After five years of producing inquisitive, critical-thinking youth, the Greenpoint Youth Court is closing its doors for good.
On Thursday evening, the organization held a graduation ceremony for its final group of graduates – Cohort 9 – the 9th group of students who completed the six-month program. In the case of Cohort 9, the group completed two terms at the Youth Court.
“For the past year I have watched Cohort 9 handle cases with professionalism, respect, and empathy,” said Dana Rachlin, program coordinator at the Youth Court, who is now transitioning into a full time position at the Greenpoint Chamber of Commerce. “It was clear to me from day one that this cohort had all the qualities of positive young leaders and that each of them have the potential to make a profound impact on the world.”
Created by the Center for Court Innovation, a non-profit justice reform organization, the Greenpoint Youth Court was set up in 2009, and has served as one of three such youth courts in Brooklyn along with the ones in Brownsville and Red Hook.
Comprised entirely of high school students, the Court enables students to mete out justice to their peers – kids aged 10-18 who have committed low-level offenses and are recommended either by their teachers, schools, or local law enforcement to appear before the Youth Court.
At the Court, fellow students from their community discuss their actions with them and then “sentence” them to perform various acts of community service like the most recent project the group undertook – the beautification of the neighborhood by creating Greenpoint-themed tree boxes that are being placed throughout the neighborhood this year.
However, critical as the project has been to finding active solutions for troubled neighborhood kids, it has struggled to find funding.
The Center for Court Innovation (CCI), the organization that oversees the program, however said that funding was just one of the reasons the program ended in Greenpoint.
Dory Hack, Deputy Director of the Youth Justice Program at CCI said that the move was more of a strategic decision. The Greenpoint Youth Court was a standalone program, unlike the other two youth courts in Brooklyn – in Red Hook and Brownsville. Both are housed in Justice Centers which offer a variety of services in addition to the youth court set up such as counseling and art workshops among other things.
“Financial concerns are always real, but our goal is to provide more of a holistic program,” said Hack. “The Greenpoint Youth Court members have done a terrific and the closure is in no way a reflection on their work. We are sad to see it go.”
At Thursday’s celebration, students recalled memories they had shared over the year, awards were handed out to community members who had been active in supporting the youth court, and a scholarship award worth $250 was presented to one of the students, Devan Harper, for writing an essay on service towards the community. The check was presented to him by the H.E.A.L.T.H. for Youths organization, a non-profit promoting health and education among youth – and will go towards his education at Finger Lakes Community College, when he starts there as a Freshman in the fall.
“I used to be up to no good before I found the Greenpoint Youth Court program,” said Harper. “But this program completely changed my life. It has opened up so many opportunities for me. I found out what it really means to help people in your community.”
Parents and family members cheered on the students as each of them received a certificate for their work over the year. And local electeds, including Assemblyman Joe Lentol and Councilmember Steve Levin made their way to wish the students a fond farewell.
“This program has made our kids think, made them good citizens, and made them realize that things are not always as they appear,” said Lentol, who initiated the program in Greenpoint. “They will grow from this experience. It will stay with them for the rest of their lives, and they will make the world a better place.”