Volunteers with Youth Resources’ Teen Court Gain Connections With Peers and Mentors, While Helping First-Time Youth Offenders
By: Samuel McGuire
The writer Goethe once said that “by seeking and blundering we learn,” a principle brought to life by the weekly sessions of the Vanderburgh County Teen Court. Though at first glance it seems to be just a youth crime diversion program, Teen Court represents much more than that, not only for the respondents that stake their future on this program, but also each and every one of the volunteer students and adults that volunteer for each weekly session.
As far as my involvement goes, I heard about Teen Court by word of mouth while looking for easy sources for community service hours for school. The idea of observing a facsimile court session for an hour seemed like a good way to build up hours for school with minimal effort, though I feared it would be a tad boring, and I couldn’t have been more wrong. By the first case, I was hooked. Something about the visceral nature of the courtroom setting, the tangible impact this has on these teens’ futures, and the passion my fellow volunteers have for helping correct the lifestyle choices of the respondents was deeply impactful to me, and since then, I’ve volunteered for every session I could for the past two and a half years, and intend to continue doing so until I graduate.
Opportunities for participation in Teen Court vary wildly, with positions from jury, to attorney, to bailiff, all being available to willing volunteers. I, being the socially inept teen that I am, stuck to jury work for a year or two before finally (mostly due to being the only person available) switching to an attorney position, and honestly, no other community service I’ve done has been as fulfilling or difficult yet.
The idea of being possibly responsible for the future choices of the respondent is difficult sometimes as a jury member, but it’s amplified tenfold whenever you’re the one that has to stand up in front of the court and present your case. Luckily, Teen Court attorney volunteers have the ever present help of the adult attorney volunteers, who help make the workload possible. Regardless of what social pressure the volunteers might experience, however, they still go up and do their job, either in representing the defendant or attempting to draw the jury’s critical analysis towards the facts of the case.
If nothing else, Teen Court is a monumental force in many teens lives, reaching beyond those respondents that have their mistakes (many of them the thoughtless kind we’ve all been tempted to make) permanently expunged from their record, allowing them to apply to colleges and jobs in the future without having the burden of adolescent mishaps hanging over their heads, to the volunteers and organizers that make Teen Court possible. It is through these connections that real change in the lives of Vanderburgh County youth is possible, providing teens from all over southwestern Indiana the opportunity to reach out and help get their fellow teens’ lives back on track and prepared for the future.
Samuel McGuire is a junior at Signature School. He has volunteered with the Vanderburgh County Teen Court program for 3 years.