In this issue…
- Holiday traditions return
- Youth deliver holiday trees to CDCR Secretary
- At 91, longtime DJJ volunteer won’t slow down
- Ventura superintendents retire
Managers Give Back to Staff as Holiday Tradition Resumes
How sweet it was as a long holiday tradition of managers serving staff a sumptuous holiday feast resumed at the Division of Juvenile Justice this year, after a two year hiatus due to COVID 19. At the Northern California Youth Correctional Facility in Stockton, managers and executives arrived at “zero dark thirty” on December 8 to set up and prepare to serve omelets and waffles cooked to order to staff finishing first watch and staff arriving for their day shifts in custody, programming, education, administration and facilities management. Staff were greeted by jolly elves, who shepherded with good cheer through serving lines and staged photo backdrops.
At Ventura Youth Correctional Facility, Community Resources Manager, management staff and chaplains organized a southern style brunch of chicken and waffles, biscuits and gravy, grits and shrimp, along with breakfast staples of eggs, sausage, fruit salad, cakes and delectable pastries; all while jolly Kris Kringle stood duty for photos and handed out raffle prizes.
Each table had a colorfully lit centerpiece with overhead decorations, and the Ventura “Old Visiting” hall was transformed into a holiday extravaganza complete with karaoke area for wannabe crooners singing holiday favorites and a yule log backdrop for photos. DJJ youth created a life sized sleigh of corrugated cardboard to complete the holiday tableau.
DJJ Director Heather Bowlds attended each event, addressing the assembled with a message of thanks in the knowledge that with this will be the last holiday gathering before juvenile justice realignment brings the Division to a close next June.
At Ventura, it was truly bitter-sweet as Superintendent Maria Harper and Assistant Superintendent Jennie Dillon are both retiring this month, and were honored at the luncheon for their decades of service. The holiday events were paid for entirely with donations from DJJ staff managers. Door prizes were donated by the California Correctional Peace Officers Association.
From Pine Grove to Sacramento, a holiday tradition continues
Every year, youth from the Pine Grove Youth Conservation Camp deliver fresh cut holiday trees from Amador County to Division of Juvenile Justice facilities and CDCR headquarters in Sacramento. This year, they performed that delivery on December 7, and were greeted warmly by CDCR Secretary Kathleen Allison.
Traditionally, Pine Grove youth create and donate more than 1,000 pine cone wreaths for distribution to Amador County businesses.
Due to declining population at the camp as DJJ realigns to counties, that project had to be abandoned this year. While DJJ facilities are set to close by June 30, 2023, Pine Grove will remain open to train justice-involved youth sent from contracting counties as wildland firefighters under the supervision of CAL FIRE.
In January 2023, Pine Grove will transfer to the Department of Adult Institutions and continue to train youth as wildland firefighters under contracts between counties and CDCR. Current DJJ youth may still go to Pine Grove if they qualify and their county has an agreement in place.
For more on Pine Grove, the oldest continuously operating fire camp in California, watch this video, called A Special Place. https://www.cdcr.ca.gov/juvenile-justice/facility-locations/pine-grove/
Longtime Youth Volunteer Has No Plans to Stop
It was 1989 when teacher Grace Martinez was nearing retirement and began looking for a community service project. She found her calling at the Ventura Youth Correctional Facility (VYCF) in Camarillo, in the surrogate parent program in which she legally stood in for parents of youth who had no one in order to make key educational decisions.
33 years later, the 91 year old is still at it, as a dedicated volunteer tutor, mentor, and officer in the Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC) at VYCF. The CAC meets regularly with youth and annually awards tens of thousands of dollars in scholarships for youth to continue higher educational and vocational pursuits after leaving DJJ.
Ms. Martinez loves the interaction with youth, especially imparting her passion for reading, which she taught in public schools during her career. She continues to tutor youth two nights a week at Ventura in reading, writing and math. “The best part is making connections with the youth. I’ve always found it very rewarding. I’ve enjoyed every minute of it.”
In her spare time, Grace enjoys reading for pleasure. “There’s nothing better than curling up with a good book,” she says.
Even though DJJ is closing, Martinez say the CAC will remain active, and invites former youth to write to them, especially if they have educational needs that the CAC might be able to support financially.
Maria Harper, Jennie Dillon retire at Ventura
Maria Harper, Superintendent at Ventura Youth Correctional Facility (VYCF), and Jenny Dillon, Assistant Superintendent have retired, effective December 16. After 26 years of dedicated service to the Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ), Ms. Harper originally retired in September 2018. When asked to assist, she returned in February 2019 as a Retired Annuitant to act as the Superintendent at VYCF. She returned again in August, 2022 to serve as Acting Superintendent.
Maria began with the California Youth Authority/DJJ in November 1991. Working at Ventura for her entire career following military service in the U.S. Air Force, she started as a Youth Correctional Officer, promoting to Sergeant, Senior Youth Correctional Counselor, Lieutenant, Treatment Team Supervisor, and Youth Authority Administrator. Maria was the Superintendent from June 2017 until her retirement.
DJJ Director Heather Bowlds noted that Maria’s contributions were “vital in the implementation of the Integrated Behavior Treatment Model (IBTM) at VYCF. Maria’s leadership, knowledge, and commitment to the youth and Ventura staff will truly be missed.”
After almost 18 years of dedicated service to DJJ, the Assistant Superintendent at VYCF Jennie Dillon retired. Jennie has been with DJJ since January 2005. She began her career as a Casework Specialist at VYCF promoting through the ranks of Supervising Casework Specialist, and Program Administrator to her current position as Assistant Superintendent. She also served as Acting Superintendent.
Director Bowds said, “Jennie’s leadership, experience, and commitment to the youth and VYCF staff will sorely be missed. I would personally like to thank Jennie for her service to DJJ and wish her continued good health and happiness in her retirement.”
In their absence, George Castellanos will serve as the Acting Superintendent and Cynthia Brown will serve as the Acting Assistant Superintendent for Ventura.