Reading for Life, an innovative literature-based mentoring program that provides an alternative to prosecution for low-risk juvenile offenders, was recently awarded county funding to sustain its operation in St. Joseph County, Ind. With the unanimous approval of the county council and commissioners, Judge Peter J. Nemeth of the St. Joseph Probate Court has appropriated basic funding for Reading for Life for 2012.
Peter Morgan, executive director of St. Joseph County’s Thomas N. Frederick Juvenile Justice Center, points out, “Reading for Life has been more successful in diverting young people from the juvenile justice system than traditional programs such as community service. The program’s success makes it very cost-effective.”
Developed at the University’s Institute for Educational Initiatives (IEI), Reading for Life is a character education diversion program that focuses on seven cardinal and theological virtues, and engages youth in small-group discussions of classic and contemporary literature with trained mentors. The goal is to encourage young people to make more prudent life choices. The program mentors juvenile offenders through the Juvenile Justice Center’s probation department.
“This is a very exciting development for Reading for Life,’” says Alesha Seroczynski, director of the program. “For those of us in the academy who conduct applied research, it is always great when a community organization sees such value in our work that they want to incorporate it into their own programming. This really is a scholar’s highest honor.”
Seroczynski, an associate program director with IEI, notes that Reading for Life could not be successful without the tireless hours that volunteer mentors from our community invest in these young people. “Our volunteer mentors are the heart and soul of the program,” she adds. “They genuinely care about these youth and want them to become successful young adults.”
Reading for Life is “a concrete example of how the Institute for Educational Initiatives’ long investment in moral education is now paying dividends,” says Clark Power, an IEI Fellow and professor of developmental psychology in Notre Dame’s Master of Education (M. Ed.) program. “The Reading for Life program in St. Joseph County should serve as a model for literature-based character education across the country.”
For the past two years, Reading for Life has been supported by the Arête Initiative at the University of Chicago.