By Jessica Chapa Lariat Reporter
Baylor’s Urban Missions partnered with the McLennan County Juvenile Detention Center to start the Juvenile Justice Team.
The team’s goal is to build positive relationships between student volunteers and teens at the detention center by allowing them to meet once a week to spend time with each other, said Carole Meriwether, Urban Missions Coordinator.
Meriwether said Urban Missions is currently recruiting students that are at least 21 years old to serve on the team. Students need to complete a background check to prove they are in good moral standing.
Volunteers are asked to serve consistently on Thursday afternoons for about two hours.
Centennial, Colo., junior Matthew Siegle said he came up with the idea for the team during a spring break mission trip to Eagle Pass. He was part of the restorative justice program, a day camp for teens that had gotten into trouble.
“I was really encouraged by how the teens responded to that program while we were in Eagle Pass. So then I started looking into ways that we could implement a similar type of environment here in Waco,” Siegle said.
Siegle said the new team will help Baylor students gain perspective and provide them with a valuable learning experience. There are other Urban Missions teams that work with at-risk youth. However, the Juvenile Justice team is different because it works with teens that are already in trouble.
Professor Kala Holt, who teaches English at Baylor University, plans to support the team by teaching them how to actively listen and prove that their feelings are genuine. Holt said she hopes participants will be able to overcome their differences in order to gain trust and start new relationships. She wants the volunteers and teens to find similarities with each other and open up a dialogue.
“There is something powerful in having these conversations,” Holt said.
There are several challenges that come with starting a new team, Holt said. Students need to overcome the initial awkwardness and learn to handle the hurt that comes with sharing tough stories, she said. Holt wants volunteers to overcome emotional barriers to impact the lives of others. She said the aim of the team is not to change or save the teens, but to demonstrate how much people care about them.
For more information or to get involved, please contact Meriwether at Carole_Meriwether@baylor.edu.