What It's Like To Volunteer At A Juvenile Correctional Center

What It's Like To Volunteer At A Juvenile Correctional Center

Some deserve a second chance
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Last semester, I volunteered at Bon Air Juvenile Correctional Center in Bon Air, Virginia, near Richmond. It's a coed facility serving both young men and women that range from ages 14 to 20. These residents have been committed by the juvenile court and convicted of an assortment of crimes, from small misdemeanors to serious felonies. The facility offers them educational, vocational, mental health, and rehabilitative counseling services, as well as academic and vocational training. They may also be placed in specialized treatment programs for substance abuse, aggression management, sex offenses, and intensive therapeutic programming. Residents are able to earn a high school diploma or general equivalency degree while at the facility. Recreational, religious and volunteer programming is also available to residents. Communication with family members by mail and phone calls is encouraged. However, family members are only able to visit the facility once a week.

I specifically worked with the Pathways Program at Bon Air Juvenile Correctional Center. Pathways is a private, non-profit community development corporation that works to rebuild and strengthen the city of Richmond and, more importantly, its young men and women in need of help and guidance. It strives to be a neighborhood partner that effectively builds pathways to employment, good health, and a revitalized community. Pathways’ vision for Richmond is to create a community that offers a quality of life for all to live, work, learn and thrive. The program believes that the city has the ability to become a commercial community with good schools, a strong housing market, safe streets, and public and recreational services for everyone. In order to make this vision a success, Pathways must continue to stand as a catalyst for the spiritual, social, and economic revitalization of Richmond while still awakening hope.

The social issue that Bon Air’s Pathways Program addresses is delinquency among youth. Some of the crimes committed range from minor offenses to major felonies. The majority of the causes behind these acts include poverty, gangs, drugs, neglect, abuse, or simply the neighborhood that children are raised in.

One key element of the strategy for addressing the problem of delinquency employed by Pathways is to treat the residents as what they are: human beings. Ashley Williams, Pathways’ Retention Coordinator, led the sessions that I attended with the group. The boys adored “Miss Ashley,” and the volunteers idolized her just as much. On the first day of volunteering, one of the first things that Ashley told the other volunteers was that this was a peer mentorship. We are not just teaching the residents, they are teaching us as well. This idea was one that stuck with me throughout my time with Pathways this semester.

Every evening that we meet with our Pathways group, we sat in a circle and checked-in with the residents by asking how their weeks had been going. Check-in was followed by a listening activity in which each volunteer was paired with one resident. The activity began with Ashley reading out a question that one partner had to answer while the other would listen. Afterward, Ashley asked the room if partners found any similarities in answers or what people thought of each other’s answers. The session typically ended with a group activity, such as crossword puzzle competitions or recreational sports, and volunteers and residents had the opportunity to mingle with one another. And, of course, every activity was accompanied with a delicious snack.

One evening, one of the residents asked me if I played any sports in high school. I told him that I loved playing basketball, even though I wasn't that good. The resident immediately stood up from out of his chair and screamed, "Miss Ashley? Can you arrange a basketball game for us next week? We got to get Colby out on the court." Ashley did just that.

We first participated in some drills to get us warmed up for the game. I was surprisingly draining all of my baskets, and teased the other residents for not being "as good as me." When it was time to play the game, all of the residents wanted me on their team, so Ashley picked the teams to make them fair. I ended up on the team with the young man that requested an evening of basketball. It was tie-game for the majority of the time until I happened to make the winning basket. The residents on my team got on their knees and started bowing down, saying "All hail Colby!"

I believe that casually spending time with the Pathways boys and not drawing attention to the fact that they are all there for a reason is the best possible strategy to address delinquent behavior. During a separate session, Ashley asked residents to name their favorite day of the week. The boy I was partnered with smiled and answered "Mondays," the same day volunteers came to visit. He proceeded to explain that, after being locked up with the same people all week, he had Monday nights to look forward to because a group of people willingly decided to come in and spend time with him and his fellow inmates.

The Pathways Program can be improved in a number of ways, from assisting residents in preparing for interviews to sharing common practices in the workplace for when they are able to leave the facility. On my last night of volunteering, one of the young men had filled me in on his potential plans for the future. He said that the following day one of his supervisors was going to bring him a list of smaller, private schools that he had a chance of getting into once he was released. He also told me that he was expected to have a shorter sentence than planned. If this were the case, he would attend community college in his area and search for a job to get him back on his feet. He said he was very nervous because, if interviews were involved, he was not confident that he would be able to present himself well, and that his not-so-clean record would be an issue. Therefore, I believe that providing counselors or other types of resources that inform residents of what to expect when working for their first job or how to confidently prepare for an interview would be very beneficial.

I had a very good experience working as a volunteer for the Pathways Program at Bon Air Juvenile Correctional Center. My experience was so pleasant that I hope to find time in my schedule next semester to return and continue working with the residents.

Cover Image Credit: 123rf

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10 Reasons Your Big Sister Is The Best Person In Your Life

"There is no better friend than a sister, and there is no better sister than you."
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As much as I hate to admit it, my big sister might be sort-of, slightly, cooler than I am.

