Juvenile work service program to graduate 47 minors

Al De Vos is shown here.

When Jennifer Stiers started working with the 47 minors who are currently enrolled in the juvenile work service program, she had each of them fill out a worksheet about themselves. The students range in age from 11 to 18 and have been convicted of minor misdemeanors up to felonies. They answered questions about what they love, what they fear, what they regret and what they appreciate.
It is the first step Stiers takes in getting to know the students with whom she works, some who are referred to the program through the probation department and others who are referred by the county’s Juvenile Review Board.
Some of the students wrote that they fear spiders or bugs. One wrote that she fears her dad. Some wrote that they regret their bad choices or how they made family members feel, while at least one wrote that he regrets nothing.
“There is a lot of reflection to get to know them,” Stiers said.
Stiers coordinates the program as a juvenile institution officer and also works with the court school. She spends most Saturdays and some afternoons with the students on their volunteer work.
The San Benito County Probation department will host a graduation ceremony at 6 p.m. Thursday at Mars Hill Coffee House for 26 of the students who have completed their juvenile work service.
The program started in 2010 and this will be the third group to graduate from the juvenile work service program.
“They have been out in the community making meaningful connections,” said Al De Vos, the gang prevention coordinator for San Benito County. “We are looking for them to start feeling positive and we want to celebrate that.”
Stiers said most of the students do their volunteer work as a group, with a few having individual assignments that they complete on their own. The group of students has volunteered at the Community Food Bank, the San Benito County Historical Park and at Juvenile Hall doing yard work.
“They did a lot of work at the food bank,” Stiers said. “Our kids boxed Thanksgiving dinners for four hours.”
Stiers said she is working to increase the nonprofits with which the students volunteer. In addition to the ones mentioned above, the students have worked at the downtown Farmers Market, the San Benito County Free Library and Pet Friends. Stiers acknowledged that some agencies are reluctant to work with the students, but she is trying to expand their options.
This year, the students also helped with the Red Ribbon Run in San Juan Bautista and a gang awareness and prevention community forum, held last fall.
“Some events they really enjoyed,” Stiers said. “There were so many people at both those events.”
After each day’s volunteer work, the youths are asked to complete a reflection worksheet. The work at the food bank touched at least one student who said that it felt good to help people in the community. Another said that bagging groceries could help her get a job.
“We need to get their mind from where it is to being positive,” De Vos said. “We want them to focus on their role in the community.”
At the end of the program, before the students graduate, they complete writing assignments that help them focus on their goals. Stiers asks them who they have to support them. She refers some students to a probation-mentoring program, those she thinks will benefit from one-on-one interaction with role models.
Stiers said in her time with the students, she has had to expel just one youth from the program for bad behavior and she hasn’t had any of the graduates return to the program. De Vos said that tracking the students can be difficult but the probation department is working on implementing a new database that will make it easier to trace recidivism.
The work service program is one of several that is funded by the county’s California Gang Resistance, Intervention and Prevention grant. The grant funding runs out at the end of March, and De Vos is in the process of applying for more funding to continue the program.
“Part of the trend is toward community placement,” De Vos said. “You can’t label them. Don’t label the kid, label the behavior. They can be in the community and be productive.”

Leave your comments