INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) - The first time 15-year-old Edward Lewis was in a court room, it was July 2011 and he was accused of stealing a bicycle.
"I didn't know the bike had already been stolen," said Lewis. "I was given two charges – one for theft and one for resisting arrest."
At the time, Lewis' grades were slipping. He was acting up in school and his uncle, Michael Collins, had already spoken with him about straightening up.
"I was embarrassed," Collins said. "He's such a good kid, but he was making bad decisions."
Instead of working his way through the juvenile court system, Lewis was accepted into the Reach for Youth program. The organization has facilitated the traditional Teen Court program in Central Indiana for over 20 years. Serving as a diversion program for the Marion and Johnson County Juvenile Probation Departments, youth who receive a second chance through Teen Court have their case heard by a jury of their peers and once they complete the assigned consequences successfully, walk away with a clean record.
In Teen Court, local attorneys serve as judges and the jury is made up of teenagers between the ages of 10 and 17.
Defendants take the stand. They are questioned by their peers and then given a "sentence," usually consisting of community service.
The punishment for Edward Lewis was nine hours of community service, ten hours of restitution – meaning, additional chores at home – and three nights of jury duty. Lewis loved being part of the jury so much that he volunteered even more.
"He said to me 'no, I want to come every week,'" Edward's uncle explained. "I said 'every week, are you sure?' And he said 'yeah I want to come every week! I enjoy this!'"
Lewis' story is inspiring and somewhat typical for this organization.
"Study after study shows that programs like Reach for Youth's Teen Court are twice as effective at rehabilitation," says Reach for Youth President & CEO, Michelle Study-Campbell. "In fact, our recidivism, or repeat offense rate, is half of that of traditional juvenile court."
In 2011, 290 teens were tried in five different Teen Courts throughout central Indiana, all operated through Reach for Youth. For more on teen court, click here.
Reach for Youth helped a total of 1,622 teens through last year, many of them needing counseling. As a not-for-profit United Way-affiliated agency, Reach for Youth offers counseling to teens and their families on a sliding fee scale.
"Its been consistently seeing the depression, the anxiety, the family conflict -- the school problems," says Clinical Supervisor Cherie Bridges Patrick. "When people come to their wit's end, about 'how do I help my child fix this?' Then that's when folks come to us."
Now Edward is helping friends find solutions to the problem of growing up.
"I've told a couple of friends who were slipping a little bit, I've said 'hey, that's not what you should be doing," says 15-year old Edward. "You should be trying to make positive changes because anything can mess up your future and you don't want that. You want to go to college. You want to do the right things to make everything the way you want it to be."
For more information on Reach for Youth, go here .
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