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Pilot mentoring program begins to address teen crime in Dane County

MADISON (WKOW) — Within the last month, Dane County authorities have taken more than 30 would-be vehicle thieves into custody. A handful of them were teens under 20, with two of them just 13-years-old.

As frustration continues over the continued crime, local leaders are looking for ways to address the issue and put potential solutions on the table. A group of stakeholders from Dane County that included the Madison Police Department, Madison Metropolitan School District, the United Way, the city of Madison, and county officials came together to come up with solutions last year.

One potential idea was a mentoring program that could match mentors with at-risk teens to give them more positive role models in the community.

“The youth themselves had said that they would want a mentor,” said Big Brothers Big Sisters of Dane County CEO Sandy Morales. “Or if they had a mentor to talk to, have conversations with, perhaps that might be helpful in the types of decisions that they’re making when it comes to their safety and the safety of others.”

10 teens were chosen by the Juvenile Justice Program to be matched with 10 mentors chosen by five organizations across the county. The pilot program will last for about three months.

The five organizations include BBBS, Trained to Grow, Focused Interruption Coalition, Charles Hamilton Houston Institute, and Mellowhood Foundation. Of the five, BBBS is playing the smallest role by working to screen potential mentors.

“We will provide the screening and the background checks, and they will go through an orientation training,” said Morales.

The other organizations are taking a direct approach to mentoring. Finding the right volunteers is still a big deal for the program.

“It’s definitely about making sure we have a mentor that is willing to not just commit to mentoring but being a very strong support for the youth that we’re trying to serve,” said Morales.

So far, Big Brothers Big Sisters has been able to match one volunteer with one of the teens in the pilot program. Morales said locking teens up and making them face adult consequences isn’t going to be the best solution to the continued problem.

“At the end of the day, these are kids, and we can’t just throw them away,” she said. “There’s a lot of potential there that we cannot lose out.”

There will be frequent meetings between the organizations to monitor the programs progress. Local leaders hope that if it’s a success, they can get funding to expand it to more teens.

Sara Maslar-Donar

Reporter, WKOW 27 News

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