DC Court Employees Are Stepping Up To Help At-Risk Kids in Our Community SOAR

The DC Superior Family Court Social Services Division (CSSD) kicked off an innovative 90-day pilot program that spotlights the power of volunteer mentoring and coaching, all with the hope of encouraging young people to succeed in school who are currently under the supervision of CSSD, the District’s juvenile probation agency.

The SOARs (“Succeeding in Our Academic Responsibility”) initiative is focused on identifying youth who have fallen into chronic truancy – an educational crisis – and offering them programming and authentic connection with caring and committed adults, all designed to address barriers to attendance and participation in school.

Created by the Family Court’s Social Services Division (CSSD) – thanks to the efforts of Presiding Judge of Family Court Jennifer Di Toro, along with CSSD Director Terri Odom and Superior Court Chief Judge Anita Josey-Herring – the program brings students from school to the location in Southwest D.C., allows them to forge impactful new relationships, provides dinner and transportation to their homes once the session has ended.

“I see the youth encouraging each other in terms of being there, so I think it’s a collegial feeling that’s coming among them,” said volunteer and Senior Contract Monitor Edward Galiber. “That [feeling] is what’s going to help them break away from whatever is out there, pulling them towards crime; we’re in a tug-of-war.”

DC Courts have welcomed volunteers from various divisions and organized tutors to meet with local DC youth at its Balanced and Restorative Justice (BARJ) Vocational Center twice a week. Students are mentored by dedicated Court employees on everything from their dream careers to emotional regulation and journaling. Then, students meet with their tutors to dive into their academics and get up to speed on courses where they may have fallen behind.

“We do things with the youth every day, but they don’t get to see us,” said volunteer and Senior Contract Monitor Cheryl Rogers-Brown; one of many Court volunteers who head to Southwest after their workday for the program. “I think it’s great that they see that we want to come from behind the desk and help in any way that we can.”

In addition to helping the young people involved, SOARs gives DC Courts employees an opportunity to make a hands-on impact in the community they serve. “It’s the excitement and the sparkle in [our] eyes – our work fulfills us, but then to have something like this that really brings us to what our passion is. We are in affect the change we seek; I think that’s the sweet spot of what we need from our volunteers and what’s going to help us with our young people,” Odom shared of the program.

The initiative aims to make a difference in the lives of the young people involved, so that they can keep on track to reach their dreams and understand what it will take to get there.

“It’s such a feeling of joy to see these young kids taking it seriously, " said fellow volunteer and Supervisory Probation Officer Estebania Lastra-McIntyre. “We’re setting the tone; we’re setting the environment up for them to feel safe, to be able to share, to be able to let us in on why they’re having difficulty attending school.”