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Smith County H.O.P.E. Academy Wins National Award

Smith County Juvenile Service’s H.O.P.E. Academy is already receiving national acclaim after only two years of service to the community.

The H.O.P.E. (Helping Others Pursue Excellence) Academy was recently named as a 2016 Achievement Award Winner by The National Association of Counties. It is a six-to-nine-month residential program for male juvenile offenders, focusing on behavior modification and family/parent relationships and vocational training. The children work with probation officers, counselors and volunteers, including a chaplain.

The program began last year and has already seen success with its first graduates in September 2015.

“This was out of the blue for us,” Juvenile Services Director Ross Worley said of receiving the award. “It’s pretty exciting to get a national recognition for a new program.”

The first group of six juveniles to complete the program graduated last year, while a second group of nine are expected to graduate in August, Worley said.

The program will soon begin to move toward a perpetual state, with new students continually entering in the program as others complete it. Worley said they also hope to grow how many students can progress through the program at one time.

Juvenile Services has recently constructed a vocational building so the boys can learn a trade, such as auto mechanics, carpentry or welding, while going through the program.

“Not many people are going back to old school shop class,” Worley said. “It’s exciting.”

Worley said the national award boosts morale in his department.

“It lets people know we’re for real,” he said.

The H.O.P.E. Academy was formed out of desire and necessity.

Juvenile Services had been sending children to similar programs in other counties across the state, costing them $140 per day per person. About six years ago, they had $600,000 per year in funding, which has since been reduced by the state to $200,000. They could no longer afford to send as many kids out, Worley said.

Juvenile Services places about 40 kids a year, sending them to San Marcos or Dallas, away from their family, schools and support systems, for drug or sex offender treatment or behavioral modifications, such as boot camps. Because they had the facility and staff resources, Worley implemented a plan to start a program in Smith County.

Keeping the six children who graduated from the program in September in Smith County for the nearly nine-month program, instead of sending them somewhere else, saved the department about $230,000, Worley said.

Worley said there are two critical components the children must have to be accepted into the H.O.P.E. Academy: having the want or desire to turn their lives around, and their families have to commit to as much involvement as the child.

Those going through the H.O.P.E. Academy live and learn in an area separated from the rest of the juveniles being housed at the Juvenile Attention Facility.

Worley said there were 10-15 volunteers, three residential probation officers, including one supervisor and counselors who work directly with the children, but he credits his entire staff of more than 80 people for pulling it off. Since they restructured their staff and facility to run the program, it “didn’t cost the taxpayers a dime,” Worley said.

Worley also credits the Smith County Juvenile Board, made up of the local judges who oversee Smith County Juvenile Services. “The judges who serve on our board have shown unwavering support for rehabilitating at-risk kids in Smith County. If it weren’t for their encouragement and willingness to be on the cutting edge of programs and services for juvenile offenders, we wouldn’t be where we are today.”

To graduate, the boys have to reach a certain point level; building points through counseling, school, participation and behavior.

Worley said the boys who graduate from H.O.P.E. Academy go into a new program called REBOUND, which works with all juveniles who have been released from placements and are transitioning back into the home. They will continue to be on probation, but will be supervised by visitors from counselors and probation officers to their home and school. Since Juvenile Services works with the Tyler Independent School District with their educational program, they are able to return to their schools through a “seamless transition,” Worley said.

 

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