Louisiana’s juvenile incarceration rate ranks the highest in the nation while the well being of its children ranks among the worst. Child development research concludes that positive adult involvement in children’s lives prevents delinquency and rehabilitates destructive behavior. Reversing negative trends among Louisiana’s youth requires ordinary citizens to make a difference in the lives of individual children and to work for reform in a failing juvenile justice system.
Motivated by this immense social need, Arianne Ellerbe began volunteering at age 14 within the Louisiana criminal justice system and founded, “Break the Chain. . . Build a Bridge.” Her organization fulfills a tri-fold purpose: stop delinquency before it starts through effective prevention programs for at-risk youth; implement rehabilitative efforts that restore incarcerated youth to their families and communities; and provide a voice of advocacy.
As the volunteer coordinator of the Louisiana Attorney General’s “Know the Law” prevention program for youth, she is responsible for developing a teacher’s curriculum and marshaling efforts of attorneys and law students to implement the program in Louisiana middle schools. “Know the Law” instructs students on legal rights, responsibilities, and the harsh consequences of delinquency. Presenting motivational talks through her unique motivational presentation “StoryPics,” she encourages students to set and reach goals while giving back to others. This year, “StoryPics” has been used to impact the lives of hundreds of individuals all over Louisiana, from CEOs to students, soccer moms to prison inmates.
As director of a weekly faith-based life skills program for girls at Jetson Correctional Center in Baton Rouge (initiated April, 2000), Ellerbe serves as spiritual advisor/mentor to 75 girls and as aftercare/activities coordinator for Jetson’s short-term program. Her efforts there are focused on helping these talented and intelligent young women formulate goals for their return home and to reach their full potential as successful, contributing citizens. Graduates of the programs have become high school graduates, college students, and sought-after public speakers.
As a volunteer through the YouWho Coalition, legislation for which she lobbied passed during last year’s session, mandating a citizens’ task force aimed at reforming Louisiana’s juvenile justice system. The Juvenile Justice Commission has begun its work as Ellerbe continues to lobby and advocate for additional reforms, having been a featured speaker several times in commission meetings and legislative committee hearings regarding her work within the system. She assisted in the Commission’s lobbying efforts to pass a comprehensive resolution during this year’s legislative session that will reform the system.
Ellerbe has been a recipient of numerous local, state, and national recognitions for her efforts within the juvenile justice system: joint legislative resolution, gubernatorial proclamation, Blue Cross Angel Award, Louisiana Jaycees Outstanding Young Woman of the Year, LSU Volunteer Activist of the Year, YWCA Woman of Achievement, and most recently was named by the U.S. Jaycees as one of the Ten Outstanding Young Americans for 2003.