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Youth Assistance Program celebrates anniversary

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The third anniversary celebration included several awards handed out, including to volunteers from the community. From left, Hope Fenton, who was awarded Tutor of the Year; Marcy Patrick, who was given the Volunteer of the Year award; and Tim Simerly, who was awarded Mentor of the Year.
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Charles O’Connor, a retired judge from Shelbyville, gives the inspirational speech during the Youth Assistance Program celebration. He said toward the end of his career, he needed to help find a way to help find solutions to problems such as addiction to prevent criminal behavior.

By ROSS FLINT - rflint@shelbynews.com

When Charles O’Connor made his first appearance in court as a public defender after returning to Shelbyville to begin practicing law, he heard a startling opinion from the judge who was presiding over the case.

The judge looked at O’Connor and his client, a juvenile who was arrested for siphoning gasoline from a vehicle in the Boys Club parking lot, and told them that he knew the child’s parents and grandparents.

“None of you are any good,” the judge said, referring to the child’s family.

“So much for judicial restraint,” O’Connor said Tuesday evening while giving the motivational speech at the Youth Assistance Program’s third anniversary celebration at Girls Inc. “That conversation stayed with me and I learned the judge was accurate in one aspect.”

O’Connor said on Tuesday that during his 36 years sitting on the bench, he noticed the same families, generation after generation, came before him for criminal and family law settings.

Recently, the former judge was asked during a remediation session in his new job what his favorite aspect of being a job was.

He thought it over because the job included sending people off to prison and ending marriages. He decided his answer was adoptions.

Adoptions took place on Mondays and involved the child being present and taking photographs.

“This was a much more enjoyable and rewarding experience, uniting a family, rather than dissolving one,” he said.

As his time on the bench drew closer, he said he realized he had a greater responsibility to find solutions to the underlying problems that cause people to get into trouble, such as addiction and mental health issues.

“Frustrations increased for me because problems appeared insurmountable since some people, people who could work together to address these problems, were in denial as to even their existence,” he said. “When I first learned of the Youth Assistance Program, I became convinced the program could have a huge impact on not just the criminal justice system by potentially reducing the number of young people who enter that system, but on the quality of life in our community.”

The program’s operation began in December 2015, but the process to get it started dated a few years earlier, Warren Robison, president of the program, said. A group of about 20 residents decided they needed to do something to help local youth and after meeting every month, visited the Youth Assistance Program in Hamilton County.

That program served as a sample for what the group wanted in Shelbyville.

The local program started accepting referrals in March 2016 and within the first year, received more than 100 referrals. As of this month, the group had processed more than 315.

Right now, the Youth Assistance Program has 161 active referrals for children ages 3-17.

“It’s a great program going on,” Robison said. “We’re spread kinda thin. We need more mentors and tutors.”

O’Connor called it the “first proactive program” in the county that “seeks solutions before problems become unsolvable.”

“None of us should be too busy to use an hour or so a week to serve as a tutor or mentor,” he said. “We should spread the word on what we do and what can we provide, and the lists of services of others to join us and support the events sponsored by our program.”

He added he has seen first-hand through his previous experience with Big Brother the positive impact a mentor-mentee relationship can provide.

“We’re only limited in the results we can achieve by the efforts we fail to make,” he said.

To become involved with the program as a mentor, volunteer or tutor, visit www.shelbycountyyap.org/.