Held Law Firm staff has been hard at work on The Literacy Project since January. Recent law graduate and former Held Law Firm associate Jennifer Henszey first conceived of the idea for this project after she visited the Richard L. Bean Juvenile Service Center during her third year of law school. There, she was told that the children housed at the service center were only allowed to borrow and read books from the juvenile center’s fairly modest library on the weekends.
As someone with a special interest in juvenile cases, that conversation really stuck with Jennifer. “I felt that this policy did not serve the needs of the children detained at the center, nor did it meet the rehabilitative goals of what juvenile detention centers are supposed to strive for,” said Jennifer.
“Yet it seemed like such a simple thing to change, and could have a substantial impact on the quality of life for these kids.”
Literacy rates, notoriously low among students in juvenile detention centers countrywide, are directly linked to rates of juvenile recidivism. In theory, that meant that if there was a practical way to encourage literacy in the kids housed at the Knox County facility, the chances of those same kids committing another crime when they were released would be significantly reduced.
To that end, Jennifer teamed up with Community Outreach Coordinator Faith Held and Managing Attorney Margaret Held. The three spent months developing an initiative to improve literacy in the Knox County juvenile facility. We will have more news on that initiative soon. In the meantime, we have taken some critically important steps toward our overarching goal of improving juvenile literacy among locally incarcerated children and teens. We have many thanks to give for helping us take those steps.
First, we thank Juvenile Service Center Superintendent Richard Bean for welcoming The Literacy Project to his facility with open arms.
Mr. Bean has agreed to work with Held Law Firm to implement this program. Without his blessing, the initiative never could have made it off the ground.
Second, Held Law Firm has connected with Dawn Beigler, the Juvenile Service Center’s English teacher, who will be administering the program once The Literacy Project is established.
We thank Mrs. Beigler, as well, for her proven willingness to do whatever it takes to serve the best interests of her students.
Third, and perhaps most importantly, we sincerely thank the kids for giving us the chance to prove that their community cares.
Many children and teens housed at the juvenile facility have no other safe place to go, and no family to look after them. Education can fall by the wayside when there is uncertainty about what the future looks like, or if there even is one.
Despite having every reason not to care much about reading, the students have created a list of titles they would like to see in their library (to see examples of what they would like to be reading based on survey results, check below this article).
So, why is this list so important?
The answer seems obvious but bears acknowledgment. We cannot expect children to want to read if the books they are provided are not tailored to their interests. Therefore, the list of books they have created provides us with a starting point. It promises to open the door to literacy like nothing else could at this point in their lives.
Held Law Firm wholeheartedly believes that this group of kids desperately needs a program like The Literacy Project. They deserve to be heard, and to see that their ideas are taken seriously. Finally, they deserve every one of the opportunities granted by literacy improvement.
If you agree, and would like to contribute to The Literacy Project in order to help buy books for children in Knox County’s juvenile detention center, visit The Literacy Project’s GoFundMe page.
Our goal is high, but we are confident that the return will be priceless. Stay tuned!
Below are some examples of books we have ordered at the request of students at the Richard L. Bean Juvenile Service Center. Your donation will go toward the purchase of these and many more titles over the years to come. Special thanks to Union Avenue Books for their support of The Literacy Project.
I Love My Skin
Heaven is for Real
Harry Potter series
Flowers for Algernon
Percy Jackson series
Heroes of Olympus series
The Hunger Games series
The Vampire Diaries series
The Maze Runner series
The House of Night series
Call of the Wild
Captain Underpants series
Finding Zasha/Saving Zasha
The information in this blog was compiled and written by Faith Held.