The outcry on social media about youth and crime is plentiful but oftentimes empty when it comes to a resolution.
Kankakee County State’s Attorney Jim Rowe wants to reverse that trend. A couple weeks ago, Rowe’s office secured a $182,000 grant from AmeriCorps to begin a Juvenile Mentoring Program.
The program, which Rowe called a “first-of-its-kind” in Kankakee County, will connect children with criminal records to volunteer mentors for 21 months to help children correct their behavior. It is partnered by the Kankakee Area YMCA, Kankakee County Chamber of Commerce, the county’s Juvenile Probation Department and local businesses.
The grant will pay for 18 part-time mentor advocates, two court liaisons and one full-time assistant program coordinator. It also will cover travel and lodging expenses for volunteer mentors. Volunteers can earn up to $6,000 in tuition vouchers through AmeriCorps.
“Everybody is always clamoring for some solution or for someone to do something about the kids in our community who need more guidance,” Rowe said. “This is an opportunity to step up and be a part of the solution.”
Rowe’s plan is to pair children with their mentors at the beginning of the upcoming school year. The goal for the mentors is to reduce a child’s truancy, improve their academic performance, teach them how to interact in social situations and prepare their mentees for future employment.
“We want to make sure we are giving youth in our community every opportunity to see behavioral change before they graduate into the adult court system,” Rowe said. “This is aimed at intervention to help them get on the right path. If we can catch these kids before they escalate into more dangerous behaviors, it lends to a healthier community.”
Rowe volunteered with AmeriCorps while attending college. He was a mentor and provided after school tutoring in Chicago’s Humboldt community. He believes becoming an AmeriCorps site could further improve Kankakee County.
“It really could be a gamechanger down the road,” he said. “We could become the portal for people to volunteer in social service agencies to address a number of community issues for stipends. I think it’s going to bring more people to the table.”
“The more volunteers, the better,” Rowe said. “We are always looking for opportunities to turn out community around. This is a good one to help kids.”