Tom McBride | NJJA Executive Director

The 2016 Nebraska Juvenile Justice Association Conference is ‘in the books.’ The overwhelming review of the conference is that the planning and preparation resulted in yet another terrific conference. We set a new record this year with 439 registrants prior to the conference and on Thursday we had over 450 in attendance. The facilities were top-notch and the amenities fabulous. There were a couple of glitches to plans but the NJJA Board and Planning Committee, together with the Younes Conference Center staff, worked those out with little impact or interruption.

Wednesday morning, Francoise Mathieu began the conference on a high note with her keynote address, “Beyond Kale and Pedicures: What works to manage compassion fatigue and secondary trauma?” Directed towards professionals in our genres, it was a terrific message that kicked off the conference on a high note and set the stage for how spectacular the rest of the conference would be. The variety of breakout sessions Wednesday was also indicative of the quality of topics and presentations in each session.

Thursday of the conference was “Youth Day.” Youth were invited and recognized, not in a ’lip service’ manner, but rather as meaningful members of the partnership dealing with Juvenile Justice related issues. We aren’t aware of any other conference in the country that recognizes young people and even our nationally recognized speakers marveled at how we did it, why we did it, and how effectively it worked. The feedback we have received from those attending support the belief that this is a valuable part of the conference and the youth “voice” was appreciated from several perspectives.

At the luncheon on Thursday, several awards were presented: Anita Haumont, Recreation Manager at YRTC-Geneva, was presented the 2016 Evelyn E. Ladode Service to Youth Award. Brittnie Wedel, who has just graduated from Chadron State College and is pursuing graduate work in Criminal Justice, was given the 2016 NJJA Scholarship Award, and Margene Timm, a Lancaster County Public Defender, was presented with the NJJA Commitment to Excellence in Leadership Award.

Thursday evening, the networking reception was held in the Vendor Exhibit area. Attendees had the opportunity to visit with over 35 vendors who offered information about their entity, and they enjoyed the comradery of others attending the conference. In addition to the snacks available, there were many lucky participants who won door prizes ranging from a $25 gift certificate to watches, a ‘Fitbit,’ and electronic tablet! Youth attended their own reception hosted by the University of Nebraska – Kearney at the campus. These youth had food, activities and door prizes. They also met with the Friday keynote speaker, Xavier McElrath-Bey and others accompanying him.

Friday began with various breakout sessions prior to the keynote address. Again, great breakout sessions were offered and well attended. The keynote address on Friday was given by Xavier McElrath-Bey. He spoke of his past incarceration as a minor resulting from a murder he was associated with. The story of his life before, during, and after prison held the audience, for lack of a better description, spellbound. He reminded everyone that youth are much different than adults and that difference must be acknowledged. His theme was that “No Child is Born Bad ” and that everyone deserves a second chance. His message was to thank everyone for their hard work and to carry the mantle of positive encouragement and acknowledgement of youth value, forward in all we do.

In addition to everything else the conference provided, those needing CLEs, CEUs or criminogenic hours were able to obtain them specific to their professional needs. After the conference was over those attending were asked to fill out an evaluation form. The NJJA Board and the Conference Planning Committee has looked at these evaluations closely, using this information to plan how the next conference can be even better. Planning for the conference, which will be held on May 17-19, 2017, has already begun. Make sure you mark your calendars for next year as it will be another fabulous experience. Stay tuned as information becomes more available.