It’s not a person’s mistakes which define them—it’s the way they make amends. ~Freya North
Teenagers often make mistakes, and sometimes those mistakes get them in trouble with the law. When someone breaks the law, they have to face the consequences. What if the consequences for delinquent youth focused less on punishing them and more on helping them take responsibility for their actions while making amends for the damage they caused? This less punitive approach is known as restorative justice and is the approach that the Community Service & Restitution Program at Communities In Schools Chatham County (CISCC) uses. The restorative process seeks to repair the harm by involving the entire community in rehabilitating offenders and holding them accountable for their behavior. CISCC’s Community Service & Restitution Program is led by Coordinator Jeremiah McCaffity and Program Assistant Bieisy Santiago. Youth in the program are referred by the Department of Juvenile Justice, are between the ages of 10-17 living in Chatham County, and have committed non-violent crimes as first-time offenders.
The first step is completing a comprehensive intake. In addition to assessing the youth’s risk to the community, Jeremiah and Bieisy have a chance to learn about the youth’s hobbies, interests, schedule, and family life. A vital part of the intake includes establishing an Individual Service Plan that maps out how the youth will fulfill their court-ordered service and/or restitution commitments. Each person’s plan is thorough and includes specific and measurable goals, dates for regular Work Site visits, dates for progress reviews, and a well-developed exit strategy. Once the intake is complete and the plan is in place, the youth are placed in one of our 13 partner Work Sites throughout Chatham County, based on their interests and availability.
Youth might not be thrilled about having to do community service hours, but every effort is made to pair them with Work Sites that will provide them with the most personal growth and the best possible outcomes for the community at large. Some youth like working with animals. Others prefer working outside harvesting food from local gardens. We are grateful for the partnerships with our current Work Sites as they provide diverse opportunities for youth to integrate into the fabric of their communities while being exposed to resources they might not otherwise have access to. Our current Work Sites are:
Chatham Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore
Chatham Trades Inc.
Communities In Schools Chatham County
Community Lunch at St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church
Chatham County’s Health & Wellness Committee Garden
Happy Hills Animal Foundation Inc.
Piedmont Farm Animal Refuge
Small Museum of Folk Art
Take and Eat Food Pantry
Virginia Cross Elementary School
West Chatham Food Pantry
An advantage of implementing the restorative justice model on our county’s youth is that the benefits are observed well after the community service and/or restitution has been satisfied. When deliberating with his peers about what sentence to give a youth defendant in Teen Court, “John” recently said, “I think we should give the maximum number of hours. Maybe (s)he’ll enjoy the community service work and want to continue doing it. I enjoyed mine. Mine was fun.” In addition to “John” enjoying giving back to his community, he was great at it. His Work Site was Virginia Cross Elementary School (VCE) where he helped distribute food bags to families in need. Site Supervisor/Student Support Specialist Jazmin Mendoza said, “I am very happy with “John.” He did an amazing job and teachers love him. He came to VCE, and he is remembered by teachers as a great student.”
The youth aren’t the only ones who gain from the Community Service & Restitution partnerships. Courtney Goldston is the Human Resources Analyst at the Chatham County Manager’s Office. She is the volunteer Site Supervisor for Chatham County’s Health & Wellness Committee’s shared garden. One of our youth recently completed community service hours at the garden, and Ms. Goldston had only positive things to say about him and his work. She said, “It was such a pleasure working with and getting to know “Jay.” I could not have asked for a more perfect garden companion! He was knowledgeable and very helpful to our novice gardeners. Our youth can teach us so many things about life, ourselves and others. His grandparents have raised an exceptional young man and I hope they are very proud of him. I look forward to seeing what the future holds for “Jay”!
Jeremiah is passionate about the program being a positive experience for youth to learn, grow, and develop and is always seeking out new, creative ways to build relationships with new partner Work Sites and volunteer Site Supervisors. Currently, there is a need for more volunteer Site Supervisors in the northern part of Chatham County. Mahatma Gandhi said, “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” We invite you to become a part of Chatham County’s youth finding themselves.
For more information on any aspect of the Community Service & Restitution Program, including how to become an approved partner Work Site, or how to become a volunteer Site Supervisor, please contact Jeremiah McCaffity at: firstname.lastname@example.org or (919) 663-0116 ext.406