The Jefferson-Lincoln County juvenile court received $45,000 in federal grant funds for two local youth programs, Arkansas Department of Human Services announced Tuesday.
The programs, Break the Cycle and Attitude Determines Altitude — both overseen by Jefferson-Lincoln County Circuit Court, 6th Division, Juvenile — received $30,000 and $15,000 in funding, respectively.
Break the Cycle, which started operating Tuesday and will last the entirety of the year, offers gender-specific services to African-American males ages 14-17. Attitude Determines Altitude, a four-month program that began Tuesday and will conclude Oct. 31, provides mentoring services to African-American females ages 13-17.
Both programs will target at-risk young men and women within the court system who are referred to the programs by their juvenile probation officer, pending a needs-assessment evaluation.
“Anything that can be done to prevent these juveniles from going further into the system is a step in the right direction,” Juvenile Court Judge Earnest E. Brown Jr. said. “You see so much about crime in the newspaper, so I feel like we have an important role in helping these kids within our system.”
Brown said during Tuesday’s kickoff event for both of the programs, Court of Appeals Judge Waymond Brown shared encouraging words and stories from his own youth.
“Judge [Waymond] Brown spoke to the youth about not letting the cycle of poverty influence them to get into trouble,” Earnest Brown said. “He talked about his own struggle being a young black male growing up in a single-parent home in Pine Bluff and his decision to become an attorney.”
Waymond Brown stressed to the juveniles the importance of education, developing life plans in order to become less concerned about immediate results and loving yourself and others in what Earnest Brown described as, “a very inspiring and motivating message.”
The Break the Cycle program is in its fourth year, he said, and this year marks the first year for the female-only Attitude Determines Altitude program. He said in previous years girls in the juvenile system were placed in the Break the Cycle program — only with separate classes from the males. This is the first year the court has requested funding for a girls-specified program, and Earnest Brown said he hopes additional funding will become available to extend the program to a full year.
Doris Rice, coordinator of the girls’ program, said it will serve 85 youth during its four-month duration, holding weekly meetings to discuss issues they’re facing. Rice said sexting, tattoos, personal hygiene and sexually transmitted diseases are topics that will be touched on.
She also said the youth will hear the story of a recovering addict, striving to deter the girls from traveling down a dark and painful life path.
Words of the month are going to be given to the girls to study, Rice said, with intentions of improving their character.
“We want to touch the lives of every one of the 85 girls we come in contact with,” she said.
Juawana Jackson is the coordinator for the male program, and she said classes held twice monthly will educate the youth on topics such as character and career development, budgeting and banking skills, as well as practical life and job skills.
Eighty-five juvenile males will be involved in the program.
“The character development class teaches the importance of loving everyone,” Jackson said. “The banking and budgeting classes will teach the importance of saving money, and the job skills education will include filling out applications, mock interviews and interviewing skills.”
Mentors will plan outings with the young males, visiting educational institutions such as the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff and Southeast Arkansas College.
“We will show these males there’s no excuse for them to not educate themselves with two colleges in the city,” Earnest Brown said. “Hopefully, they’ll learn they can live in Pine Bluff and Jefferson County without being involved in drugs and delinquency.”
Earnest Brown also said this year the program has made modifications to focus more on group mentoring, as opposed to the individual mentoring they’ve used in the past.
“Not everybody that comes through the court will have access to these programs by a long shot, but that’s only because we don’t have unlimited resources,” Earnest Brown said. “The ones in the programs will have the full attention of the court to steer them away from crime.”
Both Pine Bluff programs were among 21 other community-based youth programs in the state to receive a total of $530,715 in federal funds. These 21 programs, seven of which are based in Little Rock, have goals to help at-risk juveniles and improve the state juvenile justice system, serving more than 7,400 youth in 20 Arkansas counties, according to a press release.
The same press release stated that 30 applicants submitted proposals for funding to the federal government.