In the United States alone, approximately 60,000 juveniles per day are incarcerated in detention centers across the country. That’s 21,900,000 in any given year. If you’re shocked or saddened by these colossal numbers, you’re not alone. Avery Babb-Schaller, a junior sociology major here at UWEC, has come together with members of her CJ 307 course to work with adolescents at the Juvenile Detention Center right here in Eau Claire. Through this service-learning project, Avery’s main goal has been to work with the teens through educational activities. “We want to create a fun and relaxing environment, so that they feel free to express themselves and switch up their daily routine … we hope to bring awareness to our campus about the juvenile detention center and show the volunteer opportunities there, while also helping the kids and giving them a fun and easy environment,” Avery says.
The overarching theme Avery and her classmates have been presenting to the adolescents at the center is the ups and downs of social media usage. “We are hoping to discuss the good, the bad, and the ugly habits of social media, since that is a reason that a lot of them are in the center. We want to discuss with them the positives and negatives of the internet world,” Avery stated.
Overall, Avery’s experience at the Juvenile Detention Center of Eau Claire shattered her initial expectations. “When we first went to the center, we went in with no expectations, we assumed these kids wouldn't truly care that we were there or that we were there to teach them a lesson plan. However, we were pleasantly surprised with how enthusiastic, excited, and respectful all of the kids were,” Avery says of her experience at the center. She also made some emotional revelations about her life as a college student, “[My experience] opened up my eyes and showed me that these inmates are just kids who need our help and the help of our community. It put things into perspective. When I left the center, I got to go back to my apartment and do whatever I want, but these kids had to go back into their cells and live the rest of their day in solitude.”
Of all the eye opening experiences her project has brought her, Avery says the biggest highlight of her time at the center has been getting to know the inmates on a personal level. “Each child had a story, and we didn't look at them as just ‘inmates,’ we looked at them as who they were; just simply kids who maybe made a few mistakes along the road. They are all working for a better outcome and a better life, and getting to see that firsthand was truly amazing.” In addition to completing her required 30 hours of service, Avery plans on continuing her work with the youth at the center beyond what’s been expected of her, “I am going to go back to center after this experience and do more volunteer work. The center has amazing staff, and they all work so hard to give these children better futures and better lives,” Avery commented.
Experiences like Avery’s come few and far between, but are nonetheless an important part of the commitment we make as Blugolds. “I can honestly say this has been one of the best experiences in my life so far, and something that I will always carry with me. Getting to impact a child in a positive way is one of the most rewarding things I have ever experienced and that was the best part of my service-learning project here at UWEC,” says Avery.