Opportunity fair helps troubled teens

The University was one vendor at the Minneapolis Juvenile Detention Center’s fair.

Emily Kaiser

Behind the heavy, metal doors and cinderblock walls of the Minneapolis Juvenile Detention Center, people from across the metro area came Thursday to let the teens know they weren’t forgotten.

The center hosted an opportunity fair Thursday to allow the teens to get in contact with people from various employers, community groups and schools, including the University. This is the fair’s eighth year.

“We want them to know (the Juvenile Detention Center) is not dead time,” said Barbara Karn, superintendent of the detention center. “We are trying to give the kids information while they are here.”

The center currently has 90 residents. The average age is 15.

In addition to being in the court system, Karn said, many residents in the center have problems in school.

“It’s really hard for them to get jobs and get into the work field,” Karn said.

The teens filed into the room early in the morning, wearing their matching outfits and blue, slip-on shoes, the same uniforms they regularly wear in and out of their cells.

Once dressed, they found more than 45 vendors – including the University – on the fourth floor of the building.

Daryl McMoore, admissions officer for the University, was at the fair representing the school. He was available for answers when residents had questions, he said, and helped teens fill out forms to receive University information.

“One thing about the University is it’s a people’s college,” McMoore said. “We enroll valedictorians, some students that are right in the middle and some that have taken the road less traveled.”

Many of the teens were curious about the requirements to attend the University and if it offered the major they were interested in.

“A lot of the students here could be college-bound, and we want to let them know they can be considered for admissions,” McMoore said.

The teens received information about the various career opportunities available to them. Many of them don’t know what’s available, said Debbie Morrison, an office manager at the Labor Market Information Office at the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development.

“A lot of them get discouraged about college because of the cost, but they don’t know about all the grants they can find to reach that goal,” Morrison said.

Justin Terrell, a counselor at The Bridge for Runaway Youth, was at the fair and gave residents information about the group’s programs. The Bridge gives troubled and runaway teens emergency shelter, counseling and support programs.

“We are trying to help kids in crisis,” Terrell said. “We are trying to help keep them from coming back (to the detention center).”

Many of the residents were drawn to The Bridge booth, as Terrell cracked jokes about their military pamphlets.

“What’s with the military stuff you have?” Terrell said. “You wanna go over there and shoot up Osama bin Laden?”

Terrell encouraged the kids to attend his young men’s support group, Respect Integrity Support Empowerment. The group gives teens a chance to talk about what’s going on in their lives and how to make better decisions.

He also brings teens, who were previously at The Bridge, out to eat and to talk about how their lives are going outside of the shelter.

“I am trying to open up their world,” Terrell said. “A lot of times, they are stuck in an eight- block area where all of the drugs, poverty and problems are.”

In addition to the annual opportunity fair, all the residents are required to attend the in-house Minneapolis Public School during their stay.

The school is run like any other school. Classes include a life-skills class to teach them how to fill out job application forms, give them career information and encourage them to become independent and successful, said Lyle Young, coordinator of the school program.

As the teens lined up to leave the fair, they carried away handfuls of pamphlets and information to help them become successful, and to realize there are better places to aim for than living back on the streets.

“They love this,” Karn said. “They ask if we can have the fair once a month.”