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The Daily Sentinel 

The Lighthouse Project is an intervention/education program for kids in Mesa County Valley School District 51’s truancy, suspension and expulsion programs that gives kids and families resources similar to those offered by the DA’s Office’s juvenile diversion program such as anger management, substance abuse counseling and mentorship. It was launched in January 2022.

“Hopefully trying to help them when kids start to miss school, capturing that to figure out what is driving that behavior, supporting that so they can attend school, not start substances, not commit crimes, et cetera,” DA’s Office Director of Diversion Jacque Berry said.

The goal of the program is to steer kids away from committing crimes so they avoid the court system.

Since the program’s inception, 46 kids have graduated, Lighthouse Program Director Berry said, which means they have met the goals the families and the program have for the kids.

“That could be making sure they have advocacy at school, making sure they meet their school goals, it could be a job, it could be parenting, co-parenting with two different houses, all of those things come into play when people graduate,” Berry said.

Currently, Lighthouse has 25 kids enrolled in the program ranging from ages five to 17. The DA’s Office also has about 103 juvenile diversion cases that are not part of Lighthouse, District Attorney Dan Rubinstein said.

This year, the program has two social worker interns creating a peer support network for people who have graduated from the program. It also has six mentors from Colorado Mesa University. Lighthouse’s offices are located on CMU’s campus.

The program is free for families, who must opt-in, and is almost entirely funded by grants or money from the state of Colorado’s opioid settlement, Rubinstein said.

“There are resources in our community but they’re sometimes difficult to navigate for families,” Berry said.

Berry said over the coming school year she hopes Lighthouse continues to grow and collaborate with other partners in the community and D51.

Lighthouse is also working on expanding the number of programs offered.

Juvenile Diversion Coordinator and Lighthouse Program Navigator Jasmine Hill said those programs include a theft and vandalism workshop that multiple kids can go through at once in which kids complete worksheets about the economy, theft and vandalism and talk to store owners about how those issues have affected them.

“I was seeing an influx of theft and vandalism cases popping up, and at first I was assigning different things around theft and vandalism to try and get something to click or to stick so that it would be memorable,” Hill said. “But there were so many and I was like ‘something’s gotta give.’ ”

Hill has also created an emotional regulation class for the program.

Berry said the posting of private images is a trend Lighthouse has had to respond to since the program started, and the program is putting together workshops and information for kids and parents about social media.

Another class Lighthouse has been involved in is rethinking substances, a class in which kids work to identify the impact substances have had on their families and communities, and work to remedy those impacts, Berry said.

“It is really cool to see all our programs tie together in the fact that they’re focused on impact, repairing the harm, and every single program we’ve been able to offer so far has hit home on all of those,” Hill said.

Berry said the program has found in a lot of the cases the issues with the kids in the program are environment-based.

“I don’t think there’s one case that I can think of where it’s just the kid,” berry said. “And from all socioeconomic backgrounds. There’s usually something at the core of that that happens that is not resolved, for whatever reason.”

Rubinstein said that unlike other programs such as juvenile diversion or truancy, which are focused on the individual kid, Lighthouse is able to more address environmental and family-type issues.

“I think it’s just a lot more flexible to actually address what’s going on,” Rubinstein said.

Hill said one goal of the program is to get kids involved in something positive to benefit society.

“When kids really hear that their behavior impacts people that are close to them that they say they love, it seems to have a different impact,” Berry said. “That’s our whole thing.”

District Attorney
Homemade sign by Lighthouse participant on Bullying.