By Sadie Hunter
No gang signs and symbols. No discussion of illegal activity or criminal history. No last names. These are just some of the rules of a program, OPTIONS, working to make a difference among kids held in the Hamilton Co. Juvenile Services Center in Noblesville.
In the detention center’s OPTIONS program, kids and volunteer leaders of the program alike work together on a first-name basis for an hour and a half each week towards three goals: making positive decisions for the future, learning about the ripple effect and positively impacting the community with community service projects.
Jill (leaders do not share their last names with the program for safety reasons), the co-leader of OPTIONS, with other leaders Cheryl and Becky, meets with kids of varying ages each Thursday, who, for various reasons, are spending time in the detention center.
“We have some group rules, and one of the group rules is we can’t know why they’re there,” Jill said.
For more than two decades, the three ladies have been mentors and a listening ear to the kids who choose to sign up for the program, currently funded by the Hamilton Co. Sheriff’s Dept.
“This (program) is sort of a culmination of a lot of what we (the leaders) have done over 21 years,” Jill said. “We’re all grandmas, and we sort of approached this partly as grandmas and partly as (former) Girl Scout leaders. Sheryl and I were Girl Scout leaders together, so it’s sort of like a Girl Scout troop. We’re very big on service projects and talking about issues we thought were relevant, trying to get the kids connected to the community.”
The kids who attend the program aren’t able to leave the detention center, but have made contributions to community groups and organizations, particularly during holidays. For Thanksgiving this year, centerpieces were made for Coburn Place, a shelter for women and children victims of domestic violence. Around Halloween, trick or treat bags were made for children at The Villages, an organization that provides support for children in foster care. Other local organizations that often benefit from the OPTIONS group include Prevail, Third Phase Pantry and more.
Jill said ages of the kids in OPTIONS vary, depending on who signs up each week.
“The youngest we’ve ever had is 9 (years old). The oldest we’ve ever had is 19, and most of them are around 15, 16, 17. About one-third of the kids we see once. About one-third of the kids we see three or four times, and about one-third of the kids we see often, maybe up to 16 or 17 times,” she said. “Some of them come back again and again, and then sometimes we see them on the outside.”
Vetted by an employee of the Hamilton Co. Mental Health Association, Jill said she wasn’t sure she wanted to get involved with the program at first but changed her mind after going once.
“There were only four boys that day, and I asked them what they were thinking about so they wouldn’t be coming back, and they said, ‘Well, we can’t think about anything while we’re in here,’ and I said, ‘Do you know what you have here right now is time. You’ll never have time like this again, and this is the time to be thinking about what you will do,’” Jill said. “And that’s really how the program started.”
Nearly each week, the leaders ask the kids their feelings before the session and after to compare and gather data on how the group is being affected by what topics were discussed or activities were done that day.
“So many of these kids, they’re not doing well in school. You know, they have issues that they don’t respond well to authority,” Jill said. “It’s easy for us to come in because we don’t have their history. We can only look at them like kids, like ‘We believe you can do well,’ and many of them really rise to that challenge. They often don’t get people that look at them that way.”
Jill said she has seen thousands of kids come through the program in the 21 years it has been in existence.
“It’s a chance to talk, to say things without somebody grading them, scoring them or taking things away from them,” Jill said. “We really hope when the kids come out that they are less angry, less frustrated, more calm, focused and positive about themselves.”
Y12SR: Yoga 12-Step Recovery Program
Along with its thinking and planning component and regular programming, OPTIONS has also added in a physical component.
“In 2005, we started yoga as part of our program. We’ve had about 68 yoga classes now. The person that started Y12SR lives in Indianapolis, and what she does is she combines yoga with the 12-step recovery program,” Jill said.
OPTIONS kids and leaders created and designed a DVD, stress ball, T-shirts, posters and bracelets to promote the Y12SR program. For more, visit y12sr.com.