Each and every day, here at SAY San Diego, our volunteers and interns give the abundant gifts of their talent and time to caring for their neighbors and lifting the lives of the children, youth, and families that we serve. Volunteers and interns form the heart of our community at SAY San Diego—and each year, they outnumber paid staff by about 150%. Among their many contributions to our clients and community, volunteers provide tutoring, tax assistance, counseling, lead youth development activities, organize and run events, conduct research, and much more.
During April, the Month of the Volunteer, we are sincerely pleased to applaud all our wonderful volunteers. And, we wish to highlight one of our programs that would simply not exist or achieve success without skillful, trained volunteers—our Teen Court.
SAY San Diego’s Teen Court provides diversion services for youth who become involved with the justice system for the first time, who accept responsibility for their wrongdoing, and who agree to a binding sentence selected by a jury of their peers—other teens. A key achievement of the Teen Court is that youth are diverted by law enforcement and the Teen Court outcomes are honored as an alternative to adjudication in Juvenile Court. Importantly, 93.9% of Teen Court cases are successful at case closure.
To make this work, each year, 250–350 high school student volunteers are trained on the juvenile justice system, emphasizing principles of restorative justice, to prepare them as Teen Court peer jurors. Most of the peer jurors are juniors and seniors from Crawford, Lincoln, Montgomery, and Torrey Pines High Schools. Jurors have also been trained at the following high schools: Canyon Crest, La Jolla, Mission Bay, Point Loma, San Diego, and Scripps Ranch. Some jurors are program clients fulfilling part of their Teen Court requirements.
Adult volunteers are also involved. SAY San Diego currently has 47 adult volunteers working with Teen Court, and we add 4–6 adult volunteers, on average, each year. Most of them are attorneys that fulfill the role of “Judge” at the sentencing hearings. They typically learn about Teen Court either through colleagues or the California Bar Association. In addition to our attorneys, SAY also has a small group of teachers that volunteer both their time and their classrooms.
All of the Teen Court volunteers—youth and adult—devote many hours; each volunteer engaging in 10–15 hearings during any given year. We are pleased, too, to draw attention to an exceptional member of our Teen Court volunteer team, Chelsea Stephens. She has been volunteering with Teen Court nearly five years in multiple roles, including translator, Judge and as our overall teen court assistant. Chelsea has given more than 500 voluntary hours to Teen Court, and she is a true champion for the youth and the program. She has kindly written a brief article on what Teen Court means to her.