by Esther Fultz
While Cedarville University’s Jail Ministry org is the main way students on campus can get involved in ministering to inmates, students also have the option to minister at the juvenile detention center.
Last year, current junior Molecular Biology major Josh Halsey and current junior Social Work major Sarah Hougtentogler volunteered at the Clark County Juvenile Detention Center after the detention center director spoke in one of Hougentogler’s classes. At the time, this opportunity was not available through the Jail Ministry org.
As of this semester, a connection has been established between the Jail Ministry org and the Clark County Juvenile Detention Center, making it possible for more students to get involved.
For Halsey and Hougentogler, volunteering at the juvenile detention center primarily involved spending time with the kids and joining them in their activities.
“There’s not many options for them, but I got to be part of one of their recreation times and play basketball with them,” Halsey said. “On other occasions, I would just play cards and eat dinner with them. And then once, I did a little service project with them and made pinwheels. Whatever they were doing, I would join in and try to give them a little bit of encouragement.”
Having deep conversations is important, especially when interacting with youth who will spend limited time in the detention center. Hougentogler emphasized the importance of being honest and direct in conversation.
“What I’ve found with the girls I talked to is that you can be super direct about anything and I’m not exactly sure why, but they will share,” Hougentogler said. “Just ask them questions about anything you’re curious about or interested in, and that will open up conversation and you can take it wherever you want.”
For Hougentogler, acknowledging the differences between herself and the youth she worked with was also helpful. Finding areas of commonality with the kids helped to bridge some of these gaps.
“You need to be aware of how different you are and be aware of any biases you may have because they are people just like us,” Hougentogler said. “If you have any kind of lived experience you can share, you can relate to them in that way. When I volunteered there, I was still only 18, and I shared that with them and they were like, ‘What, no way!’ because we were so close to the same age.”
Halsey also mentioned the importance of acknowledging differences in backgrounds and stressed the importance of patience.
“You need to be patient, because chances are people in these situations aren’t necessarily going to want to hear from people like us,” Halsey said. “Most of us have come from a pretty decent lifestyle, and we’ve always had what we need. It’s going to take a long time to connect with them, most likely, and actually get them to trust you.”
For both Halsey and Hougentogler, volunteering at the juvenile detention center shaped and broadened their perspectives.
“My perspectives on that population were changed dramatically from thinking, ‘You guys are a bunch of hooligans,’ to, ‘You’re people, just like us,’” Halsey said. “At the end of the day, the choice is theirs, but the fact they even got to that choice was most likely not their fault. We’re all held responsible to God for what we do, but for those of them who don’t know the Lord, it feels like their only option, they don’t have anything better to do and there’s no hope.”
“The way I’ve grown up is all I’ve ever known, and that’s why it’s important for us to come in and show them that there’s another side to living they haven’t seen or experienced,” Hougentogler said . “To us, their lifestyle is so foreign, but to them, everything we know is completely foreign, so bridging that gap and sharing with them is so important.”
Esther Fultz is a junior Social Work major and the Off-Campus Editor for Cedars. She enjoys thrifting, writing music, hiking and hanging out with friends.