A group of Washington County area juvenile delinquents are working hard these days to not only walk the straight and narrow but also build a tool that will help others who come after them.
Participants in the county’s LEADER program are building an obstacle course that spans two grassy fields behind the Washington Park Elementary School that is used to teach discipline, confidence and teamwork.
“The project is all out of our budget,” said Greg Thomas II, head of Washington County Juvenile Probation. The total cost of the course is estimated at $4,600.
According to Thomas, program participants have been going to Jumonville in Fayette County twice a month to use the course there, but once completed, they will use the local course at the school where the LEADER program is based. The course will also be available for use by school district students.
“The course serves as a daily team-building, goal-oriented activity for the youth participating in the program,” Thomas said.
Construction of the course was the idea of Josh Hanley, juvenile probation jobs coordinator, who explained it will feature a low crawl, vaults, a climbing wall, a rope slide and balance beams. There will also be a 20-foot vertical rope climb and an 18-by-18-foot cargo net.
The juveniles, or “cadets,” are ages 10 to 20. They have been ordered by the court to participate in the program, which allows them avoid placement in a juvenile facility and remain at home while they complete their punishment.
“These kids come from all walks of life and social backgrounds,” Gregg explained.
The purpose of the program is to develop self-esteem, social skills, independent living skills and improve academic/classroom skills. In addition, the program deters youth from delinquent activity within the community, reduces placement costs and returns the youth to the community as a productive member of society.
The program began in 2000, and currently has a success rate of more than 80 percent.
The “cadets,” both male and female, undergo a strict discipline regime, and are required to attend the program five days a week from 2 to 9 p.m. during the school year and 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. during the summer.
There are individual regimens for each cadet with different requirements needed for them to complete the 90-day program.
“They must stay drug-free, exhibit good behavior, complete therapy and abide by their individual court order,” Thomas said.
Currently there are more than 300 juveniles in the probation department; 70 are in placement, 30 are in the LEADER program, and others are on direct supervision.
“I think the program is great,” said one 18-year-old cadet, who was found recently leading a team of cadets working on the course. “I look at this as something positive.”
The very polite teen said the program has allowed him to see the error of his ways that landed him in trouble. The teen was adjudicated delinquent on gun charges.
At day 48 of the program, the teen said he’s taking one day at a time but plans to soon check out enrollment in the military or attend a community college.
“The is the first, and hopefully the last, time I’m in trouble,” he said.
Another 18-year-old cadet said he has hopes of going to a trade school to be mechanic when he finishes the program. The cadet, who was adjudicated for drugs and fighting, credits the program for giving him a new sense of self-confidence and direction.
“The first day here, I didn’t care about anything,” he said, after 45 days of the program. “But, now, I’ve changed.”