In a new classroom at Denney Juvenile Justice Center, created after another space was flooded, are from left, Snohomish County Juvenile Court staff Jeff Atkins, Jaime Fajardo, Ross Krueger, Kevin Crittenden, Mike Irons and Calvin Nichols. Their work includes helping kids through Youth Enrichment Services (YES). Those programs are alternatives to detention. (Dan Bates / The Herald)

In a new classroom at Denney Juvenile Justice Center, created after another space was flooded, are from left, Snohomish County Juvenile Court staff Jeff Atkins, Jaime Fajardo, Ross Krueger, Kevin Crittenden, Mike Irons and Calvin Nichols. Their work includes helping kids through Youth Enrichment Services (YES). Those programs are alternatives to detention. (Dan Bates / The Herald)

Fresh start at juvenile justice center started with a flood

A classroom for Youth Enrichment Services was created at Denney after a destructive rainstorm in September.

A downpour last September not only closed Everett High School, it flooded a building next to Denney Juvenile Justice Center. It’s an unremarkable-looking place near Wiggums Hollow Skate Park. What went on inside, though, was crucial. It’s where court-involved kids found ways out of trouble.

Called the Multi-Service Center, the north Everett building housed Snohomish County Juvenile Court’s Youth Enrichment Services (YES) programs, which are alternatives to detention. No more, though. The building became unusable after the Sept. 9 deluge, when about 4 inches of rain in a few hours swamped some local schools, basements and other buildings.

“We were flooded, we couldn’t reoccupy it,” said Mike Irons, Snohomish County Juvenile Court program manager. “The flooding disrupted us, but the county really responded. We embarked on this idea of bringing them up here to the probation area.”

Teens in JETS, the Juvenile Educational Transitional Services program, and other detention alternatives were welcomed this week to a new classroom. An airy space equipped with a smart board and computers, it’s on the second floor of Denney, at the center of the juvenile probation suite of offices.

A planned open house there was canceled Wednesday due to caution related to the coronavirus outbreak. But staff who work with at-risk kids talked about changes that mean fewer young people in detention.

“We’re connecting our kids to our communities,” Irons said.

When Denney opened in 1998, he said, many more kids were “in the system,” and probation and support staff needed all the space.

“We didn’t need that much space anymore, so we repurposed the middle of the probation department,” Irons said.

“It shows an investment in these kids for sure,” said Jeff Atkins, a senior program specialist with the juvenile court.

Over more than 20 years, he has seen positive changes.

“We don’t want to detain them,” said Atkins, adding that more than 500 youth were involved in YES programs last year.

Along with JETS, there are evening and weekend programs; a Trails to Success effort focused on employment training; and PASS (Program Alternative to Structured Sentencing), which combines community service with a school schedule.

Mark Thunberg, the county’s facilities management director, said cost and insurance details of the project were still in the works. Walls were added to the open office area to create classroom space.

The rainstorm occurred after youth programs ended Sept. 9.

“It was a Monday night,” Atkins recalled.

On that Tuesday morning, although water had receded, staff saw that rain had ruined the place. Doorways are still blocked by sandbags.

So much water was in the building that windows were fogged over, said Kevin Crittenden, a juvenile community program specialist. Scrambling to move programs, the county made space in Denney offices and a conference room. Kids, Denney staff and mentors met for months in cramped quarters.

Teacher Anne Tretter, with Northwest Educational Service District 189, has a desk in the corner of the new classroom. Computers line one side of the room.

As bright and new as it is, the classroom won’t be more valuable than the mentoring kids will find there, or the connections to be made out in the community.

Much of what’s done in detention alternative programs happens outside of classes. Some kids spend Mondays planting trees as part of a salmon recovery effort, Crittenden said. There are outings to the Tulalip Tribes Hibulb Cultural Center, and work with the nonprofit Farmer Frog.

Kids work with art instructor Henri Wilson and with Hap Wertheimer, a master gardener who volunteers in Denney’s garden with court-involved youth.

Those experiences “connect them to normalcy,” Atkins said. “One person can change a kid’s path.”

People matter most, yet there’s message in that fine new space born of a destructive flood.

“We wanted to make a statement,” said Jaime Fajardo, a Youth Enrichment Services supervisor.

That statement is, “Hey, you guys are important to us.”

Julie Muhlstein: 525-339-3460; jmuhlstein@heraldnet.com.

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