The second annual Teen Court “Herstory” event brought 300 guests – many of them in their teens – to the Westin.
Teen Court began in 1988 as a pre-arrest alternative to Juvenile Court, allowing at-risk youth a second chance. It is based on the philosophy that young defendants are less likely to re-offend when their sentence is determined by a jury of their peers. All participating members in Teen Court are youth from our community and sentencing may include up to 50 community service hours, up to six jury duties, Peer Circle sessions, drug testing and letters of apology. Programs reach more than 4,000 youth each year.
Following dinner for the teens and light bites for everyone else, guests moved into the ballroom to hear a keynote address from Michael Saunders, followed by a panel discussion (led by Joey Panek) featuring Sarasota MayorShelli Freeland Eddie, lawyer Deborah Blue and lawyer Camile Campagna.
First, event co-chair Heather Todd presented the volunteer of the year award to Teen Attorney Rachel Kalmanovich, whom she described as “a force to be reckoned with in the courtroom.“
Then Saunders took center stage, sharing some of her own story. “We are all exposed to someone who said, ‘I believe in you,’ ‘yes, you can,’ and ‘I will be by your side,’ and we all need that person in our life,” Saunders said. “How you deal with the choices you are given in life is what really makes the difference,” she said, especially when faced with rough patches, challenges and disappointments. She used the example of Katy McBrayer, who, after a serious of bad life choices, found hersself in the Teen Court system. She successfully made it through Teen Court and went on to become one of the top agents at Michael Saunders & Company. Saunders also discussed her core values: integrity and a commitment to excellence, a positive attitude, commitment, tenacity and focus (“meaning you never, ever, ever give up”), and effective face-to-face communication … all of which led her to discover her passion in life. Saunders remembered that one of her first jobs while she was in college was as a bean counter (counting, weighing and packaging beans). “It was boring and repetitive, but I was the best bean counter the Department of Agriculture ever had,” she said. Today, she says, she still passionately pursues her dreams and says the legacy she hopes to leave is that she made a difference.
Seen at the event were co-chairs Emma Joels and Heather Todd (event chair Mary Dougherty was caught in bad weather up north and could not make it home for the event), Katy Mcbrayer, Lashelle Williams, Jen Rust, Lee Byron, Marlo Turner, Debbi Benedict and Marina Calandra, Wendy Hopkins, Donna Koffman, John Chapman and Kathryn Carr, as well as Teen Court volunteers and clients and teens from the Sherriff’s Activities League, the Booker High Law Academy, Boys & Girls Clubs and the Sarasota Military Academy, and many more.
Katy McBrayer, Heather Todd, Emily Harris and Michael Saunders.
PHOTO BY WENDY DEWHURST-CLARK