Student Service with Teen Court Impacts Lives of At-risk Youth
ODA Upper School students were visited by representatives from Teen Court of Sarasota Inc. during a recent assembly.
Representatives from the Teen Court of Sarasota, Inc., joined by Sydney Sforzo ‘20 and Josh Cohen ‘20, gave an informative and inspirational introduction to the volunteer opportunities at their program during a recent Ovation in the Petrik Thunderdome. The innovative non-profit organization’s vision, “to instill self-esteem in youth by introducing them to the positive benefits of law-abiding citizenship” is put into action every day by the dedicated staff and volunteers who work with at-risk teens and youth offenders. Josh, a Teen Court volunteer, and Sydney, the first teen member of the Board of Directors, were enthusiastic about their roles at the organization, and expressed their hope that other ODA students would become involved.
“My experience working with Teen Court has been really eye-opening and impactful. I have been able to serve my community in a unique way that generally isn’t available for people my age,” said Sydney. “The most beneficial part of becoming a Teen Court volunteer has been seeing the impact of your work right in front of you and contributing positively to the community in a way that betters the lives of other students. I feel that [a second chance] is extremely valuable to my peers in the community and Teen Court does exactly that.”
Executive Director Heather Todd, Attorney Emma Joels, Judge Stephen Walker, and Board of Directors Vice President Katy McBrayer shared their personal insights about this valuable resource in our community. Judge Walker impressed the students with the importance of their service to others, remarking that “volunteers can make a difference in the lives of other teens. The opportunity to serve as a juror, on Teen Court or as an adult, is probably the highest form of service a citizen can do aside from serving in the military.”
Mrs. Heather Todd spoke to the Upper Schoolers about the wide variety of volunteer opportunities that Teen Court has to offer. Students can serve as jury members, bailiffs, clerks, and attorneys, all under the tutelage of experienced judges running the court. Mrs. Todd explained that volunteers do not need to have an interest in law or criminal justice to participate and that students who volunteer have the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of other teens through this program. She explained that Teen Court’s mission, “Introducing area youth to activities and services that promote feelings of self-esteem and self-improvement when they develop a healthy attitude toward authority. All organizational activities instill and teach the benefits of law abiding citizenship and civic engagement” is one that all students can benefit from, regardless of what career path they choose to pursue in college and beyond.