Earlier this year, Building a United Interfaith Lexington through Direct Action, a social justice group, asked that something be done to help juveniles in the court system who are using drugs and alcohol.
The group turned to the four Family Court judges, and to Linda Harvey and Suzanne Allen of Juvenile Restorative Justice, for the professional help needed to explore family dynamics, individual needs and reasons the juveniles have taken a wayward path.
What Harvey and Allen discovered was some of those needs were as simple as access to transportation, a bed that allows the youth to not have to sleep on the floor or a friend who can be called on for support. Drug use was merely a symptom of other problems, it seemed.
As two volunteer workers with as many as 20 cases to mediate and try to resolve, Harvey and Allen sometimes saw these simple needs get buried under more pressing issues.
The needs were clear. But, with no money, how could the women help meet them?
Days ago the help came in the form of Kabby Akers, who has been involved with BUILD.
Talk about full circles. Akers has set up a listserv that includes some individuals and some churches, on which she puts the needs of families that pass through Juvenile Restorative Justice and the family court system.
"I agreed to contact all the churches involved with BUILD and help the community get involved," Akers said. "My goal is that the Holy Spirit will lead someone when they read the list."
Answered calls include a computer for a 17-year-old, a bed and chest of drawers, transportation and the like.
"We are bringing the needs back to them," Allen said of the BUILD organization. "If a woman needs a job, we take it back to BUILD. A laptop? We put it back on BUILD."
Transportation is a huge problem, said Allen, the program director for JRJ. "It is one of the biggest issues. Cars break down or they do not have money for gas. That is No. 1."
Harvey, who has worked in Restorative Justice for 15 years, and Allen meet with the juveniles and their parents and victims in a mediation conference to determine how to right a wrong and how to encourage healing.
"It's whatever we can do to be supportive and keep the family intact," Harvey said.
Sometimes the juveniles are runaways, or considered out of control, or truant. Other times their offenses are as serious as assault or property damage.
"We put the kid together with people they have harmed and make it right," Harvey said. It's the way disputes were handled in primitive cultures. "We are trying to get personal accountability, healing and dialogue re-established. It is a marvelous process."
And although she has used that model for years, having BUILD endorse it and having the family court judges accept it, is helping the concept grow.
"They did a lot of research and met with us for quite a while," Harvey said. "Their endorsement gave us credibility and a more formal commitment to move forward. Now they are doing this listserv. I think that is wonderful."
If you would like to become a part of the listserv, e-mail Akers at email@example.com and she will add you.
"It just stirred my heart," Akers said of the project. "My family was affected by alcoholism. If we can stop the pain, help these children early enough, then I feel really called to do this."
For more information about restorative justice, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.