The Juvenile Justice Ministry has been impacting the lives of juvenile criminals and touching the hearts of volunteers like Jeannie Hochstettler for years. Youth for Christ of West Palm Beach travels to facilities like detention centers, a correctional facility and a jail with a team of adult volunteers every week, offering bible studies and fellowship to the kids there.
Youth for Christ can be found nationwide, as well as the Juvenile Justice ministry.
“Our mission is to go to every teenager, and to go to them because there are so many that are incarcerated. And so for us to reach them with the gospel of Jesus Christ means we have to go to them, inside the detention centers and the correctional facilities here in West Palm Beach,” Hochstettler said.
Hochstettler and her team regularly visit the detention center on 45th Street, which houses both boys and girls.
“This is the first place they land,” Hochstettler said. "The children at this facility can be kept for 90 days. If the children have committed a more serious crime, after three days at the detention center, they will be sent to a higher-level facility. Too many times those kids are released back into their communities, and within weeks they are back at the detention center.”
The Juvenile Justice Ministry also goes to a privately-owned correctional facility in West Palm Beach. This is a level 8 facility houses 120 boys who have committed very serious crimes.
“They can be there a year, two years, three years. So that is very consistent ministry with those kids. We follow up with them as they begin to understand their relationship with the Lord.”
Hochstettler’s team also reaches out to kids who have ended up at “Gun Club.” Gun Club is a jail that houses adults and children who have committed very serious crimes. The minors at this facility are housed on the twelfth floor.
“These are kids that have raped, murdered, high level stuff,” Hotchstettler said. Although facilities as extreme as these may sound intimidating to some, she said the responses from the kids are usually very positive.
“Those kids especially, they love it when they see us come in there. So, the need was there. So we have to meet the need.”
The Juvenile Justice Ministry is structured and safe, requiring that all volunteers fill out Youth for Christ’s application, then an application to the State of Florida. After a volunteer has been cleared by the state, they are trained by Jeannie and her coworkers to learn the curriculum they teach.
Furthermore, volunteers are required to complete a safety course, and no one volunteer may visit a facility on their own. A long process for some, the application can sometimes take up to four or five months to be cleared by the state.
“We could have more nights at the facilities if we have more volunteers,” Hochstettler said. The payoff, however, is worth it.
Hochstettler said her original interaction with Juvenile Justice was through volunteering.
“I realized that most of the kids that fall into a detention center are kids that are abused, neglected, runaways, kids that haven’t really committed crime yet. And that’s just a prime place to find a kid that’s broken, that needs love, support. So after three months of that, it just broke my heart.”
Hochstettler’s heart and passion for the ministry is clear. “A little bit of love goes a long way.”
To become involved with the Juvenile Justice Ministry, visit http://www.yfcteens.com/ministries/juvenile_justice_ministry/.