Every other weekend, some Ohio State students board a bus headed toward the Scioto Correctional Facility and the Circleville Juvenile Correctional Facility — but they’re just visiting.
These students mentor juvenile delinquents.
Buckeye REACH, which stands for “Relationships and Education in Action through Community and Hope,” is an Ohio State program comprised of about 30 students who visit correctional juvenile facilities every other Saturday to foster relationships with youth delinquents, while providing support and education to the children.
Buckeye REACH earned the annual statewide ServeOhio – the Ohio commission on service and volunteerism – award for the group’s dedication to the community this October. Buckeye REACH was given the 2013 award for Outstanding Volunteer Group Oct. 22.
The program began in August 2012, when Patricia Cunningham, OSU director of student engagement, brought to life an idea she had come up with in graduate school. Cunningham and a team of Buckeye REACH student workers sort through an average of 100 applications per year to build the team. Selected students then attend various training sessions through the state and through OSU.
During the visits, Buckeye REACH volunteers work with the youth as mentors. Book clubs, games and film series are just a few of the programs offered at the facilities. Some of the OSU students also serve as pen pals for the youth.
Mary Cannon, ServeOhio’s program development evaluation officer, said in an email the ServeOhio awards recognize self-nominated Ohioans who make contributions to their communities through service and volunteerism. A $1,000 cash award is given to the organization that benefited from the winner’s service.
In this case, those organizations were the Scioto Correctional Facility and the Circleville Juvenile Correctional Facility.
Tiffany Allensworth, a fourth-year in sociology and Buckeye REACH team member, said the work the youth do is notable.
“The (ServeOhio) award went to our program, but our youth are just as worthy of receiving it for the work they do on themselves, for opening up to us and for allowing us into their lives,” Allensworth said in an email.
The Lantern wasn’t permitted to speak to the youths involved in Buckeye REACH because of their disciplinary sentences.
While the program has several goals, Cunningham said education is key focus.
“Education is the No. 1 thing that reduces recidivism, that is, the rate of returning to an institution of corrections,” she said in an email. “All of the programming is designed to get the residents of the facilities to critically think, build self-efficacy and contribute on how to be a citizen.”
The OSU students aim to educate the youth about life outside of the facility and to serve as a positive influence to help them plan for their lives when they resume normal routines after release.
Cunningham said the Buckeye REACH program costs $15,000 yearly, funded by the Ohio Department of Youth Services to cover van rentals, background checks, materials, books and staff costs.