News Release: Spotlight Finds Four Nebraskans for Helping State’s Youth

(Award winners (L to R) Dr. Kenneth Zoucha, Erin Curran, Raevin Bigelow, and NJJA President Mike Renn)

June 5, 2015

KEARNEY – “I was just doing my job,” is a statement that means more for some than others. At this year’s Nebraska Juvenile Justice Association Conference, four people were recognized for doing so much more than the job required. All award recipients worked to help youth climb out of difficult situations, recover from deep physical and emotional traumas, and piece their lives back together.

The NJJA Service Awards recognize youth and juvenile justice professionals whose outstanding efforts have improved or strengthened the juvenile justice community in Nebraska. Earlier this month, NJJA and the Nebraska Coalition for Juvenile Justice presented the following awards:


Spirit of Youth Award: Raevin Bigalow

Ms. Bigelow, a former system-involved youth, was recognized for her resilience in the face of many life challenges.  In her acceptance speech, she thanked the professionals in the room for their dedication to young people like her. Ms. Bigelow is the proud mother of a two-year old daughter and plans to become a motivational speaker and youth pastor.

Commitment to Excellence in Leadership Award: Dr. Kenneth Zoucha

Dr. Zoucha, Medical Director at Hastings Juvenile Chemical Dependency Program, was recognized for his outstanding leadership in serving youth and families in contact with the juvenile justice system. According to NJJA President Mike Renn, “Dr Zoucha has quietly, and without much fanfare, provided important guidance and programming for youth and families who struggling with addiction.”

Evenly E. Labode Service to Youth Award: Erin Curran

Ms. Curran, an Intensive Family Preservation Therapist for KVC in Omaha, received the award for her commitment, initiative and advocacy on behalf of youth and families in Nebraska. Erin has worked as a therapist and foster care specialist for five years and is known for the individualized attention she gives each of her families – as well as acting as a roll model to her peers.

Scholarship Award: Hailey Kaderabek

Ms. Kaderabek of Kayki, NE, is a senior at Peru State College with a major in Criminal Justice and Psychology. She was recognized as an excellent scholar working towards a career in juvenile justice. She is a peer mentor, tutor, and member of the Alpha Epsilon criminal justice club and expects to graduate this May.





2015 NJJA Award Nominations

Every year, we at the NJJA like to recognize youth and juvenile justice professionals who make exceptional efforts towards improving and strengthening the juvenile justice community in Nebraska. Together, NJJA and the Nebraska Coalition for Juvenile Justice will present four awards at our 40th anniversary conference in Kearney, May 6-8. Read more

Executive Dysfunction Predicts Delinquency But Not Sexual Aggression

January 22, 2015

Recent research from the Northeast Educational Assessment and Research Institute finds links between executive dysfunction, delinquency and sexual aggression. Follow this link to read the full article published in this month’s NEARI Newsletter.

According to the agency’s website, “[This] newsletter article focuses on whether there is a link between the executive functioning of the brain (the brain’s conductor) and sexual aggression in adolescents. The research showed a strong relationship between executive dysfunction and non-sexual crimes but no solid relationship between executive functioning and sexual crimes. However, since a high percentage of those who abuse sexually re-offend non-sexually and executive functioning impacts other aspects of the lives of these youth, the authors urge practitioners to include executive functioning as significant focus of treatment planning.”

Hope After Juvenile Detention? You Bet!

Olympia, Wash. – For kids wondering if they can ever recover from the mistakes of youth, they need look no further than the story of Starcia Ague. Despite a horrific childhood and a serious juvenile criminal history, Starcia now works for the President of the United States.

NJJA first came to know Starcia when she spoke at the 2012 Annual Conference. The advocate for youth speaks to people around the country and now works for Barack Obama. The president recently appointed the youth advocate to the Federal Advisory Committee on Juvenile Justice.

Starcia grew up in Washington State with a meth-dealer dad and a mom who kicked her out of the house at 11 years old. At 15, on orders from her mother, who had recently been robbed, Starcia participated in a violent act of retribution. As a result, she spent five years in juvenile detention.

