Tablet Opinion

Bob Ray Sanders: Program at Fort Worth’s Lena Pope Home turning young lives around

The story of a high school quarterback and two other young boys facing charges in the theft of packages from the porches of area homes was heartbreaking.

While I don’t know them or anything about them, other than what I read in the newspaper, I was nonetheless saddened by the news. You see, I’ve always felt for young people who do stupid things and get in serious trouble, because I have seen too many of them throw their dreams away with a single senseless act.

And I don’t only feel for them, I hurt for their parents and family who, in many cases, have worked hard to protect them and guide them toward a productive future only to see them do things that could have a negative impact on their lives forever.

That’s why it is especially gratifying when I come across a program that is working with troubled youths, not only to help them see the errors of their ways but to give them an opportunity to erase those stains from their records.

One such initiative is Second Opportunity for Success (SOS), operated by Lena Pope Home, which has been caring for children in our community for about 85 years.

The SOS program serves youths between the ages of 10 and 17 who have committed Class A, B or C misdemeanors and have been referred by police departments in Tarrant County and the Azle school district’s truancy court.

Crimes committed by the youngsters generally fall into the categories of theft under $500, possession of marijuana under 2 ounces or a controlled substance in a drug-free zone, burglary of a building or vehicle, criminal mischief or assault with bodily injury.

The seven-week curriculum is designed to bring these kids together with their parents or guardians, with an emphasis on teaching the students better social skills and giving the adults more positive parenting strategies — all with the intent of helping the kids learn from their mistakes and avoid further encounters with the juvenile justice system.

In other words, these youths are getting a second chance, and the vast majority of them take it, according to Wayne Vaughn, Lena Pope’s director of school- and community-based services.

Since it started 14 years ago as the First Offender Program, Vaughn said, SOS has served almost 4,000 youths and families.

During this fiscal year, “93 percent of youth who had been out of the program at least six months had not been rearrested for a new crime,” Vaughn said.

After finishing the program, the youngsters enter a three-month follow-up phase during which they are checked on every 30 days to make sure they are attending school and exhibiting good behavior and find out whether the family has any particular needs.

The youths know that if they commit a crime while they are in the program they will be kicked out. They also understand, Vaughn said, that “if they complete the program, the charges go away.”

That is the good thing, because the second chance allows them to go on with their lives without having a criminal conviction hanging over their heads.

“After completing Second Opportunity for Success and having their charges dismissed, we know of students who have gone on to join the military, complete college, attend EMT school, nursing school and social work programs,” Vaughn said.

In addition to helping young people get back on the right track by staying out of trouble with the law, SOS is credited with improving family communication and relationships as well as the educational performance of the students.

Every young life it helps save is a blessing — for the youth, the family and the entire Tarrant County community.