LIMA — For the first time, almost 200 local religious leaders, nonprofit workers and public officials gathered under one roof for a community, faith-based youth engagement summit.
Allen County Juvenile Court Judge Glenn Derryberry hopes the summit will act as a starting point for many different groups to collaborate on how to engage young people in new ways — a proactive approach so most youth will never be court-involved. The event, organized by Allen County Juvenile Court, took place Wednesday morning at the YMCA Annex.
“The purpose of the summit is to try to challenge the community to come up with some proactive programs and some positive programs to get our young people involved,” Derryberry said.
Further complicating the situation are schools with reduced budgets. Sometimes, that means extracurriculars and activities are the first programs scaled back or cut. Those programs are important for young people, Derryberry said.
Two juvenile court employees in Mahoning County, where Youngstown is located, spoke with the group about a faith-based program that’s been in place since 2005. Mahoning County Court Judge Theresa Dellick said providing religion as an option is mostly about instilling hope in youth.
“Don’t our kids need hope? Especially if they’re locked behind bars,” Dellick said. “Now we don’t push religion; we provide religion. And I’m not pushing anything on anybody, but I will provide it, because that’s my obligation.”
The Rev. James Barkett has been working in Mahoning County, establishing those faith-based justice programs over the past eight years.
“I’m servicing youth who need the word of God so bad,” Barkett said.
There are a variety of free programs available for any Mahoning County youth, including mediation and counseling. And there’s a reason for that.
“It works with collaboration,” Barkett said.
“They have a very active faith-based program in their county,” Derryberry said. “We thought maybe they could add some words of wisdom and encouragement as to what their experiences have been like over there with a faith-based approach. Ours is a community and faith-based approach.”
Derryberry also wanted to make clear that youth-involved crimes haven’t gone up. The effort is a preventative measure to keep bringing those numbers down.
“This is not about some epidemic of juvenile delinquency and juvenile crime. Crime statistics in general and juvenile statistics, those numbers have gone down nationally, statewide, locally, over the last several years,” he said.
Scott Ferris, executive director of Allen County Children Services, said the summit is a great way for a variety of organizations to work together.
“We’re very excited to be here to start a community dialogue, with after school activities to help our children be more productive,” Ferris said. “If they’re idle, if there’s not a lot of services, they’re likely to get involved in something they shouldn’t be, so this is an opportunity to bring the community together and talk about how we can continue to provide programming.”