KENTON — The girl just stared at Pastor Mark Bishop when he approached her in the second-floor hallway of the Hardin County Courthouse, where there’s a juvenile treatment court on Tuesday afternoons.
“One young lady comes up to me and says, ‘Why are you here?’” Bishop recalled from an early encounter. “I said to her, ‘I care for you.’ She says, ‘Why?’ I said, ‘God cares for you, and so do I.’ She just said, ‘Oh.’”
Bishop is one of the 12 local Jefferson Awards winners for his work with at-risk teens in Hardin County. For the win, each received money to donate to a favorite cause. The Lima News will profile each of them between now and the streaming awards show the night of Thursday, April 22.
He decided to visit the courts several years ago, when he became aware of how hard the opioid epidemic hit Hardin County. He needed to convince the juveniles and their caretakers to let him be part of their lives.
Since he started several years ago, he’s worked with dozens of teens, offering them counseling, community service, a visitor when they’re in juvenile lockup or just a friendly ear who will listen.
”You have to understand nobody shows attention to these kids unless they’re in trouble,” Bishop said. “Usually it’s a police officer or authority figure. They never hear anybody say they care about you.”
It’s been a blessing for the court system, said Hardin County Juvenile and Probate Court Judge Steven Christopher. Bishop’s never charged the courts a dime for his valuable volunteer work.
“He has basically taken over doing community services with some targeted kids,” Christopher said. “These are kids we think could really benefit from having a male figure in their life as kind of a mentor. We try to match them with Mark to do community service, but typically it turns out to be more than that. It’s a relationship. He has impacted and influenced so many kids over the last four to five years we couldn’t reach in the courtroom.”
His church, Silver Creek Church outside of Kenton, followed his lead, inviting the youth into their church and celebrating birthdays and graduations from them. They’ve also adopted working with LifeWorks Community School, Hardin County’s court-run community school for juvenile offenders.
“We’ve all stepped out of our comfort zones and helped these kids achieve something,” said Carmen Cronley, of Kenton, who nominated Bishop for the Jefferson Award. “Maybe it’s not to the degree Mark does, but he’s done an excellent job of getting us out of the pews ann and into their lives.”
Christopher said he remains in awe of the role Bishop plays in so many lives.
“As far as I’m concerned, this man and his church were sent by God to help me in my courtroom,” Christopher said.
Even Bishop is a bit in awe of how many lives he and his church have helped.
“I just saw a need,” he said. “If there’s something I can do, even with one person or one family, I want to be in a position to impact them because of the drug abuse situation going on in our country, our state and our county. … If that was just one or two families or children, that would’ve been fine with me. I had no idea we’d get a congregation involved or a community involved.”