Vince Jannette, superintendent of the El Dorado County Juvenile Hall, calls the Juvenile Service Council a “fellowship between people who are role models; grandparents who are coming in, spending time with the juveniles, who are positive role models.”
Jerry Homme, president of the JSC, said the “number one goal is to interact with kids in a positive way, to make them feel OK about who they are, and to influence them to make good choices.”
Both agree that the organization is one of the best things to happen to the troubled juvenile inmates who must be cleared by security before being allowed to visit with the JSC, which means “about 80 to 85 percent” of the juveniles, Jannette said.
The volunteer organization was started 31 years ago in Sacramento County by the Federated Church to give incarcerated juveniles someone to interact with. It has since “expanded beyond” the church, Jannette said, but the arts, crafts and activities remain.
Some activities are decorating pumpkins for Halloween by drawing on them with Sharpies, having guest speakers from the Storyteller’s Guild, taking part in Poetry Out Loud — one juvenile placed fourth in the county competition — or making cards for the elderly in convalescent homes. Some of the juveniles are then let out of incarceration temporarily to present the cards in person, an innovation that Homme attributes to Jannette’s tenure as superintendent.
“They get to give (the cards and pumpkins) to the ‘old people,’” Homme said. “They get to see the response. Then they come back and tell the others that an old person was excited” about what they made.
Jannette did note, however, that because they are juvenile delinquents, they are not dressed as inmates and measures are taken so that the public is unaware of their incarceration.
The organization has also helped the juveniles obtain GEDs, pay for clothes and provide general support and guidance.
The volunteers who help them “encourage them to be better, to make better choices, with school and family,” Homme said.
Jannette said the volunteers fill a role that most of the juveniles didn’t have, that of a grandparent, someone in their life who is “clean, sober, and pushes them in the right direction.” For many, “It’s the first time they’ve had someone love them unconditionally.”
The volunteers, who meet with the juveniles two or three times a month, have an average age of about 74, Homme, 59, said. Anywhere from seven to 20 people visit, sometimes coming close to outnumbering the juveniles. Some of the original volunteers from 1981 are still part of program.
Homme said that occasionally he’ll “get a handshake on the street, and that’s cool.” He said that one time he was in SaveMart and there were three former juvenile delinquents in the checkout line who he had helped in the course of volunteering for JSC. One seemed to recognize him, and they began to talk and have a good time waiting for a register. “Everyone wanted to know why we were having such a good time,” he said.
He shared another incident that shows the effect the organization has on the juveniles. One of the volunteers, an older gentlemen who was using the wall to keep balance while he walked, slipped. “Three kids grabbed him. It was fast, they really cared about him. Out on the streets, they might let you fall.”
Behavior and language the day before the JSC comes to visit also drastically improves, Jannette said. “They have a real respect for the JSC.”
One girl, he said, was arrested while she was in drug court because she was under the influence while in court. “She had to face the JSC. She didn’t want to face them, she thought they would judge her. She had a lot of anxiety. Later, she said, ‘All they did was love me, they told me it would be OK.’ We (the staff) can’t provide that.”
Homme attributes the JSC’s success to Jannette. “The best thing going for the kids is Vince,” he said. “He believes in the kids, and so does the staff. They learn from their mistake and move forward.”
Jannette echoed Homme’s last sentiment, saying that the JSC tells the juveniles, “You can fix this, you can move on. They can learn to have party without drugs or alcohol, learn to smile without them.”
To donate, of which “100 percent goes to the kids,” Homme said, or to volunteer — the only requirements are to be 21 years old and go through a background check — call Jerry Homme at 530-409-8646.
Contact Cole Mayer at 530-344-5068 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @CMayerMtDemo.