By Christine Baker, TSB Contributor
“Would you like to pay a fine or complete community service?”
When the judge asks this question to any young adult who is facing a conviction in court, the answer is simple:
When adolescents are sentenced to community service, they report to the one and only Shelai Mullins, the juvenile case manger. Under the wonderful care of Shelai, the kids are offered opportunities to complete hours by cleaning up schools, cleaning up Towne Lake, participating at Meals On Wheels, and going to the local animal shelters.
“I really wanted to get involved when providers and people were turning kids away because they were criminals,” Shelai Mullins said. “I didn’t like it that they felt defeated, so I applied for a grant about three years ago with the vision to work hand-in-hand with the kids. We don’t want them to not think court is scary because we don’t want them to come back, but at the same time we want them to know we are here to help them.”
Once a week Shelai will text or email the kids details about local service projects to help them get their hours done. She also provides drinks and snacks for the kids, and numbers usually range from about 5 to 20 kids.
“We’ve helped make blankets for kids to keep in the back of their cars, written letters to soldiers, decorated cookies and delivered them to different locations all around McKinney, and we’ve done Meals On Wheels,” Shelai said. “These kids work their butts off, they’re really good kids.”
Although most kids are completing service hours for a class C misdemeanor which requires about 10 to 30 hours, others are there for green chord hours or just because they want to help out.
“The most fun thing we’ve done is the Texas Trash off,” Shelai said. “We were Team Awesome, and we won the most recycling award and all of the kids got iTunes gift cards for it.”
During the summer, the group usually meets in the morning form 7:30-10 a.m. and during the school year from 3:30-6 p.m. They are also trying to find more diverse places to volunteer such as museums, libraries and other local places around McKinney. So, if you have a project for this group to become involved with, don’t hesitate to call Mrs. Mullins.
“I really want to find more diverse places, so they can be interested and move on,” Shelai said. “Some people, like the library, won’t even let us come volunteer because the kids got tickets.”
Although some of the kids are in trouble, they’re trying to fix it. And lets face the facts: Every teenager gets in trouble. It’s completely normal, and volunteering with Shelai seems like the best way to get out into the community and find something you love. The kids involved benefit tremendously from the program and learn a lot in the end.
“It’s actually really cool because we get to go downtown and to museums to clean up,” volunteer Stefan Franco said. “I’m close to Shelai and she hooks us up with some cool stuff I’ve never done before. She’s really cool and always thinking about us. She really feels for us and she’s not mean.”
As a whole, the community service program is beneficial to kids, because they get to travel the area and experience a variety of activities, more things, more than just cleaning up the park every now and then. Shelai really cares about the kids and only wants what’s best for them and wants them to learn from their experience by finding something they love — whether it’s a passion for animals after volunteering at a shelter or becoming a lifeguard after working a city event at the pools. I even took a trip out to one of their projects and everyone was so positive and nice even though it was about 8 a.m., and for teens that’s not exactly easy.
“I want something that sticks and I want it to be something that lasts, not just a clean up project, these aren’t bad kids.” Shelai said.