This article was originally published on WUFT.org
Duval Park will soon be a place for youth in the juvenile justice program to clean up and give back.
Gainesville’s Department of Juvenile Justice is partnering with Duval Park in an attempt to both rejuvenate the park and provide outdoor activities to their residents, according to a press release on Wednesday.
“I think that there was some interest on the part of Commissioner Goston to infuse the park with new life and new purpose and to make sure that things are beneficial for the community,” said Linda Demetropoulos, nature operations manager for Gainesville Parks and Recreation.
The Department of Juvenile Justice was also looking for a site for youth to do community service.
The park was initially a product of a state grant, which came from the Florida Communities trust using Florida Forever funds. It was intended to hold storm water, which is why it features a pond, and was later turned over to the Parks and Recreation Department, she said.
“We thought it was a really good solution for both parties and a real win-win, because we feel that it’s important to have that park looked after and be special to somebody,” Demetropoulos said.
The Department of Juvenile Justice hopes to have youth enhance the park, spend time outside with mentors and maybe even become inspired to pursue environmental careers, according to the press release.
The youth allowed to participate will be those on probation, meaning that they will still be attending school and not living in a residential facility, said Heather DiGiacomo, Communications Director for the Department of Juvenile Justice.
These youth will participate in activities on the weekends or afternoons so as not to interfere with school, DiGiacomo said.
DiGiacomo said that typically youth on probation typically have to complete community service hours anyway, and this will be another way for them to fulfill that criteria.
Demetropoulos said that she has no concerns about the partnership because of the amount of preparation and planning that has gone into it.
The youth who are allowed to participate will not be violent offenders, and for every four kids there will be a probation officer, she said.
“We’re really excited about it because it’s a way to leverage our resources but at the same time engage the youth, get them outdoors and educate them,” she said.
Joseph Gagnon, an associate professor in the School of Special Education at the University of Florida, said he could see how clean-ups would help the youth and their relationship to their community, in addition to the physical benefits of exercise.
“It is aligned with restorative justice and the idea that youth can give back to the community,” he said. “Perhaps they belong to the community in some sort of way and can restore their standing and sense of being.”
The public will be able to walk through the park and ask questions about the partnership at a sign unveiling event on Sept. 29, Demetropoulos said.
Around 300 invitations have been sent out to members of the community for the event, and Demetropoulos said that she is prepared to answer any questions and explain the program to anyone interested.
“Yes, we would love to get some work done, but we also hope to make a difference in the lives of those youths that are participating,” she said.