There was little fanfare on Aug. 15 when the Churchill County Juvenile Justice Center celebrated its second anniversary.
A special lunch and dinner were held at the facility; otherwise, it was a relatively quiet day. Then again, Chief Juvenile Probation Officer/Facility Director De Vere Karlson pointed out the occasion was special enough that some of the young detainees actually took time to remind her of the date.
“I had a couple of them come up and say, ‘Our anniversary is this week,’” Karlson said. “And I’m going, ‘How on earth did you know?’ Well, it’s in the handbook and they pay attention to those things.”
There is also a new look at a facility thanks to Juvenile Justice Commission grant funding in the amount of a little under $15,000 plus a 10 percent match (about $1,400) from Churchill County that was approved in April by county commissioners. The funds were used to purchase outdoor fitness equipment, materials to construct fitness apparatuses and garden boxes as well as reinforcement of the security fence and installation of a safety gate. When fully completed, the area will also include fitness equipment as well a shade area with picnic tables for barbecues.
During a tour of the facility, Karlson took note of a rope course area that is about 50 percent completed now.
“This will be a team building exercise,” she said. “It helps the kids with their communications skills, their decision-making skills, so there’s different courses the kids will work on to improve those areas.”
Karlson explained that staff members Brandon Bird and Lalo Otuafi, in particular, have provided the labor.
“They are two of my probation officers and they are responsible for all of what you see now. They’ve been working like mad,” she said. “This is very much a team effort.”
Contributions have also been received from the community, Karlson added.
“We’re going to have another obstacle course and NV Energy is donating power poles, eight of them with cables for what’s called a criss-cross, they’re going to come in and dig the holes and plant them for us. Hiskett & Sons (Ready Mix) is going to provide the gravel and help pack them in.”
She also noted contributions have been received from NNE (Construction), J.K. Llamas and Lester’s Automotive Repair.
“So we’ve had some community involvement with this as well, not just labor but also donating some materials, which is really neat,” Karlson said.
Two garden boxes were installed in the spring and are already providing results. The garden is attended to by detention youth under staff supervision and food produced is put to good use.
“We do have kids come out here and pick the tomatoes and they put them on their salads that day for lunch, it saves money for the county and it’s a neat experience for the kids,” Karlson said.
Jessica Stewart, senior detention specialist, added, “I love it. I had a few kids that helped start it and they got super excited. One girl, when we had our first strawberry, she was beyond excited about it. So it’s those little additional things you can do for them that make a difference.”
Another addition in the last couple of weeks has been a weight training, recreation and computer room has been available to youth.
“It has been (a nice addition),” Karlson said. “The kids love it. We provide school, we provide books that they can read, we provide them with art projects they can do. All of those things just add a different element. And now that they have this (facility), where they can physically work their muscles and get out of their day rooms, listen to some music. They learn they can do something else besides their negative activities. They can do something positive.”
Much work has gone into the project, but Karlson says every bit of that time and effort has been well worthwhile.
“This is something I’ve wanted to do as long as we’ve been here; to have something out here to utilize this area,” she said. “And not every detention kid will be able to come out here. They will have to reach a high security status through good behavior and then they will be allowed access out here with staff supervision. This will also be used by probation youth, so it will get a lot of usage.”
Two years of progress
Tenth Judicial District Court Judge Thomas Stockard has seen the positive impact the Juvenile Justice center has had these last two years.
“I think they’re doing a great job, not only De Vere, but her whole staff,” he said. “I think they’re moving is a very positive direction.”
Stockard went on to praise county commissioners for being “a little ahead of the times” in their decision to move forward and construct the Juvenile Justice Center at a time when other Nevada counties were looking at different solutions during difficult budget times.
“To me, the real blessing and advantage of it is when we have to detain juveniles, it allows them to stay closer to their families,” he said. “In those types of situations, we used to have to take them up to Douglas County or somewhere else. So it has been a true resource for us to provide programming at a time when kids are still receptive to it. Hopefully, and I think with a lot of the success we’re seeing, it keeps them out of the adult criminal system.”
Karlson is further motivated to work in a facility that features the names of two Churchill County justice icons — the David C. Huff Probation Complex and the Teurman Hall detention facility. Huff passed away in March 2012 shortly after retiring from a career that spanned more than 35 years, including 15 as a district court judge. Bill Teurman passed away in 2007 after serving as Fallon municipal court judge for 30 years between 1975-2005.
“Both Judge Teurman and Judge Huff were mentors to me; along with many others to include Steve Grund (former chief JPO) and my current Judge, Thomas Stockard,” she said. “I have been fortunate in my 24-year career to have worked with and for so many dedicated individuals. To have Judge Teurman’s and Judge Huff’s names upon this facility is a daily reminder to me that I must do the best I can for the youth and families of this community because that is standard they set.”
Karlson has gone the extra mile to achieve success at the facility, Stockard pointed out.
“She has just been the driving force behind this facility,” Stockard said. “She has given it her heart and soul.”