By Wayne Allen
In June, Scioto County Court of Common Pleas Probate and Juvenile Division Judge Alan Lemons took two groups to River’s Way in Bluff City, Tennessee. The kids were selected by court staff which had been through the court system, Lemons said the kids that were chosen were those that would have benefited most from the experience.
“We took two different groups of 12 different kids each time. We had a significant staff presence there and I went myself both times,” Lemons said.
He said while at River’s Way each group was presented with a challenge course to complete. Lemons said he went through the course with one of the groups and described in as physically straining. Part of the mission of River’s Way includes growth through experiential and adventure based programming for youth of all abilities.
“One of the purposes of the challenges that are laid out includes pushing yourself beyond what you think you might do, have more confidence in your own abilities, and having trust in others,” Lemons said.
He said on the first day the group was challenged to climb a ladder and reach a certain point. Some of the kids would only get one step on that ladder and fear would get to them.
Lemons said the difficulty of the challenge course increased by the day.
“We would watch the very same kids that were scared to death of the ladder on the first day, get all the way up and perhaps do one or two of the challenges,” Lemons said. “Kids that you would not expect to go very far (on the challenge course) got quite far.”
Lemons said one of the rules of River’s Way is that its challenge by choice, and no one would make a participant do anything.
“These children learned to work as teams, be creative and think outside the box. One day the group was presented with a plastic barrel with holes in it and they were challenged to think on their own, how to fill that up with water,” Lemons said.
Lemons said one of the unique things about the trip was everyone was able to walk away with a positive experience.
“We had them write down a few sentences about what they thought and what they all liked about it. I think some of them will realize what they’ve learned later in life, if they have not already,” Lemons said. “I think they enjoyed it so much, they wanted to stay there and not be sent home.”
Lemons said the kids were not the only ones that were able to walk away from the experience fulfilled.
“All of our probation officers went, and I went. We learned tremendously about these children, more than we would have known before,” Lemons said. “It’s a five-hour drive, so listening to them talk to each other, you learn things you might not otherwise learned.”
He said since the trip, court staff has called school officials where participants attend in an effort to build a team beyond court employees, to assist the child.
“Some of these kids need a leg up, out of their misbehavior and into something good,” Lemons said.
The trip was funded by a grant awarded by the Ohio Department of Youth Services.
“The Department of Youth Services, as people around here know painfully well is closing their facilities. Instead of just closing facilities and putting all of that money back into the state treasury, they are giving it to juvenile courts, if we can come up with ideas on ways to help children stay out of prison,” Lemons said. “We had a staff meeting and talked about how it went. This was our first trip such as this; we’ve decided to make very minor changes to make it go more smoothly. We’re going to present this to DYS and see if we can’t do the same thing next year and maybe beyond that.”
Wayne Allen can be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 1933 or on Twitter @WayneallenPDT