- Associated Press - Saturday, April 9, 2016

EVERETT, Wash. (AP) - Steve Strickler spends a lot of time talking about good decisions.

He can’t force the young people he encounters to stay in school or stay away from drugs. The retired pastor can encourage the teens to think about the decisions they’re making now and how those choices could follow them into adulthood, the Daily Herald reported (https://bit.ly/22dlR4q).

“We’re not trying to scare them straight. That doesn’t work,” Strickler said. “We can brainstorm what the next best steps might be.”

Strickler, 63, is the lead volunteer chaplain at Denney Juvenile Justice Center. There are nine chaplains and a Roman Catholic priest who volunteer their time to help incarcerated young people.

“We want to give the kids a lot of different avenues. Our chaplains do more moral reasoning than preaching here,” said Allen Hilderbrand, a detention shift supervisor at Denney.



Hilderbrand also oversees the different volunteer programs operating at the juvenile center. He said he first recruited Strickler to be a volunteer. That later evolved into the chaplain position. Strickler has helped Hilderbrand screen the different chaplains, and he’s encouraged Hilderbrand to recruit women to serve.

“He’s a great sounding board. Because of his experience in a church setting, he’s great at looking at what services to provide,” Hilderbrand said.

Strickler, who lives in Everett, was a pastor at Gold Creek Community Church for years. He also served as a volunteer chaplain with the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office and Snohomish Fire District 4. He and his wife have raised two daughters.

Strickler says his calling is try to help young people, especially those facing challenges. He works for the Seattle-area Youth for Christ as its director of juvenile justice ministry. He leads the mentor program for the county’s Reclaiming Futures program.

“These are kids. They can overcome this time in their lives and go on to be productive,” he said.

They need someone to count on, someone they can trust, he said. Almost every teen he meets in juvenile detention or through probation has been disappointed by the adults in their lives. The kids in detention often request to speak with a chaplain. The conversations are confidential. Some kids have faith-based experiences. Their grandparents have taken them to church, or Sunday services are a big part of their culture.

Some of the kids have questions about faith. Others want to talk about how to get out of detention or are worried about what kind of sentence they’re facing.

“Sometimes they ask me to pray that the judge will go easy on them. I tell them I’ll pray for wisdom for the judge, even if that means the kids don’t get what they want,” Strickler said.

He tries to keep them focused on the life skills they need to develop to stay out of trouble. They might talk about how to defuse an argument, instead of escalate it. They talk about how to get back to school or how to get a job.

He often hands them his card and tells them to call him when they get out. They’ll have a meal, talk about how he can help them, and he’ll try to match them up with mentors.

“These are our kids,” he said.

___

Information from: The Daily Herald, https://www.heraldnet.com

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