Follow the link below to view a documentary by TVW showing how this impressive woman turned her life around.


My Weekend at Camp

Camp Catch Up guests canoe on the camp's pond
By Amy West, Nebraska Appleseed

“So, what did you do this weekend?”

Usually, I don’t have a great answer for this popular Monday morning question. Hmmm… I played with my cats, read a little, did some yard work, went for a run, maybe went out to dinner… Yup, that pretty much summarizes a typical weekend in my life.

A few weeks ago, however, my answer was a little different: “I had an amazing, incredibly heartwarming, life-altering experience!” What might that experience be, you ask? I went to camp.

Camp Catch-Up, through the Nebraska Children and Families Foundation (NCFF), is a one-of-a kind, annual camp that brings together siblings separated by foster care or adoption for three days of pure, unbridled childhood fun. Free of cost to the youth, Camp Catch-Up reunites siblings ages 8-19 who may not have seen each other for weeks, months, or even years and gives them a chance to “catch up.”

Typically, two camps are held each year – one in the western area of the state and one in the eastern. Due to popular demand, three camps were offered this year. This June marked my fifth year at Camp Catch-Up, and I can’t wait to head back next year.

On June 26th, sibling groups as small as two or as large as seven (or sometimes even larger!) from all across Nebraska met at Camp Maranatha in North Platte for a weekend of fun. Each of us staff members are assigned one sibling group, who we stick with from the moment they step off the bus on Thursday evening to the moment they step back on Sunday afternoon.

Our ultimate goal for the weekend is really pretty simple: make sure our kids have the best weekend ever. The amazing NCFF staff responsible for organizing Camp Catch-Up make this pretty easy for us. Siblings can enjoy a number of fun bonding activities, including creating and racing cardboard “family cars,” encouraging each other on the ropes courses, and getting a professional picture taken while wearing matching sibling shirts. And of course there are plenty of other, more traditional camp activities for some plain old fun: swimming time, canoeing, archery, and hiking.

Camp Catch-Up allows these siblings, many of whom have had to grow up WAY too fast, a brief solace to forget their everyday worries and just be kids. Better yet, their siblings are right alongside them, making memories they will never, ever forget.

And the staff carry those memories as well. The number of staff who make time in their busy schedules to keep coming back to camp year after year is pretty incredible. We arrange trips around it, skip important meetings for it, and even factor it into major life decisions (wedding dates, flexibility of new job opportunities).

So what keeps us all coming back? What makes this camp feel like such a life-changing experience? It’s the simple moments, really. It’s hearing one of my kids say that they haven’t had this much fun in years, seeing one rest their head on the other’s shoulder during our nightly campfire, or watching them finally put their sibling bickering to the side and run their hearts out at the Family Cars Race. It’s the incredible sense of pride and affection I suddenly begin to feel toward these kids I only just met two days before. The most rewarding times by far, though, are the “hellos,” when they’re both so incredibly ecstatic to see each other again and beyond excited (albeit a little nervous) to see what camp holds for them, and the “goodbyes,” when you watch them hug, not wanting to let go, as they know that means the weekend is over. Moments like those are what make Camp Catch-Up different from every other weekend camp out there. Moments like those are what keep me coming back.

Each year as camp draws to a close, I convince myself that the “goodbyes” won’t be as bad. We’re all tired, smelly, and clearly ready for a break from the wilderness. One extended hug and an “I’ll miss you” later, though, and I’m a goner.

Even now, as I picture their tearful faces waving at me from the bus as it drives away, I can’t wait to hear that wonderful chant once again…

Get up early
Ride the bus
All the way
To Camp Catch-Up
‘Cause there’s no place that I’d rather be
Than here at Camp Catch-Up with my siblings and me
August can’t come soon enough.



This blog post was originally published at the Nebraska Appleseed Blog in July 2012 and has been updated with permission from the author.

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.”