SMITH COUNTY, Texas (KETK) – The Smith County Juvenile Services’ H.O.P.E. Academy will soon have a 90-day substance abuse treatment program.

H.O.P.E. (Helping Others Pursue Excellence) Academy helps juvenile offenders work on their behavior and family relationships. Teens are also able to join a vocational trade program and receive assistance from officers, counselors and a chaplain.

A 16-year-old boy from Texarkana has been going through the academy for about five months.

“My time here has been great,” he said in November. “They’re teaching us a lot; things we can do when we get out of here.”

The teen was signed up for a construction class. He is one of nine boys in the organization and said he likes welding.

“This program helps you in ways that you didn’t even know you needed help with,” he said. “It not only helps with behavioral issues of course, but also teaches you some trades that will help you when you get out.”

H.O.P.E was launched in Jan. of 2015. They have had 117 residents and 88 have finished the program. H.O.P.E. Vocational Supervisor David Peters said many of the boys are able to leave the group in six months, but they must stay longer if they continue to have behavioral problems.

The organization was focused on helping local boys, but three years ago they started working with other Texas cities. Oscar Perdomo, probation officer and residential supervisor, said some kids are from Fort Bend, Bowie, Polk and Henderson Counties.

“The demand for contract bedding has increased,” he said. “We’re constantly screening kids for placement.”

Juveniles who break the law will first be given probation. If that does not work, then kids have to be educated on substance abuse. If that fails, then juveniles are taken to places like H.O.P.E.

“We have seen a spike in referrals for substance abuse,” Perdomo said. “We’ve seen a huge number of referrals of kids vaping THC at schools. That’s a big problem right now.”

H.O.P.E only enrolls 12 boys for the vocational and substance abuse treatment programs.

“The goal is to help keep them here and not send them out to other facilities,” Perdomo said. “We’re probably the best equipped to rehabilitate our kids.”

LaQuita White is a licensed chemical dependency counselor. She has worked with kids at H.O.P.E. and other juvenile services for four years.

“Maybe if we can catch them when they’re young, maybe this won’t carry over into the prison system,” she said.

H.O.P.E’s 12-week vocational program allows teens to learn woodworking, auto mechanics, welding, gardening and life skills.

“Tim Fauss and Karlon Jackson Sr. teach life skills – from cooking and laundry to tying a tie; learning about college, military and career choices; and how to do mock job applications, resumes and interviews,” Smith County said.

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