Thursday, December 18, 2008

26 Graduate from First Year of "Restoring Youth and Communities" Project

SACRAMENTO - AmeriCorps and the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) are celebrating a successful collaboration today that has encouraged mentoring and volunteerism among youthful offenders. For the last year AmeriCorps members, many of whom are former offenders themselves, have been acting as "service learning coaches" for wards and parolees under the supervision of the Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) as part of a project called "Restoring Youth and Communities." Through this partnership, CDCR and AmeriCorps members are mentoring youthful offenders and engaging them in meaningful service-learning projects that benefit their home communities.

At a ceremony today, 26 AmeriCorps participants in the "Restoring Youth and Communities" project completed their first year of service, and became the program's first group of graduates. Of these individuals, 12 plan to "re-up" for another year to continue working with DJJ youth in facilities and on parole. More than 270 candidates are vying for 34 vacant slots in the project for 2009.

"These individuals have not only changed their own lives, but are using their personal experiences to make a difference in the lives of others and to improve their home communities," said CDCR Secretary Matthew Cate, who participated in the ceremony. "By engaging at risk youth early on in these types of service projects, we are not only improving their lives today, but giving them hope for the future."

The graduates completed up to 1,700 hours of public service over the last 11 months, mentoring DJJ youth both in institutions and on parole in the community. AmeriCorps members in the project work full time as "service-learning coaches," helping DJJ youth identify and learn about issues such as drug abuse, youth violence, and education, and recruiting and connecting these youth with community based organizations and opportunities.

AmeriCorps members receive a living allowance, health and child care benefits, and an educational award upon completion of service. AmeriCorps is sponsored by the Corporation for National and Community Service, and a $532,965 annual grant administered by California Volunteers. DJJ has matched that amount with funding of $695,500 per year. Participants are paid a stipend of $20,000, not including some education benefits, to participate in the 11 month program. Year to year funding is predicated on performance measures.

Bernard Warner, Chief Deputy Secretary of the Division of Juvenile Justice, said that DJJ's participation with this program has been extremely rewarding and that former parolees have shared compelling stories of personal growth and showed evidence of making a difference with their individual efforts.

"The AmeriCorps members have been integral to our reform efforts at DJJ," Warner said. "Their energy, dedication, and new ideas have not only helped to rehabilitate the young people with whom they have worked but also to revitalize our mission."

CDCR and AmeriCorps kicked off the partnership in February 2008. Many of this year's graduates are former parolees who successfully discharged. Other participants included young adults who had been at risk, as well as a select few individuals who were studying criminal justice at various state universities and colleges. The common thread is that these individuals were interested in exploring careers in juvenile justice while helping DJJ youth in facilities and on parole make positive changes in their home communities.

"Parole is often a difficult time of transition as offenders work to re-establish themselves in their communities," said Juvenile Parole Board Executive Director Chuck Supple. "Many AmeriCorps members have already been there, and know more than anyone else the kind of help parolees need. It is this unique perspective that allows them to reach out and help guide former offenders toward a more constructive and successful life."