(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.
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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.
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.”