Some say it takes a village to raise a child.

But what does it take to get a child out of the justice system? What does it take for youth at risk of re-offending to believe their goals and dreams are possible and seek a new path? What does it take for an almost-drop-out to graduate in the top 15 percent with a full university scholarship?

At Civic Heart, we say it takes a Community.

For the past 34 years, we’ve provided community services that help justice-involved young people empower themselves. As our community grows, so does our ability to act as change agents who disrupt the barriers justice-involved youth face every day.

For example, thanks to funds from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), and Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice our VOICES and Youth CAN programs offer holistic approaches to reduce youth involvement in the justice system.

Our VOICES wraparound program, the only program in Harris County to address the unique needs of girls involved in the justice system, offers group therapy and 6 to 12 months of holistic, collaborative case management, giving participants the tools to enhance their self-esteem, connect with others, adopt healthy living (body, mind, and spirit), and plan their futures.

Our Youth C.A.N. program serves boys and young men under 18 placed in juvenile residential facilities in Harris County. The program supports all aspects of a youth’s life, from educational and family-related needs to better prepare them for successful reentry into the broader community.

Both programs aim to empower and support youth as they create a new beginning for themselves. A positive environment combines sensitive, culturally appropriate, holistic team-based case management with mentors, access to resources, and commitment to individual needs and goals. Last, but not least, both programs create opportunities for the participants to just “be kids” – something they often lack in their young lives.

At Civic Heart, we fight for both individual and systemic change. Ensuring that our youth have access to the resources they need to reintegrate successfully into society, we help with clothing, safe shelter, mental health support, and a sense of belonging in a community that cares.

We work with the entire family to create a more stable and nurturing environment, which allows youngsters to thrive, and parents succeed in their role. Following a collaborative model of care, we partner with entities such as the Harris County Probation Department to provide training for probation officers on issues such as mental health, human trafficking, and racial justice. We also partner with teachers, coaches, and faith-based and community organizations, to reduce the risk of future justice involvement among our youth.

We also serve as the intermediary for the Youth Justice Reinvestment Fund and grassroots organizations. Established by the Office of Justice and Safety, Harris County Juvenile Probation Department, and approved for funding by the Harris County Commissioners Court, the fund allows these non-profits to do more good in the community, offer more programs, address racial and ethnic disparities, and further reduce youth justice involvement. Today, we work with six grantee organizations and one ancillary grantee organization in Houston neighborhoods that experience high rates of youth justice referrals but lack community resources. Moreover, to ensure that data-driven investments are made into community-based programs for youth, we are working with Elite Research to evaluate the importance of investing in wide-ranging local support systems. This evaluation will help provide evidence that strengthening community infrastructure can reduce exposure to the criminal justice system and its attendant consequences.

We deeply appreciate not only the funds available through grants from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention and the Harris County, but also the wealth of resources available to organizations like ours. The opportunity to exchange ideas, best practices and build local, regional, and national connections strengthens us all, and improves outcomes.

At the September 19 quarterly meeting in Houston of the Coordinating Council on Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, our youth justice program manager, Dr. Sujeeta Menon, was asked to present our successes, challenges, and best practices. The Council plays an important role in developing Federal responses to issues related to youth justice, and we’re honored to be invited to exchange information, ideas, and research findings.

And, on September 21, Vanecia Weathersby Gray, Civic Heart’s youth program coordinator, shared our experiences and best practices as part of the panel discussion “Empowering Youth and Engaging Communities: A Path to Preventing Violence” held during the Harris County Public Health’s 2nd Annual Violence Prevention Conference, themed Breaking the Cycle of Trauma and Rising Against Community Violence.

It takes a community to help justice-involved kids get out of the system and into a life well lived. With your gift today, more young lives can be forever changed, and the safer our whole community will be. Because you chose to act from your civic heart, and we thank you.


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