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LaGrange sees benefits from community service

The LaGrange County Circuit Court oversees all of the LaGrange County Court activities involving juveniles. Part of this assignment includes sentencing juveniles to community service. The program is budgeted by the county, and benefits the community at large.

Recently, a group of juveniles put in a lot of hours working at the LaGrange fire and police stations, cleaning everything from the floor up. Ten juveniles spent 40 hours each at the departments, working. “That adds up to a lot of money it saves the town and county,” Randy Merrifield pointed out. Merrifield assists Juvenile Community Service Program Director Jim Gust in watching over and organizing the workers.

“We spent the summer at Pine Knob trimming back brush from the trails,” Merrifield pointed out. They also will be working at Maple Wood Nature Center, splitting wood for the upcoming maple syrup season.

“We get great support from the court. And the county’s not spending money to maintain the parks. It’s a win-win,” Merrifield added.

But the real change may not be in just how clean the fire department or the police department is, or how well groomed trails are.

“We see a huge improvement with kids who come in with a chip on their shoulder,” Jim Gust noted.

The attitudes often change over the course of the community service time, from that chip or disrespect for others to one of pride in the work they’ve done. “I’ve heard the kids will bring their parents out to the parks to show them what they did,” Merrifield stated.

While working on the police station, the juveniles worked with officers one on one. That gives them a different look at the officers. Before, they may have only had interaction with officers when they got into trouble.

After spending time working in the station and interacting with officers in that setting, “I get feedback from the kids that they didn’t know police officers were like that,” Merrifield said. “It’s an education.” They get to see the personalities of the officers and see them in a different environment than they would otherwise. “They don’t have the opportunity to get to know them, otherwise,” Merrifield continued. “We really appreciate the LaGrange Police Department and the fire department to allow us to come over and work.”

In all, it was estimated that approximately 196 hours was spent working on cleaning the police department, a savings in labor of over $1,400 to the town.

Gust and Merrifield point out that they rarely see repeat offenders coming back through the community service program. “The county is behind the program and us 100 percent,” Gust said. “And it saves the town and county a ton of money.”