State Sen. Ventura attends opening of PEACE Center in St. Charles

State Senator Rachel Ventura recently chose two young adults to serve as interns through a new program in partnership with the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice at the Illinois Youth Center facility in St. Charles.

ST. CHARLES – The Illinois Youth Center in St. Charles recently transitioned to the Phoenix Emerging Adult Career and Education Center, where incarcerated young adults can learn career skills and develop independence to prepare them for their release.

The program is for young adults ages 17 to 20 who are incarcerated at the St. Charles Department of Juvenile Justice facility. The PEACE Center is located at 3825 Campton Hills Road.

State Sen. Rachel Ventura, D-Joliet, has two young adults serving as interns through a program she started with the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice at the former Illinois Youth Center. The program is the only DJJ internship with a state legislator.

The following information is from a recent news release written by one of the young adults interning with Ventura as part of the PEACE Center program. Names of participants and staff have been removed for privacy.

According to the release, the PEACE Center program allows young adults to pick their own position and work schedule and work alongside staff members to develop life skills and gain experience in a field they are interested in. The program allows staff to work one on one with incarcerated youths and was made possible in part by the recently decreasing number of incarcerated youths.

“I’m happy that we finally have a program like this,” one PEACE Center staff member said in the release. “I have been here for years and never imagined our numbers would get this low and we would be able to do something of this nature with this space. It’s a good thing for the youth here.

“Those that are a part of the program can better themselves so that when they leave the PEACE Center, they can have something to do in the future. It also helps them transition more smoothly back into the community as they can use what they have learned to keep them on track.”

Some of the options offered in the program include Simlog (a forklift simulator program), Youthbuild (a construction program), a financial literacy class, life skills, peace circles, virtual reality classes, Nova Driving School and college classes through Northwestern and Elgin Community College.

PEACE Center youths are able to leave the facility at times to visit the workplaces or shadow a student at the colleges, accompanied by guards, according to the release.

Staff engages with the youth and ensures their needs are being met on a regular basis, which helps the participating young adults in the program feel independent and reassured about their participation despite their unfamiliarity, according to the release.

Picking my own schedule gives me a sense of control versus being told what to do,” one participant said.

“One of the things I have been focused on is trying to get my personal trainer certificate so that when I am done with the program, I can have that in my background,” one intern said. “This program is being offered exclusively at the PEACE Center through NIU. I know it’s a lot of work that I must put in to know more about the body and to find out how every muscle works and what they can do.”

PEACE Center staff also commented on the benefits of the program for the facility.

“This feels like a different space now to work in. A lot calmer than months ago,” one PEACE Center staff member said. “The youth are actually staying busy and engaging in more things to occupy their time.”

“I’ve been running programs here for a few years and it feels good to just focus on an older population and be able to give them the skills necessary to survive and do well once they are released,” another PEACE Center staff member said. “We haven’t really had that in abundance here and I’m glad to be a part of the change.”

The PEACE Center is a space that allows young adults in the juvenile system to be housed and will give them more opportunities than they ever saw possible, according to the release.