Young people who cross paths with the Coconino County criminal justice system often have common threads in the tapestries of their lives, according to the professionals at Juvenile Court Services.
They’re usually behind on school credit. They have little educational support at home -- not because the parents don’t want to help, but rather, they are often in crisis themselves or working multiple jobs. They’ve typically experienced significant trauma in their lives. Sometimes, there are underlying issues like poverty, substance abuse and mental health disorders.
Getting back on track to a productive life can be daunting, despite the best efforts of family and community. Education is key.
To that end, Nestlé Purina PetCare’s factory in Flagstaff has donated $10,000 to scholarships that help youth who have gone through the county criminal justice system find a path to a college education.
Called the Step-Up Scholarship, it is offered through the Coconino Community College (CCC) Foundation. The scholarship was envisioned by former Flagstaff Mayor Joe Donaldson, who wanted to honor his mother.
“One of the things my mother always talked about was education,” Donaldson said. “She was always an advocate for young people, making sure they get an education and step up. She always stressed the importance of education.”
Executive Director of the CCC Foundation Steve Peru said, “The scholarship provides money to fund scholarship and learning opportunities to juveniles who have been caught up in the justice system. Young folks are selected who demonstrate initiative and need a chance to change their lives.”
Peru added that the scholarship is "endowed" thanks to donations from the Donaldson family, Purina and other generous community organizations. Therefore, two $1,500 scholarships are available each year in perpetuity to youth who have been selected by Coconino County Juvenile Court Services as candidates.
“Purina was a founding contributor to the Step-Up Scholarship, which is an important initiative in our county,” said Larry Holmes, factory manager of Purina’s Flagstaff plant. “We’ve been operating in Flagstaff for 45 years, and we have a unique opportunity and responsibility to play an active part in the communities where we live and work. Supporting initiatives like the Step-Up Scholarship promotes a strong community and offers individuals a chance at a brighter future, and that’s something we’re very passionate about at Purina.”
Purina has previously donated $10,000 to the scholarship. The program aligns well with Purina’s Project Opportunity, which is a career initiative to help equip people for their future by supporting employment, training and skills development.
Deputy Director of Coconino County Juvenile Court Services Casie Lightfoot said lack of education and delinquency often go hand in hand. The longer youth stay in school to ensure they are earning credit and reading at the appropriate grade level, the less likely they are to become involved with the criminal justice system. And once they are involved, education can help prevent them from returning.
According to information from Juvenile Court Services, more than 500 youths are referred to the criminal justice system for a variety of crimes that vary from petty misdemeanors to more severe felonies. Only a fraction of the referrals end up on probation. Many of those youth, between 200-250, are diverted away from prison and probation and are placed in front-line, low-risk diversion programs.
“The importance of offering an educational scholarship to our youth is one of the best ways to support the youth themselves, but also our community,” Lightfoot said. “Thank you, Nestlé Purina, for investing in our youth and our community.”
Over the years, Donaldson said he’s been inspired by some of the stories of scholarship recipients who have regained their lives and found a positive path. The young people should not be defined for the rest of their lives for acts they committed as youths.
“It’s been really rewarding for me and my wife,” Donaldson said.
Some comments from Step-Up Scholarship recipients of the past (their names not provided to protect their identities):
- “As a juvenile, I dealt with many challenges … I lived in low-income housing and my siblings as well as many of our friends were part of the probation program … I struggled with addiction, anger and homelessness … I worked hard to earn my high school diploma, and now I’m taking the steps toward earning my paramedic (certification) in hopes that my struggles and my desire to move forward will have a positive impact on my daughter’s life.”
- “Being on probation has taught me one valuable lesson, and that’s perspective … I felt that when I was on probation and dealing with my trials and tribulations that it could have easily consumed me, but with the support of God and family, no obstacle is too great … I want to be known as somebody who was on probation, but through hard work and seemingly impossible adversity, I succeeded and kept my emphasis on education on the top of my list.”
For more information about the dozens of scholarships available at the CCC Foundation, visit https://www.coconino.edu/foundation-scholarships.
Larry Hendricks is the senior manager of public relations and marketing at Coconino Community College.