Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

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October 16, 2013

McDowell County Juvenile Drug Court sees first graduates

WELCH — Two high school seniors who once faced the treacherous road toward drug addiction and crime celebrated a turn away from that path Tuesday when they became the McDowell County Juvenile Drug Court’s first graduates.

In May, West Virginia’s 16th juvenile drug court was established in McDowell County. Designed to help young people avoid drug addiction and its related crimes, the drug court accepts juveniles referred by their parents, school administrators, counselors and the state Department of Health and Human Resources, said Judge Lisa Clark. Besides presiding over family court in McDowell and Mercer Counties, Clark also administers the juvenile drug court.

“Two boys graduated. They’ve been in the program for not quite a year,” Clark said.

Seven students were still in the drug court program after Tuesday’s graduation ceremony, and they were seeing considerable accomplishments of their own, she added. One participant has been named their school’s student of the month, and another has been recognized by the McDowell County Board of Education for a science fair project. Another student is earning straight A grades.

“And we have four of our participants who are now playing varsity sports,” Clark said. “They’re all required to do 40 hours of community service, so they’ve done that in all sorts of different places in McDowell County. They’ve worked at the animal shelter, the city of Welch, and other towns in McDowell County. They’ve done school improvement projects and one has worked for the Pocahontas railroad doing some maintenance work and clean up. We’ve had others volunteer for fire departments.”

Both the graduates are seniors in high school.

“One is looking at becoming a correctional officer and a volunteer fireman,” Clark said. “The other is looking at trade school. Our juvenile drug court probation officer is Stephen Slade. He’s wonderful.”

The juvenile drug court tries to help young people before they become addicted to drugs.

“Usually these children have a status offense, and there is a component of it that is drug or alcohol related,” Clark said.

During training, the program’s personnel learn how to divert the juveniles’ attention away from controlled substances and toward more worthwhile goals.

“They explain to us that these drugs and alcohol gives kids a high, so you have to replace it with something that gives them a positive feeling,” Clark stated. “They can have success, have support, have recognition and acknowledgment for their success.”

The graduation ceremony was hosted in the courtroom of Circuit Judge Rudolph J. Murensky, and dinner including steak and potatoes was provided.

“I’m really proud of them,” Clark said of the graduates. “I’ll probably get choked up.”

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