Getting Back on the Right Path When Transportation is an Issue

For some, the difference between a youthful indiscretion and a life of crime comes down to a bus transfer.

Two highly successful diversion programs in North Orange County have been transforming lives for 35 years by offering an alternative to prosecution for first-time offenders. Until recently these programs were offered exclusively in Santa Ana and Fullerton, making it difficult, if not impossible, for some coastal families to attend.

In December, the Melinda Hoag Smith Center for Healthy Living began offering Project Youth OCBF’s (Orange County Bar Foundation) SHORTSTOP and STOP SHORT of Addiction classes, breaking down a transportation barrier for coastal community families who could not otherwise take advantage of these programs.

SHORTSTOP, and the Spanish-language version Programma SHORTSTOP, is an intensive three-session program for minor offenders and their parents. STOP SHORT of Addiction is a similar program targeting youth ages 10-17, who have committed minor drug-related offenses such as possession of marijuana/alcohol, public intoxication or possession of paraphernalia.

With a one-year success rate of more than 90 percent, the programs are an effective wake-up call and help steer kids away from the bad choices that can derail a person’s life.

Police officers, counselors and other highly productive adults have graduated from these programs, and since the Center began offering the programs in December, more than 155 local families have benefited.

“Having the services offered at the Center decreases transportation barriers and reinforces for our youth that ‘my community cares about me and is offering these resources,’“ says Nazly Restrepo, associate director of STOP SHORT of Addiction.

“It also offers an opportunity for the schools in the area who have wanted to refer kids with truancy or behavioral issues before but were deterred by the fact that we were in Santa Ana or Fullerton. This is important because now they have an option. We don’t have to wait for these kids to get arrested.”

The program was a natural fit for the Center, says Michaell Rose, director of Community Benefit at Hoag.

“We keep hearing that there are a lot of mental health concerns in the community, and concerns about drugs and alcohol. This is part of a larger series of efforts to provide support and resources to adolescents in our community,” Rose says

In addition to its proximity to many at-risk youth, the Center offers an impressive number of resources under one roof.

“We are able to offer counseling services, but we don’t always have a clinician on staff,” Restrepo says. “At the Center for Healthy Living, they have a clinician. They have a medical clinic, homework support, and exercise classes. The services are here, so why refer them anywhere else?"

To learn more about these programs, visit ocbarfoundation.org.