Organization helps young people charged with crimes turn lives around

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DANVILLE, Ill. (WCIA)– It was just before 11am when police say a 13-year-old shot a 39-year-old in Lincoln Park. They say he had arranged a meeting with the victim, robbed him at gunpoint, and then shot him in the arm.

“We need our youth to learn if you don’t take responsibility and learn from them, your actions may take a different turn in the future,” said Maria Sermersheim with Vermilion County Peer Court.

Peer Court tries to get young people to turn their lives around. “What we do is take the kids out of the regular court system and bring them to the program. They are judged by peers of the same age,” said Sermersheim.

While they don’t work with teens involved in shootings, they work with kids facing theft and battery charges in hopes of making a difference before crimes like shootings ever happen.

“83 percent of the youth that have gone through peer court don’t have an additional conviction on their record in Vermilion County, so we’re not seeing the same kids making the same mistakes,” said Katie Osterbur with Peer Court.

“They have to do a series of activities like community service activities. They have to sometimes write apology letters,” said Sermersheim.

“We provide all of the opportunities, but the youth is the one that’s making that choice everyday to show up, to do the work, to check in, to communicate with us,” said Osterbur.

Through commitment to service they are noticing a change. “I think that part of it is getting kids to buy in and find a place in their community where they feel safe, where they feel youthful, and where they feel supported,” said Osterbur.

Students interested in peer court or families who want to know more about it can contact Katie Osterbur at peercourt01@aol.com.

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