Pritchard applauds mentors

By David Tomas

Mentors participating in the Juvenile Learning Mentor Program were recognized Tuesday.

DeKalb County Court Services held the open house event at the DeKalb County Legislative Center, 200 N. Main St. in Sycamore.

“This event is just a party to thank all the volunteers … who put time and effort into the program,” program coordinator Keri Nelson said.

The majority of the volunteers are students from NIU and number around 10 to 20 every year. Some are interested in the criminal justice system or are criminology majors, and some are interested in the social service field, she said.

The Juvenile Learning Mentor Program is a unique opportunity for teenagers on probation.

“The program is a 10-week educationally based one-on-one program, so kids on probation or court supervision in DeKalb County are court-ordered into the program,” Nelson Said.

The youth on probation are then paired with a mentor and write a 10-page paper that is presented to the judge, she said.

The program was created four years ago by 16th Judicial Circuit Associate Judge Wiley Edmondson.

“Most of the kids that are involved in the juvenile justice system don’t think much of themselves,” Edmondson said. “A kid can do a project and show themselves that they can accomplish it; it would enhance their self-esteem, their feelings about themselves.”

This year the event included a speech by state Rep. Robert Pritchard (R-Hinckley).

“I’m here to support this program,” he said. “I want to encourage the kind of adult mentoring and volunteering to help youth.”

Hopefully the volunteers will change the course of the lives of troubled teenagers and will help them be productive citizens, Pritchard said.

Among those attending were teenagers who graduated from the program and their mentors.

“This program has really helped me a lot with communication toward other people,” DeKalb resident Michaella Poole said. “It has helped me understand a lot of things about myself.”

Mentors take time off their Saturday mornings to sit down with their assigned teen and encourage them to stay out of trouble.

“I was a troubled youth myself and I was able to get out of situation I was in, to go to college and make something of myself,” said mentor Tara Smith, an sociological research graduate student. “I want to help girls who are in a similar situation and show them that there is hope and that they can achieve their dreams.”

This year, 52 teenagers in DeKalb County graduated from the program, Nelson said.

Anyone interested in being a mentor can contact Nelson at knelson@dekalbcounty.org.