Kearney – This year’s Nebraska Juvenile Justice Association (NJJA) conference encouraged all stakeholders working with at-risk youth to learn from, and network with, professionals across prevention, education, juvenile justice, and treatment systems. The 2018 conference was held in Kearney at the Younes Conference Center, from May 2-4 and, for the first time ever, three youth from the Youth Rehabilitation and Treatment Center in Kearney (YRTC-Kearney) were selected by NJJA to speak before conference-goers.
On Friday, May 4, following a presentation by keynote speaker Kevin Kush, the youth gave the audience a rousing call to action, outlining their recommendations to professionals in juvenile justice for the upcoming year. During the presentation, each youth spoke powerfully about their own personal experiences and how teammates and programming at YRTC-Kearney will help them become productive members of society.
“Even though I’m not [yet] where I want to be, I behave in a manner that commands respect and carry myself well,” one youth said. “I refuse to become a product of my circumstances and, therefore, I am careful to follow rules and expectations. The more I do that, the more normal my life gets. We need normalcy, because if we are to be successfully rehabilitated into society it’s wise to simulate that environment here.”
“We can all learn from each other,” said another youth. “Through communication, we break barriers. We have messed up, but we are not messed up. Once that fact is realized, the conditions are set for mutual learning and growth.”
“Responsibility is at my door step and I can’t afford to remain stagnant. I will always do what I have to do so I can be successful in life,” shared the third youth.
Nicole Berggren, Juvenile Justice administrator, said the team at the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) was very proud of the youth. “They addressed the crowd well and conducted themselves in a very professional manner. They clearly enjoyed the day and the experience of attending the conference. Their success speaks volumes about the strides being made.”
The day before the presentation, on NJJA’s Youth Day, the three presenters participated in a special session where they prepared their call to action with the assistance of youth from other facilities, including Boys Town, and three youth representatives from each of the four DHHS youth facilities, including the two Youth Rehabilitation and Treatment Centers (YRTCs), Hastings Regional Center and Whitehall. The heavy presence of youth from each DHHS facility was also a first-time occurrence. NJJA board members, Cassy Blakely and Monica Miles-Steffens, spear-headed the session.
DHHS team members were present for the duration of the three-day conference. In attendance were Mark LaBouchardiere, director of Facilities, Trevor Spiegel, Office of Juvenile Services (OJS) administrator, Paul Gordon, facility operating officer at YRTC-Kearney and Spencer Popple and Ralph Healey, both unit managers.
During a Wednesday break-out session, Nicole Berggren, Danielle Larson, facility operating officer at the Youth Rehabilitation and Treatment Center in Geneva (YRTC-Geneva) and Whitehall, Dr. Jerry Van Winkle, a psychologist at YRTC-Kearney and YRTC-Geneva, and Dr. Lisa Buchta, a psychologist for Hastings Regional Center’s Juvenile Chemical Dependency program, presented about the variety of programs offered at the four DHHS youth facilities.
A tour of YRTC-Kearney was also offered to conference attendees on Wednesday, May 2. Approximately 25 people participated.