SHARON — For 20 years, four Mercer County residents have dedicated their free time to helping youth who have gone astray.
Larry and Dawnle Scheetz, Yvonne Hassell and Pat Woods have served as Mercer County Community Court volunteers all 20 years, giving kids the chance to have their records wiped clean.
The Scheetzes of Sharon/Farrell, Hassell of West Middlesex and Woods of Grove City share a common theme – to help children get back on track.
They all serve on a panel of adults giving kids the opportunity to admit their wrongdoings and ultimately change their ways.
“All of them are set up to help the juvenile and not hurt them,” Dawnle Scheetz said.
One of the goals of community court is to keep juveniles from re-offending, according to Larry Scheetz.
“Community court is a diversionary program, an effort to divert juveniles from the justice system,” said Sharlee Beatty, a Mercer County Juvenile Probation Department community specialist. “When implemented correctly, diversion is a powerful intervention.”
Community court is strictly for low-level offenders, who have been referred. This ultimately saves the court system time and money, Beatty said.
“Community court is different in that it’s the community holding juveniles accountable,” she said.
Beatty and her group of volunteers do an assessment of first-time offenders and look at their risk of re-offending, she said.
“We match services with at-risk youth,” Beatty said.
Some of the services include family-based services, counseling, family programming, behavioral health services and classes held throughout the county, she said.
“We never call it a punishment,” Dawnle Scheetz said. “We call it consequences. The goal is to help juveniles see why they’re not on the right path and to help them get onto the right path in life.”
One of the ways students can get back on track is to keep up their grades, Larry Scheetz said.
“Our biggest input was to make sure they had passing grades,” he said. “If they had Cs and Ds, we would always push for As and Bs.”
Most importantly, the Scheetzes want youngsters to know there are people in the community who care about them.
One of Hassell’s reasons for getting involved in the court was to help children stay out of trouble, she said.
“I hope to keep (children) on the right track of life,” she said.
Hassell as well as the Scheetzes try to impress upon youth that their actions affect others.
“I feel proud that I’ve been able to help these young people,” Hassell said.
“I think (community court) is a great thing.”
“We get them to realize what they’ve done, how many people they’ve involved,” Hassell said. “That’s one of the things we try to impress upon them.”
Community court is an excellent program to give kids a second chance, Woods said.
“There’s a growing need for it all the way around,” she said. “There’s more and more pressure out there.”
When youth come to court, they must tell a panel of volunteers exactly why they’ve been brought to court, and they must admit they did it.
“Then we set guidelines, curfews, research reports, etc.,” Woods said.
“We try to get kids to see what they should have done without pointing our finger at them.”
Most of the time students write a letter of apology, which is proofread by community court volunteers, Woods said.
“I like to think I make a difference, that we’ve steered one kid away from a life of crime,” she said.
“That’s just one less we have to incarcerate.”