Sometimes. She's the one I call when I can't call mom and the only one in the family who can properly handle my attitude. Big sisters are the people you'd choose if they weren't already family, and here's why.

1. She is your first and truest friend.

Big sisters are (literally) there from day one. They see every dirty diaper, every bad haircut, and every melodramatic breakup. They deal with every bad day and drama queen attitude and still love you in the most unconditional way.

2. Her closet is your closet.

For some reason, her clothes always look better on you. Funny how that works, huh? With a big sister comes a big closet, and who doesn't love having a double wardrobe? I'd also like to take this opportunity to apologize for the clothes I will never give back (but I'm not really that sorry).

3. She knows what it's like to deal with your parents.

Anything you could possibly be going through, they went through it first. It's kind of like having an instruction manual or a key to the future. Either way, it's always nice to have someone who will always understand the struggle.

4. There are no boundaries.

Wanna dance around in your underwear all day? Cool. Life talks while she's on the toilet? Also cool. There's no awkward moments or changing in the bathroom with the door locked. There's just the kind of freedom that only comes with siblings.

5. Thanks to her, you know about all of the cool movies/music/fashion trends from years back.

Thanks to my sister, I have every Too $hort and Ludacris song you could ever think of downloaded on my phone. I've seen every cheesy '90s movie, and when a fad from 10 years ago comes back in, I already have the hookup.

6. She tells you like it is.

We all have those friends who tend to sugarcoat everything. Yeah, sisters don't do that. She's the first person to tell me when I'm making a terrible decision and that I really shouldn't triple text that boy again. She keeps it real with me and deals with my attitude, and that's why she's the best.

7. Her home is always open.

Sometimes you just need to get away from life and binge watch Netflix, and sometimes you need all of that plus your sister. She always has her door open when you're two seconds away from losing your mind, and she also has good takeout and a dog.

8. She knows what you're capable of.

My sister knows exactly who I am and what I can do. She knows when I'm not doing my best, and when I need to be set straight. She's always there to remind me who I am and what I'm capable of accomplishing. She's always been my biggest fan.

9. She's a lot cheaper than therapy.

For some reason, my sister always knows just what to say. Even if I don't see it at the time, she's usually right (don't tell her I said that). Big sisters are like wizards, somehow they always magically make you feel like life's gonna turn out alright in the end. If she wasn't already awesome at everything else, I'd suggest she be a therapist.

10. She will always be your go-to gal.

No matter the situation, she will always be by your side. There is nothing you could say or do to make a big sister leave, and that's why they're the best. Whether it's a speeding ticket, a mean girl or you just need to laugh, big sisters are always going to be there to lift your spirits and set you straight.

I couldn't make it without ya sis, I'm sorry for ratting you out on Thanksgiving that one time, and for running away at the zoo. Thanks for taking me to see Aaron Carter even though he's way too old to still be singing "I want Candy," and thank you always for being the best role model, sister and friend I could ask for.

Cover Image Credit: teaser-trailer.com

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A Little Skepticism Goes A Long Way

Be informed citizens and verify what you see and hear.

rahma
rahma
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These days more than ever before we are being bombarded constantly by a lot of news and information, a considerable amount of which is inaccurate. Sometimes there's an agenda behind it to mislead people and other times its just rumors or distortion of the facts. So, how do you sift through all this and get accurate information? How can you avoid being misled or brainwashed?

This is an important topic because the decisions each of us make can affect others. And if you are a responsible citizen your decisions can affect large numbers of people, hopefully positively, but negatively as well.

It's been said that common sense is not something that can be taught, but I am going to disagree. I think with the right training, teaching the fundamentals behind common sense can get people to have a better sense of what it is and start practicing it. All you will need is to improve your general knowledge and gain some experience, college is a good place for that, then add a little skepticism and you are on your way to start making sensible decisions.

One of the fundamental things to remember is not to believe a statement at face value, you must first verify. Even if you believe it's from a trusted source, they may have gotten their info from a questionable one. There's a saying that journalists like to use: "if your mother said, 'I love you' you should verify it.'" While this is taking it a bit too far, you get the idea.

If you feel that something is not adding up, or doesn't make sense then you are probably right. This is all the more reason to check something out further. In the past, if someone showed a picture or video of something that was sufficient proof. But nowadays with so many videos and picture editing software, it would have to go through more verification to prove its authenticity. That's not the case with everything but that's something that often needs to be done.

One way of checking if something sounds fishy is to look at all the parties involved and what do they have to gain and lose. This sometimes is easier to use when you're dealing with a politics-related issue, but it can work for other things where more than one person/group is involved. For example, most people and countries as well will not do something that is self-destructive, so if one party is accusing the other of doing something self-destructive or disadvantageous then it's likely that there is something inaccurate about the account. Perhaps the accusing party is setting the other one up or trying to gain some praise they don't deserve.

A lot of times all it takes is a little skepticism and some digging to get to the truth. So please don't be that one which retweets rumors or helps spread misinformation. Verify before you report it.

rahma
rahma

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