By Diana Hefley Herald Writer
EVERETT — Mark Litzkow, a retired Boeing engineer, has spent his Fridays in court, trying to understand why he’s needed.
Litzkow, of Snohomish, says those afternoons, surrounded by young people coping with drug addictions, has been an eye-opener. It’s given him even more resolve to mentor a teen.
“They’re not bad kids. A detour has taken them off the road to success,” Litzkow says, repeating a mantra favored by Snohomish County Superior Court Judge Bruce Weiss.
Weiss presides over the juvenile drug court at the Denney Juvenile Justice Center. He also is a champion for the county’s Reclaiming Futures project.
The pilot program was launched in 2010 in the county’s juvenile court system. It’s modeled after a national initiative aimed at providing effective treatment for drug- and alcohol-addicted teens, and caring for their needs once they’re out of the criminal justice system.
A large part of that initiative is connecting kids with positive role models.
So far the project has paired teens with volunteer artists, photographers and musicians. Now, organizers are creating a mentoring program with the goal of “every kid having a caring adult.”
Weiss, who helps put together game nights and bowling parties for the kids in drug court, believes young people have a better chance of staying clean and sober if they have mentors, modeling healthy lifestyles.
“It’s really important for kids to know you can have fun without being high,” the judge said.
Last month, project organizers held a conference for mentors to educate them about the challenges some kids face, such as childhood trauma and abuse, and the skills and experiences young people need to become healthy adults.
There also were classes about how to connect with kids through honest conversations and how to spot the signs of drug use and why it can be so difficult for some people to quit.
People from other mentoring agencies, such as Youth for Christ and the Washington State University 4-H Youth Program Development Program, also spoke about their programs for kids.
“If you’re not a mentor now and you’re interested in making a difference in a kid’s life this is a wonderful way to do it,” said Steve Strickler, the juvenile justice director for Youth For Christ.
Deena Eckroth, 49, believes young people need support regardless of some of the bad decisions that they may make.
“They’ve had enough people abandon them,” Eckroth said.
The Mukilteo mother of two grown children recently was paired up with a 15-year-old girl. Eckroth said she was compelled to volunteer with at-risk youth in part because of her experience as a human resources manager. She has had to turn people away for jobs because of their past mistakes.
“It made me wonder what happened in their life and what could have helped that person turn around,” she said. “This really makes sense for me.”
Eckroth now is recruiting co-workers and others to become mentors.
Diana Hefley: 425-339-3463; firstname.lastname@example.org
For more information about becoming a mentor or to learn more about Reclaiming Futures call Kathy Haggerty at 425-388-3834 or visit www.snoco.org and search Reclaiming Futures.