Volunteers at Pierce County’s Juvenile Diversion Program understand that the teenagers they meet with every month made decisions that got them in trouble with the law.
They also understand that sometimes those teens deserve second chances.
Every two weeks at Sumner City Hall, anywhere from three to ten volunteers gather to meet with teenagers age 18 and younger who are facing charges for trespassing, shoplifting, possession of alcohol or similar offenses.
The volunteers split into groups of three called community accountability boards (CABs) to look over the cases for each teenager before they meet with them.
“We interview the child, get to know the child and what happened in the event that got them where they are,” said David Hammermaster, a Sumner resident and program volunteer. “Then we put together an agreement called the Diversion Agreement.”
We interview the child, get to know the child and what happened in the event that got them where they are. Then we put together an agreement called the Diversion Agreement.
David Hammermaster, Sumner resident and Juvenile Diversion Program volunteer
The agreement offers youth offenders a way to make up for their offenses by participating in counseling, educational seminars or community service, and requires them to show proof of following through with the agreement if they choose to accept. The process diverts them from going through the court system, and eventually, the offenses can be erased from their criminal histories.
“We listen to them, we talk to them, and they talk to us,” said Sumner volunteer Marilynn Smoak. “It’s their choice to either go by this decision or go to court.”
Diversion Units don’t decide whether a youth offender is guilty or innocent, but provides them with an offer that they are free to take or leave. An advantage to taking the offer supplied by the program is its confidentiality and convenience compared with court proceedings.
The program can benefit not only youth but the volunteers, who live in the communities where offenses like this might happen.
Carrie Appling is the volunteer services coordinator for the Pierce County Juvenile Court and finds volunteers for the diversion program. Aside from Sumner, there are Diversion Units in Puyallup, Tacoma, University Place and Lakewood. Those interested in volunteering can apply online.
“I siphon people that come in and interview them,” Appling said. “We want members from the community meeting with the kids.”
We want members from the community meeting with the kids.
Carrie Appling, volunteer services coordinator for the Pierce County Juvenile Court
Hammermaster is a lawyer in Sumner and first heard about the program at a Sumner Rotary meeting in 2001. He’s been volunteering ever since, when he can.
“I thought this was a good idea to volunteer my time,” he said.
Terry Peters is a retired teacher and lives in Bonney Lake. She’s been volunteering for two years.
“I knew that when I retired I wanted to do something in the community,” Peters said. “It just made sense to work with kids.”
High school students are also encouraged to volunteer for the program, said Appling.
“We’re always looking for high school kids (to volunteer) on the boards because it makes (youth offenders) more comfortable,” she said.
Allowing volunteers to communicate with youth and their families prevents further offenses from happening by bringing to the surface reasons why they made the decisions in the first place, said Bud Olver, a consultant who works for the Juvenile Court. It can be trivial things — such as getting into a fight over jealousy about a boyfriend or girlfriend — or it can be very serious things, like abuse, he said.
“It’s getting to the bottom of what caused the offense,” Olver said. “We find the root of the problem.”
Either way, the program provides youth with new opportunities to follow new paths.
They are all good kids. They made a mistake, and they’re able to correct that.
Bud Olver, Pierce County Juvenile Court Consultant
“They are all good kids,” Olver said. “They made a mistake, and they’re able to correct that.”