At-Risk Teens Change Their Lives By Helping Others - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

At-Risk Teens Change Their Lives By Helping Others

By Danielle Thomas - bio | email

D'IBERVILLE, MS (WLOX) - They've made some bad decisions in the past, but now some Harrison County young people say they're learning how to make better choices. All this week, a program for at-risk youth has kept the teens busy working on several community service projects.

The Citizenship and Justice Academy is a partnership between several agencies, including the University of Southern Mississippi and the Harrison County Youth Court. Officials say it gives young people who have gotten in trouble with the law a chance to turn their lives around.

Pam Moreland was one of several teachers at D'Iberville Elementary who found out on Wednesday she had to be ready to change classrooms by Friday morning.

"We have a lot of things that we're trying to accomplish all at one time in order to be prepared for the students the first day of school," said Moreland, who teaches gifted children. "In order to do that, we sometimes have to have some help."

That help came from a group of teenagers who moved chairs, tables and teaching materials from one room to another as volunteers.

Sterling Jones, 17, never thought he'd be a volunteer.

"I always said, 'If I'm not getting paid, I'm not doing.' But it's different once you start doing it. It feels good knowing you did something for somebody else," Jones said.

Learning by helping others is part of the curriculum of the Citizenship and Justice Academy. Officials say the program is offered as an alternative to those facing time in juvenile hall.

Harrison County Sheriff's Deputy Renee Wiggins has the task of finding community projects for the teens. 

"I think it is a chance for us to intervene and to kind of put a stop to the direction that they were going. To give them a chance to do some positive things in the community that are going to benefit Harrison County and our quality of life," Wiggins said.

Students say the past three weeks of community service projects and listening to teachers who talk to them on their level about the importance trustworthiness, caring, and respect have made a difference.

"I used to, like, talk back to my mother," said Ruthie James, 16. "But now that I learned what is respect is. I learned to respect my mama and respect others."

Sterling Jones has this advice for teens who are where he was. 

"Stay out of trouble. You can do better," Jones said.

The teens helped build houses for Habitat For Humanity and painted over graffiti in D'Iberville.

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