A new program has been established in Saline County Circuit Court to assist teenagers in straightening out their lives.
Specifically, the program provides mentors for young people on probation.
These mentors are known as VPOs, or volunteer probation officers.
Seven individuals have begun their VPO duties to assist youngsters along the road to becoming productive adults, according to Circuit Judge Bobby McCallister.
McCallister described a recent incident in which a 15-year-old boy was told that the new program had begun and that a VPO would be serving as his mentor.
He said there was a smile on the boy's face, which isn't a commonplace occurrence in the courtroom.
"I like to see smiles in my courtroom," McCallister said.
The boy's response was, "I would like someone to talk with."
The seven new volunteers have been assigned to the boy or girl they will be assisting, McCallister said.
The program is under the supervision of McCallister and Jennie Standridge, chief probation officer.
McCallister noted that each volunteer completed a screening process that included an interview by an officer of the court, a background check and a training session.
"This is a good start," Standridge said. "We are in hopes of having 40 volunteers in place by the end of this year."
Being a volunteer for this program requires spending about two hours each week with the assigned youth, she noted.
"Each VPO must be at least 20, a good role model and, in general, focused on helping a young person become a more productive adult by steering the youth in the right direction," Standridge said.
"Being a person who cares about people is most important," she added. "The volunteers work closely with the county probation officers and have a good understanding of other resources available to help."
Those who have volunteered appear to be excited about the work their duties, Standridge said, adding that many have had experience in being a parent or grandparent.
"All have a strong interest in helping youth and want an opportunity to watch the improvement of the child as he or she completes the probation period.
"Many are just looking for an opportunity to serve our community and some are early adults looking at the experience of spending time with a younger person and passing on what they know about how they handled difficult periods in their lives."
Standridge emphasized that "probation is not a punishment."
"It is an opportunity to start anew with some help," she said. "Many kids need somebody just to care about them."
Anyone with an interest in affiliating with the program should contact Standridge at 303-5730, extension 7.