EDWARDSVILLE — Tim Stark was at a United Way meeting representing the Boy Scouts when he first heard of juvenile diversion programs.
Another agency presented its program for first-time, nonviolent youthful offenders that day in 2005, and Stark thought that it would be a good idea for his town: Collinsville.
By winter 2006, Stark had launched the Madison County Juvenile Diversion Program in Collinsville, and eventually partnered with Alton, Edwardsville and the Madison County Circuit Court and state's attorney.
Young people charged with their first offense can enter the diversion program instead. If they complete 12 classes in six months and perform a certain amount of community service, the charge is dropped, keeping the kid out of the courts.
"We all make mistakes, and some of those mistakes involve the law," said Stark, who received a Kimmel Award Wednesday along with several others. "Young people make a choice that gets them in trouble with the law, which can start them down a long road of bad choices. (We) want to get them out of that environment."
The classes cover topics like job skills, drug and alcohol prevention, sexual health and consequences, understanding the law and court system and more. They are taught primarily by volunteers from groups such as Chestnut Health, Call for Help, law enforcement agencies, business owners, retired military personnel and more. Stark said a recovering addict has visited several classes, telling them about his life as an addict and warning them, "You don't want to be me."
For public service, the kids in the program will clean up roadways, paint older houses in Alton, help deliver food pantry supplies, and more -- often in the public's eye.
"If I can get a kid's picture in the paper doing something good, sometimes that's the only time anyone in their family has been in the paper for something good," Stark said. "Sometimes a family has never seen a kid graduate ... It's a good example, and a new start."
In recent years, the program has spread to more jurisdictions, including some in St. Clair County. Soon Stark hopes to set up a group meeting with all the area police chiefs, in the hope of getting them to consider joining the program.
Nearly 200 kids have graduated the program in the last six years, and only about 15 percent have ended up back in the system, Stark said. The state average recidivism rate is 86 percent.
The success of the program is one of the reasons Stark was nominated for this year's Kimmel Award in the social service category. Stark also is part of the Latino Roundtable of Southwestern Illinois, Boy Scouts, Collinsville's Team 10 and is an associate pastor at Son-Life Church.
Stark was nominated by Scott Elliff of the Madison County Probation and Court Services Department.
"Stark embodies the very essence of this axiom through the generous and altruistic offering of his time, efforts and enthusiasm, with the humble notion to encourage just one person in the community to make a better choice in life," Eliff said.
But Stark said there is nothing unusual about his program. "We're not any more magical than any other organization that chooses to mentor youth," Stark said. "We help kids through their first charge, and hopefully prevent future charges ... It's not 'scared straight,' it's a second chance.
This year's other Kimmel Awards winners include a pharmacy professor, a Girl Scout volunteer and an art therapy student:
* The Kimmel Scholarship awardee is Renee Dow Tate, a Pontoon Beach graduate student majoring in art therapy. Tate declined a graduate assistantship to work with Rebirth St. Louis, despite her 4.0 GPA. She also has served with the Student Art Therapy Association and Christian Activity Center of East St. Louis, as well as other activities.
"I believe wholeheartedly in the importance of building genuine relationships," Tate said. "I want to serve, mentor and inspire hope through my life."
Tate's scholarship will cover her tuition for one year at SIUE.
* The faculty/staff recipient is Lakesha M. Butler, a clinical associate professor of pharmacy. Butler was nominated for her volunteer work with Ark of Safety Christian Church in St. Charles, Mo.; Christian Women Walking in Victory; and Girls Empowered in Math and Science, or GEMS.
Butler helped organize the pharmacy school's annual Diversity Summer Camp Program, and is dedicated to improving minority access to the health care profession, according to Gold Uche, president of the SIUE Student National Pharmaceutical Association.
* The Special Populations recipient is Mary Anne Hopper, of Waterloo, a longtime volunteer with Girl Scouts of Southern Illinois. She has been a Scout leader, cookie manager, troop organizer, camp director and service unit director. In addition, she volunteers with the Boy Scouts, St. Louis Baseball Team and many other boards and committees.
"Mary Anne's whole life is committed to service for others," said nominator Kimberly Williams Lee.
The Kimmel Awards were given out Wednesday at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.
Contact reporter Elizabeth Donald at firstname.lastname@example.org or 239-2507.