YouthStep helps teens in juvenile probation improve their lives
Seven local teens graduated recently from YouthStep, a program started 14 years ago to help teens in juvenile probation learn life skills, give back to the community, and pay restitution to their victims.
The program run by Youth Count, a Prescott non-profit, guides teens toward better choices to help them improve their lives, said Officer James Tobin of the Prescott Valley Police Department, who coordinates the program with his niece, Jennifer Tobin.
"All the teens had problems with the law and had to pay restitution to their victims," Tobin said. "In the morning Mondays through Wednesdays, they went to classes on finance, integrity and nutrition, and in the afternoon they worked at Prescott High School for four hours a day on maintenance projects to get the school ready for classes in August. Sixty percent of their earnings from their work went toward restitution to their victims."
On Thursdays, the seven teens from the Prescott area worked on service projects such as building a trail and their favorite project, volunteering at Horses with H.E.A.R.T., a therapeutic riding program for people with special needs, said Jennifer Tobin, co-coordinator of the program.
"I like to work with kids and see them smile," said Amy, a YouthStep graduate.
Sabra, another graduate, agreed. "It was a good experience. I hadn't worked with kids like that before," she said.
Nathan said working with the kids with disabilities there was "something that was satisfying to my soul."
Jennifer Tobin said she thought working with the participants of Horses with H.E.A.R.T. taught the YouthStep participants "to be grateful for their circumstances and understand that some people deal with greater obstacles."
As the teens neared the end of their program, they told Jennifer they wanted to thank Horses with H.E.A.R.T. and raised money to sponsor riders in the program. When Jennifer presented their check to Trudy Chapman-Radley, director of Horses with H.E.A.R.T., Chapman-Radley told the teens, "By reaching out and helping others, you helped yourselves as well. You were a wonderful group to work with. You love the horses and the horses love you."
After all their work helping others, the YouthStep participants rode the horses themselves, Chapman-Radley said.
Then Lance Dorrell, a Horses with H.E.A.R.T. rider, presented Kayla, a YouthStep participant, with an award for all her hard work and dedication.
"I'm proud of you," Dorrell said. "You have choices. You can turn your lives around if you choose. I want you to think about that and where you've been."
Youth Count worked together with Yavapai County Juvenile Probation and Yavapai College, which provided the classroom, to put on the YouthStep program each year, Jennifer Tobin said.
Teens applied for the program through their juvenile probation officer, she said.
"We have this program in the Prescott area and Cottonwood," said Jill Moore, community restitution coordinator. "This year all the teens graduated - seven in Prescott and seven in Cottonwood."
Moore said they've found that teens who complete the program are less likely to commit other offenses.
Gay Lockling, deputy director of juvenile court, said nearly 600 kids in Yavapai County are under various forms of supervision through the juvenile court.
"The goal of the juvenile court is to influence change," Lockling said. "Every year we grapple with funds, (but) whenever graduation comes around, we wonder why we even thought we might have to cut funds for YouthStep."
A parent thanked the YouthStep organizers for all they did for the kids, because she'd really "seen a change for the better in my daughter."
Andy Tobin asked the participants which presenter had the most impact on them.
"The kids all overwhelmingly said Bob Farster, from the MATForce speaker's bureau, was their favorite presenter and he talks from his heart," Tobin said.
Then Tobin presented awards to all the participants including an outstanding award to Kayla.
"I thought she was a mentor in this program," Tobin said.
The graduates then performed drum music and playback, an improvisation technique, for the audience that they learned under the guidance of Richard Mansbach, a director of Boys to Men, David Sorenson, a music therapist, and Tony Hines.
Yavapai College Police Chief Joe Cappelli congratulated the graduates and reminded them that their attitude, their approach to situations and their effort and work ethic are what will make them successful in life.
"Your attitude is important in all you do. It is a choice. Only you have the ability to determine how you feel each day," Cappelli said. "Did you view this as an opportunity or a hassle? If you view it as an opportunity, your approach is in the right direction."
"What's the difference between 211 degrees Fahrenheit and 212 degrees Fahrenheit?" Cappelli asked the graduates. "Yes, it's one degree, but water at 211 degrees is just warm water, while the same water at 212 degrees is boiling, creating steam, and very powerful. If just one degree can do that, just imagine what an extra one degree of effort can do for your job, your family, and your relationships. Operate one degree higher in life. Graduates, do we have a deal?"
"Yes," they all responded.
"Let's go out there and make something positive in the community," Cappelli said.