Thurston County Family and Juvenile Court (FJC) believes that the youth today are the future, and if the future of Thurston County is going to be a vibrant one, then it must start with developing young people. The FJC has been using the Youth Development Model (YDM) to create programs that develop young people who come through the justice system, rather than sentencing them to confinement.
With the YDM, they implemented two programs; the Garden Project, established in 2016, and the Youth Development Program, established in early 2018.
"Traditional detention was used regularly for sentencing juveniles before research told us that wasn't the best approach", said Mike Fenton, Juvenile Court Administrator. "Now research shows that putting youth, whose brains aren't fully developed, into detention for low level offenses may do more harm than help. We believe our youth are resources to be developed, not problems to be fixed."
Seeds of Change: Give Back Garden
Shane Pier, Garden Supervisor, has been working with youth who come through the Thurston County Family and Juvenile Court for 18 years, and says one of the most rewarding parts of his job is teaching young people that they are valuable members of their communities.
"I have the greatest job in the world. I get to help young people learn new skills, give them opportunities to give back to the community, and teach them they are worth something, while spending my days working in a garden."
In 2016, Pier established the Seeds of Change: Give Back Garden to provide opportunities for youth to develop important skills and learn valuable life lessons, rather than going into custody at the Juvenile Detention Center. The youth who get involved with the garden are responsible for its construction, along with the planting, maintenance, and harvest of the produce.
All the produce harvested in the garden is put back into the community through the Thurston County Foodbank. In 2016 and 2017 combined, they donated more than 2,500 pounds of produce to the foodbank. Their goal for 2018 is to donate at least 3,000 pounds. As of Friday, August 31, they donated more than 3,240 pounds and there is still a month left for growing.
"The garden provides these young people with opportunities to learn about the science of gardening, learn employable skills, engage in teamwork, and help in community restoration," said Pier. "I enjoy watching them grow, work together, and learn from one another."
For more information about the garden, visit: https://www.co.thurston.wa.us/juvenilecourt/gardenproject.htm
Youth Development Program (YDP)
The FJC administration wanted to revamp a day detention program that closed around two years ago and sat dormant for a year. They took a hard look at what would be most meaningful for the youth. Because of the success of the Garden Project, they wanted to find ways to expand it by providing additional resources for the youth through the new Youth Development Program (YDP).
The YDP is an after-school program for young people that is open Monday through Friday. There, students develop skills, increase resilience, and have positive experiences where they can connect with and be part of the community. The classes are laid back, where participants can have conversations and participate in support groups in a comfortable setting. They discuss employment, work on skills training, resume writing, and discuss what it takes to hold a job. There are also educational components to the program where youth can get help with school assignments.
"At the YDP we are trying to teach youth values that may not have been instilled at home," said Cleaves. "Some of these youth don't have parents or have parents with addictions. They need positive adult role models in their lives and that is what we are here for."
"I was in their same place when I was younger so I can relate with them on a whole different level," said Tony Cleaves, YDP Lead. "I strive to be an example of what they can become and that they don't have to continue on the road they are travelling. I hope that we can somehow plant a seed that makes them want to do, and be, better; we may not see it grow for five years or we may see it right away."
To date, the YDP has had 178 young people come through its doors since the program became available in February.
"Some may be duplicates, but the bottom line is that this shows 178 times where a youth may have had to return to court to face detention sanctions, was released from detention to attend social skill development programming, and had structure added to their day," said Ted Bryan, Thurston County Juvenile Court Detention Manager. "Most youth indicate they feel a sense of belonging and a sense of support in these programs and activities."
While this program has had great results, it doesn't come without challenges. Only three staff are dedicated to managing the YDP and Garden Project. These staff must be available every day to support the programs and young people involved. Transportation has also been an issue. The FJC is not on a main bus line, so getting the participants to and from the program has been difficult.
For more information about the Youth Development Program, visit: https://www.co.thurston.wa.us/juvenilecourt/youthdevelopmentprogram.htm
After Completing the Program
Support for the youth doesn't stop once they have met their obligation to the Court. The YDP and Garden Project staff also serve the participants by referring them to programs they have interest in, or that may help serve them in their specific situation.
"There are so many negative activities these youth can walk back into once they leave here. We try to help them get to a place that will be a positive influence," said Jessica Anderson, Juvenile Probation Counselor and Program Coordinator. "If they want to try something new, like horseback riding or art, we refer them to programs that can help them explore that interest in a positive way. We will be there helping them if they are looking for something good and want to try something new."
Staff also do a lot of one-on-one mentoring so they understand the individual needs of the young people involved and can help them move forward in building healthy and positive relationships with themselves and others.
To get involved with the Seeds of Change: Give Back Garden, or YDP, contact Mike Fenton at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 360-709-3141, or Jessica Anderson at email@example.com, or 360-409-3161.
Thank You to the YDP Partners!
Evergreen Council on Problem Gambling and Gaming (anti gaming/ gambling workshop)
Community Youth Services (outreach services)
Washington Trafficking Prevention (anti-trafficking workshop)
Safe Place (sexual Healthy and healthy relationships)
The Crisis Clinic (suicide risk prevention)
Planned Parenthood (Sexual health and education)
The SHARPS program (sexual health and risk prevention) CYS
Community of Basketball (COB)- Basketball and leadership skills
Inkwell writing program (creative writing workshop)
The Bridge Music Project (lyric writing workshop)
Gateways for Incarcerated Youth (Evergreen State College mentorship program)
Healing Hearts Ranch (Equine assisted experiential learning)
Wells Fargo Bank (lessons on finance)