Giving at-risk youths their second chance …
This wasn’t my typical assignment.
Stephanie Rivera had accepted a ride with a family member and his friend, not knowing that decision would have an immediate impact on her life. Unaware that the car had been stolen, the 17-year-old found herself in trouble with the law. Instead of starting her high-school senior year looking forward to prom and graduation, she faced having to clear her record and pay off costly fines.
It was at this point that Stephanie, who had never been in trouble with the law, really needed someone to be her guide through what lay ahead. Fortunately, she was motivated to succeed and accepted responsibility for her actions.
As a case-manager for Diakon Youth Services’ Bridge Program, I walk alongside and mentor students enrolled in our community-based, weekday support and intervention service through their county’s juvenile probation office.
Unlike Stephanie, most of them have been in trouble multiple times. Based on a therapeutic approach to accountability, the program helps these adolescents build a foundation of self-discipline and respect for family, teachers, the law and self.
In addition to working with them on educational and workforce-development goals, I offer them my time.
For Stephanie, this has meant things such as picking her up after school, driving her to her court hearings, taking her to lunch on her birthday and simply providing an ear to listen. With that guidance and a little TLC, she got her permit, a job and faithfully saved week after week to pay off her restitution. She also graduated from high school and enrolled in college.
Despite her hard work, however, her long-range plan of joining the Army remained out of reach. As a minor, she had had her fine grouped with that of her family member and friend, who refused to pay their share. If she wanted to move on and be released from probation, she had to come up with $500 on her own.
Knowing it’s always important to have a Plan B, I approached my supervisor about the possibility of helping Stephanie through Diakon’s Second Chance Fund. The fund helps students who have done well in our program and completed their goals and probation requirements, but do not have all the necessary resources to make restitution.
Recognizing Stephanie’s hard work, my supervisor approved my request and shortly thereafter, Stephanie learned she would be released from probation, her juvenile record expunged. Those steps cleared the way for her to be the first in her family to attend college and eventually join the Army.
Because of generous donors who support Diakon’s Second Chance Fund, students such as Stephanie, who do what we ask of them but fall short in terms of financial ability, will not miss out on their dreams.
They have earned them. They deserve it. And they have gained their second chance.
Marlene Ortiz is a case-manager for Diakon Youth Services’ Bridge program in Chester County. To learn how you can make a donation to the Second Chance Fund, click here.
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