Mindy Hardwick's Blog

Author Mindy Hardwick Muses about Writing

The Call to Serve–Volunteering with Youth in Juvenile Detention

on October 3, 2008

In his “Call to Serve Speech” Barack Obama says, “It is time to recapture that sense of a common purpose: I am my brother’s keeper, I am my sister’s keeper.” 

Three years ago, I began volunteering at a Juvenile Detention Center.  At the time, I was leaving teaching and trying to branch out into writing.  I needed something to fill the long hours of beginning in a new direction. And so, I sought out volunteer work at the local Juvenile Detention Center.

I had always been interested in work in prisons. As a pre-teen, I attended a church that most of the time felt more like a social club, a social club where I didn’t fit. But, one Sunday, a woman stood up and said she was writing to prisoners and she wanted to know if anyone else wanted to join her. Something inside me paid attention. There was a glow about this woman. And, I felt myself drawn to her. My Mom and I signed up and for about six months, we wrote back and forth to a young man in prison.

Years later, after I had earned my MFA in Writing for Children, I attended an AWP Conference and listened to a panel talk about teaching writing to prisoners. Again, something inside me sat up and listened. There was something drawing me to this work, but I wasn’t sure what or where it was going to take me.

When I got home, I called the local juvenile detention center and asked to speak to the Program Director. Without really knowing what I was doing, or why, I suggested that I could volunteer to work with the youth for two-hours a week in a writing workshop that I would run. The Program Director was over-joyed and the next thing I knew, I was standing before the locked doors of the units, my heart pounding, and waiting to be allowed inside where a group of twelve girls in orange clothing glared at me and demanded to know: “Who are you? Why are you here? And most important…WHY do you want to volunteer to be with US?”

It was this last question, “Why do you want to volunteer to be with US?” that I have asked myself over and over for the last three years. And what I have come to see is that like Barak Obama says in his “Call to Serve” speech, “Through service, I found a community that embraced me; ….citizenship that was meaningful; the direction I’d been seeking,” I too, discovered a direction I’d been seeking.

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