Community advocate talks to juveniles

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Community advocate talks to juveniles

 

 

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By Will Anderson

The Sun

In camouflage fatigues and a pair of thick-rimmed glasses, 17-year-old Cody is a dashing figure.

But Cody is not a new Army recruit — the young man got into trouble in his Austin high school and now spends eight hours a day at the Williamson County Juvenile Justice Center in Georgetown, a secure facility where teens from all over the county are sent when their home school districts cannot handle them.

Cody said he has learned different strategies to deal with his problems while at the juvenile center. “I can’t prepare for everything, but the mistakes I do make I need to learn from,” he said. Cody was just one of 107 students that participated in a leadership workshop Thursday at the center. Officials asked that students’ last names be withheld to protect their privacy.

The presenter was Daniel Becton, a 26-year-old former reporter, who stopped in Central Texas as part of his year-long tour of the United States promoting service and volunteerism.

Mr. Becton has already logged 11,000 miles on his Volvo since starting the journey in August. He has visited over 20 cities so far and has plans for at least 31 more. Along the way he has worked with community groups that focus on issues like homelessness, gangs, veterans, conservation and poverty.

Mr. Becton was heading to the Midwest the following day but spoke to five different classes of students at the juvenile facility this week, telling them the importance of leadership and different drawbacks and strengths for various personality types.

Mr. Becton had everyone stand up and move to a section of the room that represented their leadership style. Some chose a practical, headstrong position, while others were more concerned with helping others. It was an exercise in empowerment,

Mr. Becton said. “Young people that are in a detention facility or other situations where they haven’t been given resources, often it is hard for them to see what power they do have, what changes they can make,” Mr. Becton said.

Mr. Becton, who is originally from North Carolina and graduated with a degree in music and philosophy from the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, commended Williamson County’s juvenile correction services for their commitment to character building. “There’s a real commitment to service learning, there’s a real commitment to providing a voice of empowerment, there’s a real commitment to making sure the whole staff has a voice,” he said. “All of that is why this works. Everybody believes in it here.”

Scott Matthew, the executive director of WilCo’s juvenile services, said bringing in Mr. Becton reinforced the everyday lessons taught by teachers and officers.

“These kids are being challenged academically, socially and emotionally,” Mr. Matthew said. “The majority of our kids are coming out of these services with life-long, lasting changes. It’s not something that’s just going to keep them from getting on probation or helping them graduate, these are life-long changes.”

Derick Abernathy, a community outreach officer with juvenile services in Cedar Park, said that goes along with the department’s evolving nature.

“We’re just changing the whole idea that juvenile services is only punitive,” said Mr. Abernathy, who started working at the Georgetown center nine years ago. “If you get involved with us, you have an opportunity through our resources and what we make available to make a change in your life.

It’s not about just following the judge’s orders anymore. That is a part, don’t get me wrong, but it’s also learning new skills.”

Mr. Becton’s program is called Project Ubuntu, after a Zulu phrase. More information can be found on his website, projectubuntu.info.

Jabreesha is a residential student at the juvenile center, living there during the week. She said that Thursday’s 90-minute workshop got her to reexamine the way she acts toward other people.

“Sometimes you can be too detail-oriented and overlook the big picture,” the 16-yearold said. “I’m really practical and can do that and hurt other peoples’ feelings … My solution was to find another person in my life who fills that void.”

Jabreesha has not yet found that individual. She has not stopped looking.

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