Not your typical Interact club
Top: Virginia Barr, (left) liaison to the Interact Club of Communities-in-Schools at the South Carolina Department of Juvenile Justice, and club adviser Andy Broughton (far right), with members of the club on a park service project. Bottom: Quantavis and Delsean work on improving the park. Photos courtesy of Andy Broughton
Members of the Interact Club of Communities-in-Schools at the South Carolina Department of Juvenile Justice, USA, have one of the most unusual meeting places.
The club convenes inside the juvenile correctional facility in Columbia and is composed of youth offenders who are participating in the facility's Communities in Schools curriculum.
The Interact club was launched by the Rotary Club of Lake Murray-Irmo in November 2006.
"We asked the club if they would be willing to support such an Interact club," says Virginia Barr, president of the Lake Murray-Irmo club and director of the Office of Community Justice at the Department of Juvenile Justice. The Rotarians already had a track record of service projects with the department.
"There were a lot of questions at first," Barr acknowledges, "but also a lot of support. Bernie Riedel, who was then our district governor, was 100 percent behind the idea and pushed for it. The director of the agency also strongly supported the notion." Ultimately, the club obtained all the necessary approvals.
The Interact club has some unique rules. Offenders who want to join must maintain a certain level of behavior or be removed from membership, Barr says. They can, however, be reinstated if they reform.
Because of these requirements, and because some members may be serving a short sentence, membership tends to be more fluid than a typical club. Barr says the club selects new officers every three months. "We want them all to have a chance at leadership."
Barr and Andy Broughton, another employee of the Department of Juvenile Justice who serves as adviser, attend the club's meetings. Once a year, Lake Murray-Irmo Rotarians are also invited to take part inside the center. Some offenders are occasionally allowed to come speak to the Rotary club.
Barr said Interact's mission fits nicely with the goals of the Juvenile Justice Department. "What we are trying to do is create a new normal for them, a sense of normalcy," she says. "Interact provides a lot of what they are trying to teach them. The goal is for them to not just be a law-abiding citizen, but a productive, contributing citizen."
The Interact club recently had a chance to tell the world its story by participating in Rotary International's first Interact video contest. The club's video, "Giving Back Through Interact," took the grand prize of being featured in Interactive.
"They came up with the idea for and all the material in the video," says Barr. "They said, 'What we need to do is show the transformation.' It took guts for them to take that approach. Some of them have hard stories to tell.
"This video showed us just how much of an impact we have made," she adds.
The Interact club has also had another success story. The Rotarians began a mentoring program that matches an offender with a Rotarian. One of the first arrangements paired a police chief with an offender who had committed assault and battery with intent to kill. The mentoring relationship has worked out beautifully, and the youth, who served as president of the Interact club, is now attending South Carolina State University, majoring in mathematics on a scholarship from the state. The Rotary club chipped in to cover the student's books and fees.
Learn more about Interact