Juvenile Judge Troy B. Braswell Jr. made his final stop Tuesday in recruiting Faulkner County teens for the third group of Teen Court participants since the program’s reinstatement.
A group of about 650 seniors at Conway High School listened to the benefits of the program before weighing their options and determining whether to apply for the peer program.
Teen Court proceedings consist of trained teens acting as prosecuting attorney, defense attorney, bailiff, clerk and jury and are presided by Judge Braswell. The teens will hear actual cases of juveniles charged with violating state laws.
"Every year for the last three years, I go around to the schools in Faulkner County and try to recruit high school seniors to serve their community and give back," Braswell said Tuesday as he began to explain the basis of the program to an almost-full auditorium of CHS seniors. "I need people that are interested in making a difference. We have a lot of stuff going on in our country right now, we always do. But, here’s the thing I want you to know: You’re not too young to make a difference right now."
Throughout their lives, each student listening to his recruitment speech had been helped by someone they respected at some point in time, Braswell said. Whether it was their parents, a close family member or friend, school principal, counselor or teacher, someone had taken the time to stop and help them with an obstacle they were facing.
"Just as someone else has done before you, it’s your responsibility to turn around to the people behind you and help them get to where you are," he said. "I believe that sincerely."
As he spoke to CHS seniors, Braswell noted his search was for passionate individuals seeking to make a difference in the community.
"I don’t care if you’re involved in all of the organizations here at school or not," he said. "I’m not looking for the same group of kids that do everything on campus. I’m looking for everybody. Whether you’re an athlete or not, whether you’re involved in organizations or not. I’m not even that concerned about your GPA."
Two Conway seniors said they were motivated by a story Braswell shared of the compassion the 2017 Teen Court group showed.
A story featuring three Conway seniors who wanted to reach out to the troubled juvenile that found herself facing her peers in Teen Court.
Braswell said the girl’s mother was addicted to crack cocaine and left the 16 year old to care for her younger sister. The sisters moved to Conway, where they shifted about to different family members’ homes.
"She was bouncing around house-to-house, her grandparents’ house, uncle’s house, [this girl] didn’t really have any stability at all," he said.
The girl supported herself and her younger sister. However, Braswell said it wasn’t enough to make ends meet. The girl was later charged for stealing from her employer and found herself pleading her to case to her peers in Teen Court.
"Instead of worrying about punishment, these three high school seniors, people like you, stood up for her and made a difference," he said, noting the students offered to help get her a job where they worked and take her with them to tour colleges. "She left that court with a job and an opportunity to go to college. That’s amazing. That’s the opportunity you have."
Listening to Braswell’s speech about a local at-risk juvenile get a second chance from her peers motivated senior Abby Morris to reach out and make a difference in the community.
She also said Teen Court could provide her the opportunity to look further into her future goals.
"[That story] was one of the parts that made it most exciting to me," she said.
Senior Anthony Taylor, who job shadowed 20th Judicial District Victim and Witness Coordinator Fawn Borden last year, also said he was interested in applying to participate in the 2018 Teen Court group.
Listening to special cases and learning of local at-risk juveniles’ circumstances surrounding the crimes they commit was something he said he found interesting about the program and could see himself being a part of.
Teen Court applications will be accepted through Nov. 15 and from there Braswell will choose about 40 to join the 2018 group. The 2018 Teen Court participants will begin meeting in January.