A year ago, the idea that Jill would graduate high school early with plans to pursue her childhood dream of a career in the United States military seemed virtually impossible. You see, by the age of 14, Jill already had a list of delinquent charges, including assault and domestic violence, brought to the attention of the St. Clair County Juvenile Court.
So, what changed? In February of 2020, Jill entered the St. Clair County Day Program, a United Way of Central Alabama (UWCA) partner agency that provides counseling and academic remediation services for the juvenile court of St. Clair County. Two program sites, one in Pell City and another in Ashville, typically serve participants who are 13-18 years of age, behind in school, often truant, and may be abusing drugs and/or alcohol.
Since 1998, the program’s mission has centered on providing a cost-effective alternative to incarceration. The goal is to prevent these young people from being committed by the Department of Youth Service. According to Executive Director David Gray, 85 to 90% of the time, the program is successful.
That number is so high due, in part, to the close work between the organization, the Pell City and St. Clair County school systems, along with other community agencies, resulting in continuity and reinforcement. Licensed by the Alabama Department of Youth Services and certified through the Department of Mental Health. All counselors are also certified and trained to assist with mental health and substance-use disorders. The teachers are certified by the Alabama Department of Education.
“I think it’s a very positive environment,” said David. “I describe our program as not a boot camp, not necessarily a summer camp. It is an environment where boundaries are established, and there’s consistency and predictability. Ninety-nine percent of the time, students in this program appreciate that.”
Activities at the Day Program involve individual and group counseling focused on mental health issues, alcohol/substance abuse, human relations, problem solving and more. In addition, participants receive help with testing, education in core academic subjects and credit recovery.
Former students often reflect on their appreciation for the program when they return to visit the staff who set them on their positive path. The participants will share that the Day Program staff is part of their current success.
“I’ve always said that our walking, talking billboards are the students that complete the program…those who get out there and have success and it’s recognized by teachers and business owners,” said David.
Another key component of these encouraging results is that once participants leave the on-site campus experience, the program provides a 12-month extended care program at school. In that year, the organization continues to see the students as they return to school until they gradually taper off, knowing support is always available.
It’s not just adolescents who benefit, either. St. Clair County Day Program provides parenting skills education through the Parent Project, a nationally recognized parenting curriculum where guardians learn skills to change destructive adolescent behavior through the course of several sessions.
For many youth, such as Jill, the Day Program serves as the last chance to change their behavior and direction before their future is all but lost. Ultimately, it can open the door to many possibilities for a healthy, productive, fulfilling life.
Learn more about the St. Clair County Day Program and the services it offers by visiting the website here.