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New Youth Aid panelists to get a chance to help

May 28, 2004|by BONNIE H. BRECHBILL

bonnieb@herald-mail.com

After swearing in more than 20 new Youth Aid panelists Thursday, Franklin County Judge Carol Van Horn told them, "If you think, 'How can I help this one person?' you'll do a great deal of good.

"You may think that you don't count, or that this kid doesn't have a chance," she said, but urged them to remember "the starfish washed up on the beach. If you pick up one and save it, it makes a big difference to that one."

The new panelists have had six weeks of training, and will begin hearing cases in early June.

Youth Aid Panels are designed to enhance the juvenile court system.

The program is expanding into three more Magisterial Districts, Youth Aid Panel Coordinator Heather Evans said. The district justices support the two-year-old program, and recruit people to take the training, she said.

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Kelly Sweeney, of Shippensburg, Pa., said that as a substitute teacher she has contact with middle school- and high school-age students.

"I wanted to take part in helping as much as I could. When I was in high school, I saw friends get in trouble and get kicked out of school, and I want to help prevent that," she said.

New panelist Stacy Franzoni, of Newburg, Pa., who will serve in the district of District Justice Richard Alloway II, said she hopes "to have a positive impact on youth, individually and in the community."

Youth Aid panelists hear lesser-degree, first-offense cases and resolve them without the court's intervention. The panels are made up of community volunteers who listen to the facts of the case and make an agreement with the involved juvenile and his or her parents. If the juvenile completes the terms of the agreement successfully, there is no official court record, according to information from Franklin County Juvenile Probation.

Some of the agreements involve community service, or doing a study on such things as the effects of shoplifting on the retailer and the community, the effects of alcoholism or what the penalties for the offense would be if the offender were an adult, said panelist George Schmidt of Fayetteville, Pa.

Schmidt and Tom Bailey of North Guilford have served on a five-member panel in District Justice Kelly Rock's district for two years.

"We've had a big impact," Bailey said. "We don't deal with anything worse than a misdemeanor," which can be offenses such as vandalism, assault, shoplifting, underage drinking, and trespass. "We don't judge what they've done. We bring them forward."

The program has assisted more than 50 juveniles and their families so far.

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