Twenty-three high school students graduated Wednesday, Nov. 4, in a ceremony at Bethlehem Town Hall from a six-week program that certifies them to serve in the Bethlehem Youth Court.
The graduates will join 35 others to serve as attorneys, judges, court clerks, victim advocates and jury forepersons in the Youth Court, which hears minor offense cases for first-time offenders 19 and younger.
The program, founded in 1995, gives participants a chance to try their hand at a possible future career, or simply expand their skill base.
We get to not only help the offender get a second chance, but we also provide this really cool opportunity for kids who think that they may want to be a lawyer or a judge, said Youth Court Director Katrina Charland. "It's a cool way for them to get involved and learn about their civil duty."
Youth Court, which generally meets every other week depending on the caseload, hands down punishment in the form of community service hours or mandatory attendance of drug and alcohol awareness courses. Its most typical cases are for unlawful possession of marijuana, petit larceny and criminal mischief. A defendant's record is sealed upon completing the sentence, which makes Youth Court an attractive option for many offenders.
Juries are also composed of students who live in the Town of Bethlehem, though they don't have to complete the 20-hour course.
Youth Court is an independent, not-for-profit organization that is funded through the town and donations. Though they work closely with schools in Bethlehem, cases come from Bethlehem Town Court or Albany County Probation.
"The community in general has been really supportive, financially and in every other way," said Charland.
Wednesday's graduates, in alphabetical order: Aliza Abolafia, Jack Ayer, Kelly Bartlett, Rachel Bluth, Christopher Brands, Mariel Doyle, Samantha Ebersold, Adam Eisenstein, Nicholas Gallucci, Jordan Gross, Mike Hathaway, Sam Heller, Maya Kassoff, Erin Landy, Cal Manjunath, Charlie Martin, Patrick Nevins, Jonathan Peatfield, Kade Pettie, Josh Shuman, Sara Stathopoulos, Alisa White and Sam Wollner.
Albany County Executive Michael Breslin and Albany County District Attorney David Soares both spoke at the gradation.