Hope in Action
We’re all imperfect people but thanks to God’s love and forgiveness, we all have the opportunity for a second chance. That’s the message behind the programs at Ray of Hope’s Youth Justice Services.
In this issue, see how Chaplain Hector Pineda ministers to young men in our Secure Custody facility and learn about a special classroom where youth on probation get the chance to rebuild their lives.
Chaplaincy in custody
When it comes to Bible stories, there’s one in particular that the young men in Ray of Hope’s Secure custody facility enjoy. It’s the story of Samson, who was blessed by God with incredible strength but who made an error that caused him to lose his greatest gift and become a prisoner.
When Hector Pineda, Chaplain at Secure, shares the tale of the Israelite ‘superhero’ with a tragic flaw, he points out the story’s deeper meaning – the importance of depending on God, rather than becoming overconfident in our gifts. He also points out that Samson had to face the consequences of his actions but in the end, God forgave him and restored his strength, allowing him to save his people.
This is just one example of how Secure’s chaplaincy program meets youth where they are and challenges them to apply lessons of faith to their own lives.
The core facet of the chaplaincy program is Chapel, where the youth explore faith through prayer, music and speakers who share their personal faith journeys. While the focus is on Christianity, the program respects different beliefs and welcomes leaders from other faith groups, such as Muslim and Indigenous groups, to come to the program to share their traditions.
Hector also offers weekly Bible study, for youth who are interested in exploring Christianity. Each young man receives a Bible. “I love it when they tell me about finding a verse that speaks to them,” he says. Hector and the youth often watch The Bible miniseries. After each episode, the group discusses stories like Samson’s and how their messages can be applied in real life.
Recognizing that not everyone is receptive to his message, Hector also uses more subtle ways to connect. He works with Secure’s kitchen staff to host a monthly Chaplain’s Brunch. After the meal, he shares a quick devotional that has a practical application. “It’s one way to reach out to those who don’t come to Chapel,” he says.
But one of the most popular ways Hector reaches out is through music. A musician for most of his life, he enjoys teaching the youth to play guitar, piano and drums. He’s also set up a small studio in his office, where they can record their own songs.
“Music is a great outlet. They open up and start asking questions. It’s also therapeutic — it helps to relieve some of the anxiety and depression that people in custody can experience.”
Hector says that many of the young men he works with have experienced trauma and it’s important to consider factors, like mental illness, that contributed to where they are today. He remembers a teen called John*, whose anxiety often led to altercations with his peers. After watching The Chosen, a TV series about Jesus’ disciples, John told Hector he was impressed that the disciples were “regular guys” who weren’t perfect – but Jesus treated them all with grace and patience.
“John was only at Secure for a few weeks, but before he left, he told me that as difficult as his experience at Secure had been, he truly believed that it was a God-given opportunity to think about his life and chose a better way.”
* Name has been changed.
Giving students a second chance
After leaving custody, many young people face daunting challenges that can make their transition back into society difficult. One of the primary obstacles is finding ways to complete their education, as their past behaviour may mean they are no longer welcome in their home schools. In Ray of Hope’s Youth Reintegration Program (YRP), these students get a second chance.
“These are people who may not fit into a mainstream school setting,” says Youth Reintegration Supervisor Kent Taylor. Kent manages Anchors, a YRP school that serves youth who are transitioning from custody.
“Our goal is to help them earn credits and finish school so they can pursue employment or further education.”
Achors is part of Ray of Hope’s Youth Justice division and serves both males and females who are currently on probation. These young people are referred to the YRP by their probation officers.
Anchors is part of a “Section 23” school, where the Waterloo Region District School Board partners with a community agency to deliver services to a specific population. There are two other schools in the YRP — one is for youth at our Secure Custody facility and the other is part of the Day Treatment program for young people dealing with substance misuse. Youth from the other programs often transition into Anchors once they’ve completed their sentence or treatment.
At Anchors, teachers, probation officers and Ray of Hope staff work together to offer students wraparound support. Aside from the opportunity to earn high school credits, students can also receive help finding housing, employment, and connections to mental health and rehab programs. Staff care for youth until their probation ends — and sometimes long after.
“We’re here to make sure they don’t fall through the cracks,” Kent says. “With the help of the program, they may graduate, whereas they probably wouldn’t be successful in a traditional school setting.”
Kent says that his experience with the YRP gives him the satisfaction of knowing he’s helping young people make better decisions and find new opportunities.
“I don’t get burned out,” he says, “I like knowing I’ve helped someone get a leg up.”
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