn’t what I expected. It was a total reality check. I didn’t know what to expect. I really enjoyed it, but I have a family and the schedule was not going to work for me.”
Sanchez said she spoke with a court counselor who visited the facility and explained what that job entailed. Sanchez said she was curious about the position, did her research and decided to take a path toward being a court counselor.
Henley and Sanchez have been court counselors in the District 25 office in Newton for more than two years. They are kept very busy outside of attending juvenile court. Some of what their job consists of includes:
- Home and school visits;
- Child and family team meetings;
- Visits to out-of-home placements;
- Extra meetings such as helping juveniles obtain IDs, work permits, GEDs and job opportunities;
- Documenting case notes;
- Updating online records and various assessments;
- Creating court reports;
- Filing motions for violations/extensions;
- Weekly office meetings; and
- Providing referrals to community programs/providers.
“I’ve learned a lot in being a juvenile court counselor, professionally and personally. Some days are stressful but manageable at the same time. Some days you’re going to be overwhelmed, but at the end of the day, it’s always rewarding,” Henley said.
Sanchez said she feels she is meant to be a court counselor. She is focused on her goal of helping area juveniles, their families and give back to her community.
“I think I am meant to be here because I am passionate about changing one child’s life,” she said. “I give advice, encouragement, ideas, that’s the type of person I am. At the end of the day, we are court counselors and have the same end goal: help these juveniles make better decisions.”
Both ladies said that being a court counselor is a great career path, especially for those coming out of college.
“I didn’t think or know that kids my age at the time would commit crimes like adults would commit,” Henley said of her intern time in Watauga County. “While seeing the home life they are growing up in and connecting the dots, it made sense. A lot of kids in the JJ system come from unstable and unsupportive environments. They don’t have consistency and some of the home environments can also be traumatizing.
“I try to provide support and encouragement to the kids every school visit, every home visit, every interaction. I try to be that positive example. The job is very rewarding. I love being able to work with the kids, even on a hard and stressful day. I love that I get to do what I do.”
Sanchez said, “Is it a calling? I feel it is. There’s something about working with the younger generation. The big picture is that this is the next generation coming up and if things are not going well, we have people like me who can be mentors. We can work with the younger generation and change their minds a bit.
“At this point, if I couldn’t do this, I would go out and try to find something similar. My focus is working with the kids and making a difference.“
Both ladies laugh when they think about their career paths. But they agree that it helps to work closely with someone their own age who researched the job, interned and ended up loving what they do.
“I can say it’s great to have someone to start this journey off with,” Sanchez said. “It’s more of we are learning from each other. I couldn’t be more thankful to have another person to start off with. It’s been very interesting that we ended up in the same office. We’ve really learned a lot from each other.”