A new organization in the state wants to keep kids out of the juvenile justice system. A local man saw kids facing everything from everyday stress to the drug epidemic, and says he found a solution.
A lot of New Mexico kids live a rough life. No matter what neighborhood or home they grow up in, many end up in jail. John Jones wondered how he could stop that.
“The youth we work within the juvenile justice system are pretty broken,” said Jones, president of LifeQuest, a non-profit that works with adjudicated youth in the state. “After group about nine months ago, I literally sat straight up in bed the next morning and went, ‘How do we get the young people before they get to here?'”
He founded Ambassadors of Compassion. It’s a national organization that teaches students life and leadership skills.
“Every kid in every high school, in every middle school, is at risk,” said Dan Wilkinson, a volunteer with LifeQuest and life coach with Ambassadors of Compassion. “Walk alongside them by teaching them to be more resilient, teaching them how to set goals, teaching them there’s nothing wrong with them. They’re all normal.”
The organization is set up all across the country, and now, overseen by Jones, it will make its debut in New Mexico.
“It’s very much a volunteer-led program,” said Jones. “Each of the small groups in the schools will be a coach-led group, which means an adult; which could be one of the teachers, it could be a parent, it could be a business person from town; but that will help these young people learn life skills, become resilient youth, how to deal with all the obvious issues we all come face to face with at differing times.”
Volunteers lead small groups in the schools, helping students along the way.
“Once people see the potential for this program, it’s untapped and our goal is to see it grow and reach every kid possible,” said Wilkinson. “Our goal is to get them to realize that all these things they’re running into, whether it’s stress, having to take tests, planning for college, or just dealing with life’s challenges, they will learn to overcome them and give them life skills to do that.”
It also encourages the kids to give back to their communities.
“The program not only teaches life skills, but successful completion also requires two service projects, so they’ll be serving in the community—both a group service project and an individual service project,” said Jones.
Those involved in the local program hope to get it into all New Mexico schools.
“We just want to help kids,” said Jones. “We just want to help young people. It’s tough to be a teenager today and we want to help them navigate that process as best we can.”
Ambassadors of Compassion is expected to launch in Albuquerque this fall, just in time for the next school year.