By Liz Shepherd
WARSAW — Representatives for Kosciusko County’s Keepin’ It Real program will attend Warsaw’s downtown First Friday from 5-8 p.m. Friday, Sept. 3.
Jenna Parks, who formerly struggled with substance abuse, helped create the program for teens in the Kosciusko County juvenile justice system. Through Keepin’ It Real, teens can hear from adult speakers about their past life choices and how attendees should avoid going down a similar path.
“We call them (adult speakers) credible messengers because they’ve been through it,” said Dana Bailey, juvenile probation officer. “It’s really a great program because the kids listen, they ask questions. I think why they wanted it to be called ‘Keepin’ It Real’ is because it’s real. They tell the nitty gritty.”
“They’re able to speak on the recovery process and how difficult it can be but also how rewarding it can be,” said Kara Shively, juvenile probation officer. “It is a real, impactful, credible message to the community about substance abuse, substance use, addiction and recovery.”
The main goal with the program is to empower youth with truth and knowledge to equip them to make better choices for their futures. Parks said the program helps teens not feel alone or misunderstood while encouraging them to make better choices now versus in the future.
Currently, the group meets on a bimonthly basis in the county’s justice building. However, Parks is aspiring to broaden the program by expanding it to local high schools and encouraging those not in the juvenile system to attend.
Bailey and Shively said Keepin’ It Real is always looking for speakers to come in and talk with attendees.
“We want more than just the probation kids to come,” said Bailey.
“Jenna (Parks) just really has a passion for helping people because she has been through it and knows that you need a support system,” said Shively.
Keepin’ It Real is a part of the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative (JDAI), which receives funding from the Indiana Department of Corrections. JDAI primarily focuses on different approaches to promote more effective and efficient systems in finding alternatives for teens outside of automatically detaining them for crimes.
“This initiative is to create programming so we are not detaining kids who do not need to be in detention,” said Shively. “A lot of us have the same mission, which is helping kids and finally getting them to a point where they are successful adults.”
JDAI’s core strategies include:
- promoting collaboration between juvenile court officials, probation agencies, prosecutors, defense attorneys, schools, community organizations and advocates;
- using rigorous data collection and analysis to guide decision-making;
- utilizing objective admissions criteria and screening instruments to replace subjective decision-making processes;
- implementing new or expanded community-based alternatives to locked facilities — such as day and evening reporting centers, home confinement and shelter care;
- instituting case processing reforms to expedite the flow of cases through the system;
- reducing the number of youth detained for probation rule violations or failing to appear in court, and the number held in detention awaiting transfer to a residential facility;
- improving racial and ethnic equity by examining data to identify policies and practices that may disadvantage youth of color at various stages of the process, and pursuing strategies to ensure a more level playing field for youth regardless of race or ethnicity; and
- monitoring and improving conditions of confinement in facilities.
Anyone seeking more information on speaking at or attending Keepin’ It Real events can contact the county’s probation department.