“Age is foolish and forgetful when it underestimates youth.”
— Albus Dumbledore
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
“Almost everything that is great has been done by youth.”
— Benjamin Disraeli
I’ve worked in the Delaware County Juvenile Court in one capacity or another for nearly 14 years now. I’m approaching two years in the role of Judge of that court. As a juvenile court judge, I’m frequently asked by people if the job sours me on youth or if I have a generally negative attitude about teenagers because of what I see at work. Nothing could be further from the truth.
I am constantly reminded of the incredible things that our youth accomplish. I see it at work. I see it in my neighborhood. I see it in the newspaper and on television. We are surrounded by it daily. We have four tremendous and highly rated public school systems headquartered in our county (and several others that serve parts of the county, along with several excellent private schools).
Our youth excel in music, drama, art, athletics, agriculture and, of course, academics. If you’re paying attention, you cannot help but be impressed and proud of what Delaware County’s youth achieve.
Shortly before Thanksgiving, I was given an incredible reminder of this yet again. For the second year in a row, the Delaware County Probate/Juvenile Court and the administration, teachers and students of Hayes High School teamed up to organize the ‘Fight Against Hunger Games.’
The event started last year when Intake Officer Cecelia Monahan proposed that we take a small food drive the court had run for several years and see if Hayes H.S. was interested in joining with us. Ric Stranges, the Principal at Hayes, loved the idea and decided to make the food drive part of the ‘house’ competition at the high school. The students responded in incredible fashion and donated more than 11,000 individual food items.
If you’re thinking that they couldn’t possibly beat that total, then you’re underestimating what these kids are capable of. This year they gathered just under 16,000 individual food items, with Steamtown House leading the way for the second straight year.
After receiving donations of turkeys and hams, students and court staff sorted the food and on the Monday before Thanksgiving we were able to hand out complete Thanksgiving meals to families in need for nearly two hours during the school day. Thousands of additional boxed and canned food items were transported by the Juvenile Court community service van to a local food bank to be distributed in the future.
From grade school to high school, our youth achieve things that we often would have thought unthinkable ourselves. It is this recognition — the potential kids hold — that drives what we do at the Juvenile Court. Three quotes are stenciled on the wall of my courtroom.
One is from James Madison, the ‘Father of the Constitution’. One is from Abraham Lincoln, the ‘Savior of the Nation’.
The third, is the J.K. Rowling quote from the Harry Potter series that is at the top of this column. It may appear out of place with a Founding Father and our greatest President, but its choice was not accidental. I chose it partly because I believed it would resonate more easily with juveniles, but also as a reminder to the many adults in their lives not to underestimate what they are capable of.
The cooperation and communication between the court and our school districts is excellent, not because of any law or regulation, but because we all share a desire to see our youth succeed and a recognition of the incredible things they are capable of.
David Hejmanowski is Judge of the Probate/Juvenile Division of the Delaware County of Common Pleas.