Shepherd Internship Caroline Birdrow '16

This summer, I participated in Washington and Lee's Shepherd Internship Program which connects students with agencies that address issues related to poverty. I was chosen to work with the volunteer coordinator at the Cuyahoga County Juvenile Justice Center in Cleveland, Ohio. As an intern, my role was to develop and facilitate programming for the youth that would help them form and foster a sense of self-confidence, a concern for the community and a desire to live healthy lives.

During my time working with the youth, there was one question that I kept asking myself: "Why are kids committing crimes?" An exposure to the factors associated with poverty and a lack of capability were explanations with which I tried to reason, but these answers did not completely satisfy me. I felt that these ideas could not explain every case. Some children grow up with sufficient resources and engaged parents but still manage to find themselves in trouble.

After speaking with some of the children's parents, who were just as confused as I was, I began to come to an answer that I finally could accept. Some children may try to fit in with a particular group or find themselves in the wrong place, at the wrong time. Perhaps nothing was wrong at home or at school, and the children only wanted to explore and take risks. Perhaps something was wrong.

What occurred to me is that there is no way to generalize the experiences of these children and that each of them has a different story. I could not think of a single explanation for why kids commit crimes, and I also could not visualize only one solution. I did, however, have some ideas.

Even if there is nothing specifically "wrong" with a child's life, the community has the power and responsibility to shape the child's experience and keep him or her on the right track. Whether kids simply are curious or are faced with more serious barriers, there needs to be a supportive community around them to intervene and offer guidance. A holistic approach needs to be taken to catch problems when they begin and to actively keep children leading healthy lives.

As the Co-Social Justice/Tikkun Olam Vice President of Hillel, I want to share these realizations with my fellow students. My goal is to involve them with service projects that will help strengthen the community of Rockbridge County. My belief is that the stronger a community is as a whole, the stronger are the individual members. With efforts such as the Novack Fund (which helps W&L students purchase clothing for children in need) and other projects, Hillel will play its role in building and maintaining a wonderful community.