Three Newton County youth are proud new graduates of the county Juvenile Drug Court, and have many people who are proud of their transitions.
Before presenting the new graduates to a large crowd in the Division 1 courtroom in the Newton County Courthouse Wednesday afternoon, 40th Circuit Court Judge Timothy Perigo praised the trio for making a great turnaround in their lives.
But first, Bill Reiboldt, Dist. 160 State Rep., told the new graduates that they are fortunate to have this opportunity to correct some things at a young age and get their lives in order. Reiboldt said the program initiated by Perigo 15 years ago has been remarkable for the state.
“I’m reminded in Jefferson City that not everyone has this program, so we are so thankful it is available in my district, and I’m so happy that you all are graduating today,” said Reiboldt.
Perigo first introduced McKenzie.
“She turned her life around. She focused on school work and extracurricular activities, a cheerleader,” he said. “She’s really a good student.”
McKenzie addressed the crowded courtroom. “I want to thank the drug court team and everyone who supported me through what I went through,” she said.
Perigo announced that she had received support through the process from family and the school system.
“It’s been a journey, but we’re proud of Phoenix,” noted Perigo when introducing new graduate Phoenix Newman, who received support from his parents and grandmother. He thanked Mom for pushing him to strive for better, and the drug court team for not giving up on him. “I had a few hiccups, many times,” explained Newman.
He related that he went into the program hating those who put him into it.
“Actually being in here for about a year and a half, realizing that I was pretty much getting into trouble all the time and leading myself into a bad place – and looking where I could have gone – makes everything look good,” Newman said. “I feel so much better about myself. The drug court has helped so much, helping me motivate myself to strive for better. I want to thank all of them so much.”
Newman admitted his decision-making has improved dramatically since undergoing the program.
“Before it was all about what I wanted and being very selfish and into drugs and that kind of thing,” he said. “But now I actually want to have a life instead of living day-to-day and paycheck-to-paycheck, I want to go to college. Before I didn’t even want to, and I actually want to have a life now.”
Perigo said Kati Taylor showed no emotions when he first began to work with her, and through counseling she has made great strides. He said Taylor actually qualified for Juvenile Drug Court graduation in May.
“But she’s such a good student,” Perigo boasted, “she qualified for the national debate tournament and was at nationals during that time.”
Taylor thanked Marilyn Nolan with Options Outpatient Counseling of Joplin the most for her progress.
“Because she’s the one that kind of kicked me in gear to get this entire program working for me,” she said.
She also thanked family and friends who help support her through the program.
Taylor indicated that is was “really weird” starting the drug court program, being stereotyped as a bad kid.
“When you graduate, people look at you like, ‘Oh, you’re not a bad kid, you just make some bad mistakes,’” Taylor continued, “Trying to change the stigma that people have put on to you – that stereotype – and it’s really cool to change that around and see how things really work in the aftermath – like how you thought and how you think now.”
Taylor said her name is the same as before she entered the program, but her attitude has completely flip-flopped. She feels her future looks bright.
“If I told you my college plans, we would not stop talking for about 10 minutes!” said Taylor.
Nolan commended the new graduates. “I’m extremely proud of these young people who came from nowhere to somewhere.”
Alissa Hendricks, drug court administrator, informed that the drug court team, headed by Perigo, includes representatives of the juvenile office, prosecutor’s office, and treatment providers.
Perigo announced that the Newton County Juvenile Drug Court will raise funds this Saturday in downtown Neosho, selling snow cones and popcorn during the Summer Social on the Square in the afternoon as a team youth compete in the Bathtub Races, and he said they will have drinks available during the Cinema in the Park when The Lego Movie is shown on the big screen in Big Spring Park beginning at dusk.