By Chelsea Stephens
SAY San Diego Case Assistant/Interpreter| Teen Court
It’s been a part of my life for over five years now; longer than many of my friendships, longer than my time as an undergraduate, longer than any other volunteer or work position I’ve held. Teen Court has become a part of my life that, to my benefit, has also become a key part of my identity. This is a program that has taught me patience, empathy, and has helped shape me into the person I am proud to be today. Although I’m a volunteer for the program, Teen Court has paid me in countless ways for which I will always be grateful.
What is it that brought me to Teen Court in the first place? It was a combination of two things: a desire to be involved in my community and also an interest in becoming an attorney. I was a college freshman trying to figure out life and was fortunate enough to come across a volunteer posting as a Case Assistant with SAY’s Teen Court program. After applying and being accepted, I began attending the biweekly hearings and quickly found myself falling in love with the ability to help others. Working with the clients and their families opened my eyes to the struggles so many families in San Diego face—poverty, unemployment, and substance abuse, to name a few. It helped give me a more well-rounded worldview that I know I will be able to apply wherever life’s journey takes me.
Many people have asked me why I would volunteer for such a long time without asking for pay. For me, it’s a simple answer: I love what I do. I may not end up with money in my pocket, but I have been paid in so many other ways. The clients I work with have taught me to be grateful for the things I have and to never take my blessings for granted. The volunteer jury I supervise has taught me how to be a leader who is both effective and empathetic. The fantastic SAY staff has given me countless opportunities to grow professionally, and even though I’m a volunteer, my input is still valued.
I don’t have an end date on how long I’ll stay with Teen Court. After five years, it has become a part of my life and identity that would be irreplaceable. My friends ask about Teen Court just as frequently as they ask about how my family is doing or how my job search is going. Teen Court is a part of my life that I’m proud of, grateful for, and forever indebted to. I might not be a teenager, but Teen Court is good for adults, too.