Burns Proves Spirit of Youth

Pictured above, from left to right: Award Nominator, Judge Vernon Daniels; Award Recipient, Thomas Burns; and NCJJ Chair, Cassy Rockwell.

Lincoln, NE — The Nebraska Coalition of Juvenile Justice honored Thomas Burns with the 2014 Spirit of Youth Award. Burns was recognized for using his experiences in the Juvenile Justice system to give back to youth involved in the system and to strive towards personal goals.

Burns became involved in the Juvenile Justice system as a teen due to involvement with drugs. He recalls his time in intensive treatment programs, drug court, and probation without bitterness. Judge Vernon Daniels, who nominated Thomas for the award, said in his nomination letter, “[Thomas] regularly tells how grateful he is to his treatment team, probation officer, attorney, and most especially his judge, the Honorable Lawrence Gendler. Thomas reports that they saved him… From their example, he has learned to never give up on others. He often tells me to give that [additional] chance.”

In March, Burns celebrated his fourth year of sobriety. He gives back at his local Chip Night events by celebrating sobriety birthdays and providing mentorship to his peers.

Since completing probation, Thomas has achieved a great deal. He overcame academic setbacks to graduate high school, received an academic transfer degree from Metropolitan Community College (MCC), and enrolled at the University of Nebraska-Omaha. He hopes to pursue a degree in political science, attend law school, and become President of the United States.

While at MCC, Burns won a seat on the Student Advisory Council. His commitment to running a true campaign inspired others to run, resulting in the largest student voting turnout in MCC’s history. He has used these skills to serve on a state candidate’s campaign and wishes to continue exploring politics with an internship in Washington, D.C.

Burns was originally honored at the Nebraska Juvenile Justice Association’s Annual Conference on May 8, but was unable to attend. The NCJJ celebrated him at their public coalition meeting in Lincoln on June 6, 2014.  Upon receiving the award and a $500 scholarship, Burns stated, “Thank you. I’m so grateful and honored to even be considered.”