YDC Staff compete in a friendly volleyball game with youth

Fun Days provide bonding opportunities for JJDP youth and staff

Author: Matt Debnam

Beneath the warmth of the summer sun, youth and staff at two Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention facilities shared days of fun and bonding last week, complete with water-based activities to beat the heat. Lenoir Youth Development Center held its annual Fun Day celebration July 19, followed in short order by Chatham Youth Development Center on July 21.

youth enjoy an inflatable waterslide

At each facility, the enclosed yards typically reserved for recreation were transformed into oases of water-based activities. Inflatable water slides and dunk tanks at each facility were complemented by a mass of water balloons, giving everyone ample opportunities to get wet. At Lenoir, a basketball shootout and cornhole boards offered the chance for friendly competition, and Chatham culminated its Fun Day with a staff versus students volleyball game. 

For lunch, the Chatham campus enjoyed lunch from a food truck provided by Carolina’s Finest Feast, while Lenoir YDC staff members Cleveland Sherrod, Demekio Hardy and Ricky Phillips fired up the grill for a cookout.

At both facilities, these events are highly anticipated by both staff and youth throughout the year. Beyond the excitement of the day, they also serve as an opportunity for youth and staff to build a lasting trust with one another. 

“Our goal is to always find ways for the students to engage in a positive way and for some to enjoy a new experience,” said Lenoir YDC Juvenile Facility Field Specialist Barbara Jacobs. “We find during this event we are all working on rapport building and developing interpersonal relationships to help create a culture in which the students know we care and are here to help them reach their goals. Fun day was a success, everyone participated in the festivities, it was a day enjoyed by all and one we look forward to every year.”

For juveniles committed to a youth development center, life often looks very different from their peers in the community. Due to past mistakes, trauma or other life circumstances, oftentimes these youth have to grow up fast – without taking time to simply be a kid. 

Youth hits a bullseye on a dunk tank

“I would say this [for some] is a once-in-a-lifetime experience where they get to enjoy being a kid,” said Chatham YDC Youth Counselor Supervisor Dorian McLean, who has been with the division for nearly a decade. “They can escape the pressures of life, not worry about getting their next meal, about somebody hurting them or having to do something for somebody that they don’t want to do.”

“If you talk to them, they will tell you it’s been a long time since they’ve been able to just be kids and play,” added Chatham YDC Director Fleuretta McDougald. “We give them the opportunity to see if they can practice the skills we have been teaching the whole time. We’re watching their conversation skills, and they self-correct quickly when they slip up. The fact that they can come out and do what we teach them, that builds trust.”

For the students in attendance, the outlook on Fun Day was largely the same, albeit from a different perspective.

“It’s been great,” said one youth. “You get to converse and learn and be around people you don’t see every day. It’s a different environment and it changes your perspective.”

“We’re so used to the same routine every day, so it feels good to do this,” agreed another youth. “I got to dunk my youth counselor today, so that was fun. It’s cool to see all the students getting along.”

To see more photos from the Chatham and Lenoir YDC Fun Days, visit the DPS Flickr Page.

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