It’s just a large container filled with some goodies—mostly candy and gum.
But the young people here see it differently. A pat on the back for a good week, it’s an encouragement to make it through another one.
Rewards are something new to many of them. All have already brushed the law.
But those rewards are a big part of the reason these kids take part in Jefferson County’s Juvenile Drug Court, a program that seeks to help both troubled youths and their families find a drug-free future.
Call it positive peer pressure, but more often than not, the collective sessions transform sour attitudes into a willingness to change and a desire to be better.
Family Court Judge David Greenberg along with a team of other professionals volunteer their time to change these young lives. Greenberg knows from professional experience how this plays out in real families. There aren’t many happy endings in the cases he sees.
“No one wants anyone to be hooked on drugs, much less a young person. But it takes a real commitment to help kids who’ve already started down that path a little to make better choices – and to help families provide the support needed at home to keep them going even after leaving the program,” he said.
Even if it’s not easy, it is always worthwhile try to save a young person and this early intervention is vital. Experience shows that program participants do better at home and school, he said. Participants also have a low recidivism rate. They’ve learned their lesson well and aren’t looking to go backwards, he said.
The weekly program includes everything from drug testing to counseling sessions.
Still vividly able to recall those early days of the program, Greenberg is thrilled more local judges are now taking part in either adult or juvenile drug court and public support has also grown by leaps and bounds.
Otterbein Methodist Church in Martinsburg members Sue Ann Palmer and Joanie Roach aren’t naïve. They’ve see used syringes dropped on the street. The know drug deals go down in parking lots. They even know fellow church members who’ve lost loved ones to fatal overdoses.
The two have organized community meetings aimed at helping educate people about drug addiction as well as offering hope for recovery. One of those meetings yielded what would become one of those small reward for the kids in the drug court: five Dairy Queen gift cards.
“It takes a real commitment to help kids who’ve already started down that path a little to make better choices.” – Family Court Judge David Greenberg
“It’s means a lot to all of us when someone gives a donation, because we take it that we’re doing something right. We definitely want the kid to know they are a big part of that too,” Greenberg said.
New participants are often standoffish and recoil when offered a treat from the container in front of everyone else in those Thursday afternoon meetings.
But with time, that same young person becomes proud and happy to be recognized after getting a good weekly report.