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VOL. 122 | NO. 52 | Wednesday, March 21, 2007

IN A JIFF

Juvenile intervention org undergoes $3.5 million expansion of facility and services

By Rosalind Guy

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HITTING THE COURT: Ontrell Rogers, left, and Corry Lurry enjoy some time on the basketball court at JIFF (Juvenile Intervention & Faith-Based Follow-Up) on Lauderdale Street. They are two of about 200 teens the nonprofit organization helps each year. -- Photo By Rosalind Guy

On a recent Thursday afternoon, a man rang the bell at 245 S. Lauderdale St.

The man said he had received a call from someone at Nike to interview for a job. He was trying to make it to the interview and wanted to know if someone there could help him out.

Kevin Williams gave him two wadded dollar bills from his pocket and told him, "We're going to pray that you get the job."

That simple gesture of kindness by Williams is indicative of the work taking place within the walls of that nondescript building on Lauderdale - helping reform juveniles who have committed crimes and giving them a sense of direction.

Soon enough

Williams is the coordinator for JIFF (Juvenile Intervention & Faith-Based Follow-Up), which is in the former Abe Scharf YMCA building.

The building was constructed in the early 1950s as the first YMCA in Memphis to allow black people to attend.

The nonprofit, faith-based organization is in the midst of a $3.5 million renovation and expansion project on its South Lauderdale facility.

The renovation/expansion project will provide needed upgrades to the building such as renovation of the lobby, creation of a new music and arts area and expansion of the basketball gym.

A groundbreaking ceremony was held for the expansion project last month, but work has not yet begun.

"We're in the process of looking for a place where we can set up while the work is being done," Williams said.

Once work does begin, the project is expected to be completed within eight to 10 months.

"We're looking to start in about one and a half to two months," he said.

Renaissance Architectural Group is the architectural firm in charge of the project.

JIFF began a campaign to raise money for the renovations nearly a year ago and since has accumulated about $2.2 million.

The capital campaign began in summer 2005. Donations came in from private and corporate donors.

'The word of God'

"Our foundation is the word of God."
- Rev. Rick Carr
Executive Director of Juvenile Intervention & Faith-Based Follow-Up (JIFF)

Begun in 2003 by JIFF executive director Rev. Rick Carr, the organization is a court-referred intervention program for young people caught in the juvenile justice system. Its mission is to end the destructive cycle of juvenile crime.

Carr said he felt he was called by God to be a part of the solution and that's why he formed the organization.

"Our foundation is the word of God," he said.

JIFF provides teenagers with mentors who help them see a future free of criminal activity. The teenagers come to the center to attend Bible group discussions, learn life skills and play sports.

In 2005, about 16,000 juvenile court cases were classified as delinquent or unruly offenses. There were 52,000 school suspensions in Memphis during the 2004-2005 school year.

Currently, JIFF serves about 200 teenagers a year in 10 targeted ZIP codes throughout the city. Targeted ZIP codes are in South Memphis, East Memphis, Frayser and the Binghamton neighborhood.

Cycle of non-violence

The program operates in three phases. In the first phase, youths who have been incarcerated in the Shelby Training Center receive a visit from a mentor who is associated with JIFF. While teenagers are in the center, JIFF staff and mentors make weekly visits to hold group Bible studies, perform assessments of skills and help the incarcerated teens set goals for their future.

Phase two, the active phase, takes place once juvenile offenders are released. During this phase, JIFF staff members help the young men in six key areas: head (academic health), heart (spiritual health), health (physical health), home (relational health), hire-ability (employment health) and hobbies and other interests (social health). The key is to help youths who have been incarcerated re-enter society and divert them from future criminal activity.

Phase three encompasses graduation. Once they help the teens find jobs or help them get their GEDs or go back to school, JIFF staff members track the teens for one and a half to two years. During that time, they help with finding jobs, churches and other positive activities.

"We usually try to find those within walking distance," Williams said, "so they can get back and forth with no problem."

The choices we make

The planned expansion will allow the organization to widen its reach into other areas, as well as expanding the services it offers.

"We're going to start a culinary arts program," he said. "We will train youth for various food services positions."

They also plan to expand their education program.

To offer participants an alternative to the lifestyle they've been living, JIFF staff and mentors work with the youths to provide encouragement, GED training and skills such as table manners and even proper dating habits.

Sixteen-year-old Melrose High School student Kenneth Horton came into the JIFF program about four months ago. He'd been taken to juvenile court for breaking into and attempting to steal cars.

His mentor, Tyrone Stewart, went over to the Juvenile Court of Memphis and Shelby County and met with Horton.

Stewart is the mentor who's been affiliated with JIFF the longest, Williams said.

"He's fun, good-natured and the guys are drawn to him."

Horton agreed, saying Stewart helped keep him from getting locked up. And he said JIFF has kept him from going back out into the streets and committing crimes.

Horton is at the center every afternoon after school hanging out with his mentor, working out or playing ball with other JIFF participants.

"I like it here a lot," he said, but he admits it's been tough staying out of trouble.

But he does want to stay out of jail and get a job.

"Mr. Tyrone talks to me about positive things," Horton said, "so I won't end up in jail or dead."

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