CIS pilots ‘lending library’ for Chatham Teen Court

Posted 3/11/21

In the last few months, Communities In Schools has piloted a new program to hopefully mitigate some of those challenges for youth defendants in Teen Court: a lending library.

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CIS pilots ‘lending library’ for Chatham Teen Court

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For a year now, Communities in Schools’ Chatham County Teen Court has worked to adapt to a mostly virtual landscape necessitated by pandemic.

The voluntary court program accepts referrals of first-time offenders ages 11-18 who have admitted guilt to certain misdemeanor offenses. It’s confidential and typically results in sentences involving serving as a juror in future cases, community service and educational seminars — all of which present a challenge due to current COVID-19 restrictions.

In the last few months, Communities In Schools has piloted a new program to hopefully mitigate some of those challenges for youth defendants in Teen Court: a lending library.

“An idea we had discussed was the possibility of having our kids write short book reports, using inspirational biographical figures as their report subjects,” said Paul Bauer, who is on the CIS board of directors. “I thought about setting up a lending library where our kids could go and select a book, read it (or a few chapters) and then write a report. Their report would then count towards fulfilling a portion of their community service time.

“We think this will be a more productive way to have our defendants perform their community service,” he said. “I personally went ahead and ordered a few books to get us started.”

Bauer worked with CIS’ Pablo Avendano to get the library off the ground. He consulted with Chatham County Schools’ Public Relations Coordinator John McCann, also on the CIS Board of Directors, who worked with CCS librarians to develop a book list with 25 titles. The district then also purchased two copies of each book.

“It’s certainly a win-win,” McCann said. “CIS for sure, is helping our students, so we’re just doing our part to help the organization.”

Bauer also consulted with Katy Henderson, the Youth Librarian at the Chatham County Library, who developed a list with 28 books. Books — purchased in both English and Spanish, when possible — include titles such as “I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter” by Erika Sánchez, “M.L.K.: The Journey of a King” by Tonya Bolden and “Call Me American” by Abdi Nor Iftin.

Already, CIS has more than 65 books lined up for its lending library.

“We want titles that are inclusive of many groups, (and) cultures,” Bauer said, stressing that the library is an effort not only to meet Teen Court community service requirements, but to work toward the organization’s restorative justice goals — by focusing on mediation and growth rather than punishment.

“What makes it even better is Mr. Bauer was like, ‘Let’s not just limit it to restorative justice. Let’s just create this library. Let’s just create this space, where we’re making it easier for kids to get access to reading materials that can encourage them,’” McCann said of the lending library program. “Hopefully, a nice little buzz gets created, because you can do a whole lot worse things than read a good book.”

Avendano, the program manager for Teen Court and the community service and restitution programs, said he’s offering one-on-one reading sessions with youth. In place of volunteering at places such as a dog shelter or thrift store — currently not options during COVID-19 — Avendano will read a few chapters with youth defendants over Zoom, sometimes in a park.

“We just piloted it and it works well,” he said. “We’ve been reading, ‘We Beat the Street,’ about these three Black young men who became doctors after a tough upbringing, and the kid who’s reading it, I can see him proving he really likes it.”

During a normal year, Avendano said Teen Court will serve around 60 kids. He has no fewer than three active cases at any time, but can have up to 10-12 cases — at which point he said volunteers are even more important. The mission of the program, he said, is to pair an adult with a kid and “bring that mentoring concept to life.”

“We’ve been challenged with corona to kind of think outside of the box and just do things differently,” Avendano said, but he thinks the lending library is a successful adaptation.

It’s an effort CIS hopes will continue post-pandemic, Bauer said.

“Pablo and I started this initiative as a way to give more meaningful assignments to some of our youth defendants in our Teen Court and Community Service and Restitution programs,” he said. “We are now looking to expand our little library so that it can be used by other CIS staff members in their programs.”

Some of those ideas include using the books with CIS’ mentor and mentee program, or hosting a book club for certain ages and to have them read and discuss on a weekly basis.

“I am proud of how our community has come together to help develop this. We find that the kids who we work with and who are in our programs are excited about having a library that is quickly available to them,” Bauer said. “We are encouraging them to look at the books, read them and, if appropriate keep it. We want kids to be excited to read and learn.”

You can learn more about CIS Teen Court and how to volunteer at CIS' website.

Reporter Hannah McClellan can be reached at hannah@chathamnr.com or on Twitter at @HannerMcClellan.

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