Community service is the best way for youth to take responsibility for their mistakes, according to officials.
“It means the world to have quality individuals invested in the youth early on before they start getting comfortable with making bad decisions,” said Ian Butts, Justice Works Youth Care director.
Lycoming County’s Juvenile Probation Office began a partnership with Justice Works Youth Care in 2015 and started a community service program together in February 2018. It’s a program that has been a staple of the county since the 1990s, organized by various providers through the years.
Ed Robbins, juvenile probation chief, commended Justice Works for what it has been able to do with the youth in the past year. Roughly 40 youth went through the program, serving about 95 days for a total of 30 community hours each.
Ongoing jobs include removing graffiti from highway underpasses or helping to feed families in need.
The program is dedicated to acts of service that help the community as a whole, Robbins said. This includes helping organizations such as Goodwill Industries International Inc., the Williamsport Branch YMCA, the Lycoming County SPCA and the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank.
Mandating community service for juvenile delinquents was common as far back as the 1980s and 1990s, Robbins said, but in those days it was run by staff in the county office and was handled through word-of-mouth. The people assisted often had some type of connection with the office staff and there was little structure as to how the program would benefit the community as a whole.
Robbins said when the county began using outside organizations to run its community service program, it began a more holistic venture.
Now, it “helps the community and serves the community,” he said. “It’s one of the best ways to have kids take responsibility for their mistakes.”
Every week, youth in the program work with First Church of Williamsport to prepare and serve meals, wash dishes and clean up.
“The help the kids provide by cooking, serving and cleaning up is greatly appreciated,” said Ben Marzo, food service and hospitality coordinator at the church. “It is a blessing to see the youth grow and actually enjoy serving our community.”
Investment in early intervention is key to making long-term changes in a community, Butts and Robbins agree.
“The earlier they get on track the better,” Butts said, adding that while the effort is a challenge, the program has made great strides over its past year of operation.