Big Brothers Big Sisters Program Taking on Court-Referred Juveniles

By Dave Franzman, Reporter

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa- The national Big Brothers Big Sisters organization is reaching out to kids already in legal trouble. And the Cedar Rapids-East Central Iowa chapter is joining that effort by now accepting kids referred by juvenile courts.

Charles Pierson, CEO of the national Big Brothers Big Sisters organization, came to Cedar Rapids on Wednesday to announce the local effort to help juveniles in legal trouble. Pierson said 78 out of 345 chapters nationwide participate in the program that began about two years ago. The Cedar Rapids-area chapter will be the first in Iowa to accept juvenile referrals from a court.

Pierson said the goal here, like elsewhere, is to see if volunteers mentoring the court-referred kids can help cut future delinquent acts and behavior. Pierson said the court-referred population is already at seven percent for Big Brothers Big Sisters nationwide. His goal is ten percent. And he said there is evidence introducing kids already in trouble to the group's one on one mentoring is having an impact.

"Are we going to 100% satisfaction? No. But we are seeing an improvement in the recidivism rate and we are keeping kids out of the correction system," Pierson said.

Cedar Rapids Police officer Shannon Stokesberry is a believer in the value of the mentoring program. She's served as a volunteer with the organization for 15 years. For the last four years, Stokesberry and Tierney Lewis have hung out together enjoying each other's company a few hours a month. The officer said mentoring by matching adult volunteers with little brothers or little sisters is a proven way to help both kids and teens deal with life. She has no reason to believe it wouldn't work with juvenile offenders as well.

"I think it is a good idea. Just to have that one on one relationship with a child—especially if they're in the juvenile justice system already," Stokesberry said.

Linda Henecke, President of the Cedar Rapids-East Central Iowa chapter, said one issue to address is whether those on the current list of volunteers would feel capable of mentoring kids already in the juvenile system. Henecke said some current volunteers may feel comfortable dealing with such kids and teens. But she might also considering a change in how the local groups recruit volunteer mentors.

"It might be teachers or retired teachers. Police officers or maybe people in the counseling fields would be a good choice," Henecke said.

Officer Stokesberry wants to keep her current little sister relationship with Tierney instead of taking on a court-referred juvenile. But she said she will try to recruit other officers to consider volunteering with some of the new kids in the Big Brother Big Sister system.

Henecker said her organization received $43,000 from the federal Office of Juvenile Justice to fund the program this year. Local courts have already referred three juvenile offenders to the new program.
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