In 1969, Probate Court Volunteers Services for Grand Traverse County began with a handful of junior college students serving as Volunteer Probation Officers (VPOs). These students, usually based in fields of study such as education, law enforcement or social science, were asked to meet with juveniles on a regular basis and to assist them in successfully completing their terms of probation. VPOs work with first offenders, and while they are not counselors, they are consistent, caring adult role models, providing structure to young lives, helping them to make more positive choices.
Some 30 years later, the volunteer services of the Probate Court has grown and evolved as the needs of the community are identified. Approximately 150 volunteers, aged 18-80, are active on a monthly basis in varied programs. Seniors as well as college students are especially prominent the Probate Court’s youth programs.
VPOs serve a great need of youth today that staff Probation Officer, with their overburdened caseloads, cannot hope to fill- that of personal one-on-one attention. VPOs, many times, serve as extended family to youth and parents because often there are no uncles, aunts or grandparents nearby. VPOs help youth look at why they are involved with the court and how they might choose to do differently in the future. Volunteers put “a face” on the community so that kids have a better feeling toward their neighbors which is believed to deter some from reoffending. VPOs help kids develop a plan; a plan for the week, the school year and life.
Another program of the Grand Traverse County Probate Court volunteer services is Learning Partners, a prevention program that targets non-court involved, at-risk students in grades one through six. Formalized in 1981, Learning Partner volunteer serve as tutor-friends supporting students in need of academic assistance with an emphasis and sensitivity toward their social developmentThe Learning Partner works in conjunction with the classroom teacher by providing individual support to the student. The Learning Partner provides emotional support and is sensitive to the social development of the students. He/she is an adult friend with whom the student may develop trust and share concerns. Learning Partners meet with their students two hours a week.
Through 1998, two full-time and one part-time paid staff have coordinated the Grand Traverse Volunteer program. These positions are funded through Grand Traverse County. VPOs receive no reimbursement. Learning Partner volunteers may receive mileage reimbursement.