Walker County will soon see a new program to help change the lives of juvenile offenders and encourage them to strive for a better future. Kent Lucas has helped bring Winner’s Circle Juvenile Mentoring Program here as a way to keep first-time offenders from becoming repeat offenders.

Right now, Winner’s Circle is looking for volunteer mentors who can set aside a couple of hours once a week to meet with youths, who many times, only need someone to talk to.

“I think the main thing is that this is a significant adult who is there because they really care,” Lucas said. “They aren’t forced to be there, they are doing this because they want to and the kids realize that. They aren’t trying to replace the parents, they’re just becoming a good friend to them and many of these kids don’t have a significant adult that they can talk to about life things.”

But before that happens, Lucas said they need some help. The program, he said, receives no governmental funding and he is always looking for mentors.

“We need lots of mentors,” he said. “The numbers of kids that are being referred to us are staggering and currently, there is no other program in Walker County working with this element of kids.”

Lucas, the former owner of Texas Burger in Huntsville, spent nine years working with inmates as a part of Bill Glass ministry. When working this type of program in the past, Lucas said he’s seen great success.

“We connected over 3,000 kids with trained mentors and out of that 3,000 kids, we only saw 12 of them who went back in front of the judge,” Lucas said. “According to the office of juvenile justice and delinquency prevention, it’s the most effective means of working with at-risk kids. Nationwide, mentoring programs see a 90-plus percent success rate on average.”

With Winner’s Circle, offenders are referred by a judge. The youths are ordered to attend a four-hour meeting, where there are a few speakers and plenty of mentors for them to meet.

“It’s a time for them to get to meet and interact with the adult mentors and then from that point, to make a match,” Lucas said. “Instead of doing a clinical interview process and having me or someone else sitting there making the match, we let the match happen based on the personalities of the kids and the mentors.”

If they decide to enter the program, they sign a commitment form with the mentor. Then they both schedule a time each week to meet in sites that have been established as “safe sites.”

“We ask them to commit, initially, to this mentoring process for a minimum of three months,” Lucas said. “What we found in the other program, is that many of them stay three months and then stay much longer than that, because at that point, the relationship is becoming very beneficial to the child.”

The ultimate goal, Lucas said, is for them to turn their lives around. Where the mentors are unable to help, there are other agencies ready to assist with whatever is needed.

“If we run into situations where they need a tutor, we’ll go to the school district and ask for help with that and the school district has pledged to help us with that,” he said. “If there are problems that go way beyond the scope of what a mentor should be dealing with, we have some other community resources that we draw from, like the counseling center at Sam Houston State and the psychology department.”

The first program is scheduled for March 4 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Texas Prison Museum’s community room.

Those interested in volunteering can contact Winner’s Circle at (936) 436-4967.

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