Blair County juveniles to help clean CBRC parks

Blair County juveniles who have been ordered by a judge to perform community service will help keep the 20-plus parks under the Central Blair Recreation Commission cleaned up this summer.

According to CBRC Executive Director Mike Hofer, the county’s juvenile probation office will provide the teens to work on the parks from the early morning hours into the afternoon.

Probation officers want the teens to pick up the garbage, do weeding and put down mulch, just generally improving the aesthetics of the parks.

The kids will be doing jobs Hofer called “everyday stuff you’d like to see in your own back yard; just a little bit of TLC for the parks.”

There are a lot things that park staff doesn’t have the time to do, he explained.

“We’ll keep them busy. We are working on a list of extra duties we haven’t been able to get to,” he said Thursday.

Hofer believes the work will have a beneficial effect on the young people, noting it should be enjoyable for them “taking pride and a little bit of ownership in parks they use every day.”

Kelly Bassler is a probation officer for the Blair County Juvenile Probation Office, and one of her duties is serving as coordinator of community service.

She explained that the juveniles who are ordered to provide community service perform many tasks throughout the community.

Recently, they cleaned up the kitchen at the Hollidaysburg YMCA. They also participated in Operation Our Town’s Cleanup Day on May 12, where they started the day at Geesey Park just picking up trash, they they headed to the East Juniata Play Park where they worked with police and probation officers to put down mulch.

Bassler said the kids thought the police officers were “nice guys,” and the officers thought the teens were good workers, a positive outcome from the work experience.

In the past year, juveniles have painted fire hydrants and curbs in Williamsburg, helped out at Memorial Park in Martinsburg, planted flowers in Hollidaysburg and the list goes on and on.

Community service “helps create a positive connection with the community,” Bassler said.

“The whole point of community service is to give back,” Nancy Williams, director of the Blair County Juvenile Probation Office, said. “This is their opportunity to give back and make amends.”

Three juveniles last year did damage in the city, Williams said. Blair County President Judge Jolene G. Kopriva ordered community service and had the kids cleaning up the dirt areas around the trees along city streets.

That was a tough job, performed in very hot weather.

The kids also will be working on the Trash to Treasure project at Penn State Altoona in June which is a fundraiser for United Way. College students donate items they don’t want to lug home for the sale on campus.

“Our kids help set up everything,” said Bassler.

The community service effort has yet another purpose: It is designed to be a learning experience, not just an exercise in labor. The teens learn to appreciate what it takes, for instance, to take care of plants and it also teaches them how to work with other people, Bassler said.

She and Williams said 150 youngsters participated in community service last year. Eleven of the juveniles had to drop out of the program for a variety of reasons, such as being sentenced to a treatment facility, the county officials said.

By the end of the year, the teens had performed 2,502 hours of work in the community of the 3,345 hours ordered by the courts.

A report was issued late last week by the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts, in which Ronald D. Castille, the Chief Justice of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, announced that approximately 15,700 teens in Pennsylvania put in 536,808 community service hours across the state.

Using the minimum wage as a base pay rate, Castille said that teens who were once in trouble provided $3.9 million worth of volunteer service to their communities.