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Mentoring program helps troubled youth

Pat Day (right), worship leader at Seaside Church, plays guitar with Drew Belcher, 14, during Belcher’s mentoring session with Seaside pastor Chris Swan Wednesday. - Photo by Sean Janssen
Pat Day (right), worship leader at Seaside Church, plays guitar with Drew Belcher, 14, during Belcher’s mentoring session with Seaside pastor Chris Swan Wednesday.
— image credit: Photo by Sean Janssen

Kids who have been in trouble are asking for help.

Now it is up to the community to answer them.

The Bremerton office of the Juvenile Rehabilitation Administration (JRA), which handles dozens of parole cases and other services for high-risk juvenile offenders, is working on that.

While drug and alcohol screening and “keeping tabs” is still a part of the program, JRA has become research-based and rehabilitative, said Bremerton JRA office manager Mike Davison.

“It’s all treatment now,” Davsion said. “There are programs that allow positive impact that can be measured and really appreciated. A lot of other states are really looking at what we’re doing now.”

Part of that rehabilitation is matching juveniles with mentors in the community.

Seaside Church pastor Chris Swan is one of those active matches. For two and a half years, he has been a mentor.

“I came into it by way of myself and another guy helping me out having a heart to give back to kids,” Swan said.

Especially kids who were like him growing up, from broken homes finding their way into trouble.

“The downside for these kids is they have nothing to come out of (an institution) to,” Swan said. “And a lot of these kids have soft hearts that have just been calloused.”

Juveniles assigned to JRA volunteer to be a part of the mentoring program while community volunteers are screened and carefully matched for a good fit with their match.

“It’s not just here you go, here’s a kid without any thought,” said juvenile rehabilitation coordinator Jim Madsen. “That’s why we need people from all kinds of different backgrounds and cultures and walks of life to make this program work.”

Madsen said the need is mostly for men to match the demographics of JRA clients, which can be difficult because women are more often geared toward volunteerism.

He encourages volunteers to come to JRA, and if their program is not right for them, they seek to find other mentoring opportunities for them.

“(Our) program is not for everybody and we certainly don’t want to turn people off from volunteerism in general,” he said.

But it is just the thing for some.

“We’ve gotten a lot of interest from college students looking to get into social services or criminal justice,” Madsen said. “It’s a great learning opportunity and very self-fulfilling. You learn a lot about the system and what really goes on.”

There are only a handful of active matches, and Madsen is hoping for “20 or more” volunteers to match up with a waiting list of juveniles.

On Wednesday, Swan met his most recent match for the first time, 14-year-old Drew Belcher.

Hopefully, Swan’s religious affiliation will help make their match a successful one.

“It helps that (he) is in a church,” Belcher said. “I’ve wanted to go to church for a long time.”

“That part of it just kind of worked out,” Swan said.

Along with a spiritual connection, Belcher has some very simple goals for the mentoring situation.

“Just to keep me clean,” he said. “To keep me out of all that stuff.”

In their first meeting, Belcher spent a good chunk of his time at the church, jamming with Seaside worship leader Pat Day on guitar.

“I listen to rock, everything from way back when to now,” Belcher said. “I grew up with a guitar and it’s good to get a chance to hone my skills.”

Belcher has been out of practice because of his recent legal troubles, but didn’t sound as rusty as he feared he would be.

If he can get back on track in life in the next few months as easily, he will be set. For that, Swan is here to help.

“If we’ve got the time and the resources, we can be of assistance to these kids,” he said.

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