Charlotte non-profit helps youth cope with effects of childhood trauma, violence

The Juvenile Court Intervention Program was designed for students ages eight through 21 and offers classes on childhood abuse

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A nonprofit network in Charlotte, North Carolina is dedicated to helping at-risk youth cope with the damaging effects of childhood trauma and gun violence. 

As reported by the Charlotte Observer, the Mecklenburg Council of Elders launched a diversion program two years ago to help local students and create “viable citizens.”

(Adobe Stock photo)

The Juvenile Court Intervention Program offers classes on childhood abuse, mental health, anger management, and occupational skills, to name a few, for students ages 8 through 21.

We provide services to residents of Mecklenburg County by way of seminars and events designed to raise awareness of their rights and options as citizens- regardless of past involvement with the law,” according to the Council of Elders website

The Council of Elders consists of “individual heads of non-profit organizations” who work in criminal justice and “interact with the court system, youth, young adults and the community, per the website.  The diversion program collaborates with judges, social workers, and the community to provide educational awareness that serves as an alternative to incarceration for youth and young adults ages 13 to 35.

The website states the mission of the mentoring program is tocreate a sense of safety, trust, and justice.” 

The program operates out of the former Plaza Road Academy in northeast Charlotte. The space boasts repurposed classrooms, a fitness studio, a martial arts dojo, and an art room. The program helps students cope with childhood trauma that triggers “adverse thoughts,” which often lead to violent acts, said Macon. 

prisoners in jail
Prisoners in jail (Adobe)

“When you talk to many of the young people that are in jail or in court and waiting to be sentenced, something happened in their childhood that has triggered an adverse thought in their mind. And they enter into these gangs, into shooting,” Macon said.

“So basically, what we do is to give them that necessary information in the hope that they change their mindset from the criminal activity, such as gang violence, and gun violence, and, you know, drug abuse and drug use,” said Lorenzo Steele, a former Rikers Island guard and host of the podcast Behind These Prison Walls.

Steele discusses life inside prison with students with the hope that they understand the potential consequences their actions can have. 

Tysha Pressley is a licensed clinical mental health counselor who leads an Abusive Childhood Experiences class for students trying to process their trauma and bounce back from their experiences. 

“It’s an amazing time, just coming together and helping them to kind of understand themselves a little bit more,” she said. “That’s what I hope that they get out of it. I really hope that they get that, number one, (…) they matter, and they’re not just one dimensional, they are three-dimensional beings,” Pressley told the outlet.

“What I hope kids get out of the program is to be able to utilize the tools that are provided to keep the recidivism down to nothing,” said educator Camille Stephens.

The program started with 45 students, and the goal is to reach 150 students this year, ages 8 to 21, executive director Maria Macon told the Charlotte Observer. This year’s classes and seminars started on April 4 and will run for six months. A community referral is required to participate in the free program.

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