When Carole Shevlin meets with a juvenile on probation for the first time at the Payson Public Library, she has no idea what crime they committed or what led them to this place in life.
Instead of drilling him or her for information or answers, Shevlin simply asks the adolescent to pick out a book and begin reading.
Shevlin has seen the positive impact reading can have on offenders. For the last five years, Shevlin has volunteered with ReadOut, a program designed by Judge Peter Cahill to enrich youth’s lives through reading and conversations with volunteers.
“ReadOut is an amazing program that draws on one of Payson’s strengths: the willingness of incredible people who volunteer to help kids,” Cahill said. “Our dedicated volunteers talk with and mentor kids at the library about books. This ends up as a positive experience for both the kids and the volunteers. Often it is one of the few times these juveniles have positive interaction with adults, people who are great role models for kids at risk.”
One 17-year-old Shevlin met with had a third-grade reading level and had barely set foot in a library.
Through discussion, Shevlin learned the teen was very interested in learning to read so he could apply for a job at Wal-Mart. Although the teen towered above the other youth in the children’s section, he gladly picked out books, eager to learn and improve his life.
Another juvenile has met with volunteer Gary Cordell for more than a year.
“Cordell, a former teacher, reports that their talks have had a positive impact beyond just the dozen books the boy has read,” Cahill said. “The boy’s probation officer sees the improvement too, noting that ReadOut has helped him unlock his potential, build up his self-esteem and open closed doors.”
Normally volunteers develop a rapport with juveniles beyond the pages of a book. This positive social interaction is crucial to the juvenile’s success during probation.
Since its inception in 2005, ReadOut has worked with 110 children ages 7 to 18.
Shevlin said they could help more juveniles on probation if they had more volunteers.
Currently, there are 17 volunteers, who are mostly retired and female. While Shevlin is grateful for the volunteers she has, she desperately needs male volunteers as well as younger volunteers.
Volunteering with ReadOut is a weekly commitment that lasts the length of a child’s probation.
Volunteers and children commit to meeting once a week for half an hour to discuss a book of the child’s choosing at the library. For example, a lot of participants are interested in reading vampire books because of a recent string of movies dealings with the subject.
Both mentor and “client” agree to read the book and discuss the reading and its relationship to their lives. As part of their probation, children must read 20 minutes a day and journal about what they are reading and their reactions.
While most children do not have vampire experience, they can relate to how characters in the book make choices.
“Reading teaches you a lot about choices,” she said. “The judge is giving them another chance to make a better choice.”
Learning to make better choices is the purpose of probation.
One child who went through the ReadOut program commented, “I’m glad I was caught. Probation taught me a lot about myself.”
In addition, another said, “I love to read. It’s better than real life.”
Not all juveniles take the program seriously and some try to ditch the weekly sessions. However, if a juvenile misses one session unexcused, an additional eight hours is added to their community service. Probation officers are kept informed on the juvenile’s progress through weekly e-mails from the volunteer.
This is normally enough incentive to keep juveniles active in the program; however, there are occasional juveniles who go through the program more than once.
Shevlin asked if you are able to volunteer an hour of your time each week, sign up for ReadOut. Contact Shevlin at (928) 474-7454.