Volunteers needed for new program targeting at-risk youth
by Karen Diefendorf
Lucky was the last word Mark (not his real name) would have used to describe himself in September of 1994 as he stood in the Northeast District Courtroom.
Instead, Mark, who had been charged with an MIP (Minor in Possession), mostly felt angry and resentful. And he didn't feel any better when the judge referred him to the Young Adult Court Mentor Program.
Today, Mark would probably call that day one of the luckiest of his life. Because of the judge's recommendation, Mark met Laura Pinter, who was to become his mentor and an important part of his life during the next year-and-a-half.
Prior to his day in court, Mark had been in no serious trouble, but the signs were there for future problems. The 19-year-old had dropped out of high school without receiving his diploma and moved out of his home, leaving with some painful, unresolved family issues. He was living alone, struggling to support himself and piling up debts when he received his MIP and showed up in court.
Laura Pinter, an editor who has been employed by Microsoft for the past five years, has been a part of the Young Adult Court Mentor Program for two years.
"One of the reasons I became involved in the program was that I have a desk job that is oriented toward data and information, and I wanted to be involved with young people, helping them change and grow," Pinter said. "I also needed more of a balance between job, community, and people."
When Laura met Mark for the first of their weekly discussions, he was an angry young man. He resented being involved in the court system and was unhappy with the judge who ordered him into the Mentor Program. He was lashing out at authority, had a laissez-faire attitude about paying off the debts he had built up, and was not steadily employed.
Over the course of the next year-and-a-half, Pinter and Mark worked together to set his life back on course. During this time, with Pinter's help, Mark has been able to address and work his way through his family problems, assume responsibility for his debts, and find a stable, permanent job. Not only has he studied for and passed his GED, but he has recently signed up for classes at a community college.
Pinter described the changes in Mark. "In the beginning, he slouched and wouldn't look me directly in the eye. By the end, his new self-esteem and enthusiasm about the future showed in his smile and posture," she said. "At last he believed in himself."
The successful partnership between Pinter and Mark is just one of the many turnarounds for which the Young Adult Court Mentor System has been responsible. Now, however, in order to provide help for a younger group, "Smart Turn" has been added to the project. It is a program that will help high-risk children and adolescents, ages 11-18, who may or may not yet be involved in the criminal justice system. The program is based at the Old Fire House Teen Center in Redmond and the Redmond Police Department.
The goal of Smart Turn is to provide, through positive interaction and mentoring, assistance to high-risk youth by helping them gain self-esteem and keeping them out of the juvenile court system. Volunteers are needed in this new program to become "firehouse buddies," one-on-one mentors, and job training specialists.
Donna Belin, Director of the Young Adult Court Mentor Program and now of Smart Turn also, sees the new project as a way "to help redirect the lives of children and teens who have been impacted by such emotional problems as abuse, anger, stress, homelessness, and chemical dependency."
Smart Turn is looking for volunteers to help these youngsters discover a new life and the coping skills they need to survive and become successful young adults.
Community members interested in taking part in this new program should schedule an interview by calling Belin at 205-7006. Orientation sessions are scheduled for May 31 and June 1.