Justice center program offers troubled kids new opportunities

EVERETT — At 18, Daniel is looking forward to getting his own apartment.

He’s working two jobs, delivering sandwiches and cooking for a local pizzeria. The teen bought his first car. He’s thinking about college or maybe a technical school.

The teen is trying to put the past behind him and focus on the future.

He was one of the first participants in Trails to Success, a pilot program at Denney Juvenile Justice Center that gives kids a chance to gain some work experience, build a resume and learn how to prepare for job interviews.

Daniel, who’d had some legal troubles in February, learned about the program while enrolled in Juvenile Educational Transition Services, a detention alternative where he earned his GED.

“I’d never had a job or job experience,” he said. “I was looking for an opportunity to better myself and find work.”

Two weeks after finishing the program Daniel landed his first job. He had a resume and references from the Trails to Success program, including a letter of recommendation from Tom Teigen, the county’s parks director. The teen also was able to keep his nerves in check after practicing job interviews at WorkSource.

“It really gave me the confidence to push forward,” Daniel said.

Several others participants also have found jobs, said Jeb Bolton, a juvenile corrections officer.

Bolton and Matt Wygant, a probation counselor at Denney, created the program in an effort to help young people gain skills that they might not get anywhere else. They often see kids pulled back into the criminal justice system because they can’t pay restitution or fines. Those financial obligations can be converted to a judgment once a juvenile turns 18. That can impede a kid’s ability to find employment, get car insurance or even have their juvenile record sealed.

“It can be a long-involved process and hard for them to make right what’s wrong,” Bolton said.

Trails to Success is a partnership with the juvenile court, the county’s parks department, Snohomish County WorkSource and the court’s Reclaiming Futures program. Kids are referred by their probation counselor or community corrections officer. The two-week program is voluntary and the participants generally are finishing up their probation requirements.

The teens visit WorkSource and learn how to create a resume, job search and practice interview skills. They obtain their food handlers card, allowing them to work in restaurants.

The teens also work for the county’s parks department on a short-term outdoor project. The participants inspect the sites, plan how to get the work done and create a timeline to finish the job. They learn about job safety and time management.

Bolton and Wygant let the teens find their way and they often see leaders emerge.

“You really see kids step up,” Bolton said.

During the program, kids painted a freeway overpass, tidied up trails and a dog park and removed blackberry bushes. The parks department pays a $140 stipend for four days of work.

Yearly, people volunteer about 48,000 hours to the county’s parks, Teigen said. A good number of those volunteers are young people, including teens completing projects to become Eagle Scouts.

“What’s interesting is there’s not a lot of difference between the Eagle Scout and the kid coming off of probation, except maybe one or two decisions,” Teigen said. “This was not a hard sale for us. These are our kids. We don’t know where some of the best and brightest kids are going to come from. Everyone should have a chance to play catch up or turn a page.”

Kids are less likely to commit new crimes if they find jobs, said Mike Irons, a probation services manager at Denney. Evidence also suggests that good experiences at their first jobs can help keep kids out of trouble later in life.

There were 36 teens who went through the Trails to Success program. More than a third of the teens found jobs. That’s a higher employment rate than the county average for teens, Irons said.

The last session ended in November but the program will continue in 2016. Bolton and Wygant want to find more community partners to offer to work experience to teens.

“We’d like to find businesses who are willing to take a chance and give a kid his first job,” Bolton said.

Diana Hefley: 425-339-3463; hefley@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @dianahefley.

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