Indraloka’s Hopeful Heroes initiative presents opportunities to low income, at-risk teens, many of whom are homeless, in the areas of art, music, technology, and physical activity-– subjects that have been removed from their schools in entirety– in an inclusive setting that teaches compassion, kindness, and self-awareness. The program creates a safe haven for the youth, promoting healing and growth in every way, empowering the youth to better advocate for themselves and their community. This program aims to change the lives of numerous teens, and in turn, the ripple has the potential to expand outward infinitely. As the program develops, the goal is to foster a connection with a cohort of at-risk children and youth through weekly learning opportunities, integrating their strengths and passions with those of the sanctuary, empowering the youth to create programs of their own to advocate for the animals, themselves, and the community at large. The sanctuary continues to establish relationships with nonprofits and schools in order to expand our reach.
Specifically, this program provides healthy well-balanced meals for children who otherwise cannot afford food. It teaches nutrition, cooking skills, and encourages physical activity; promotes self-care, in turn, greater self-awareness, more confidence, and problem-solving skills; creates an opportunity to actively engage in art, music, and other forms of creative expression; and encourages youth to develop healthy relationships with peers, rescued animals, and leaders within the community, teaching lifelong lessons on how to set healthy boundaries, to express feelings and thoughts, and to listen. Above all, this program advocates for kindness, respect, and compassion towards all beings.
The objectives of the Hopeful Heroes initiative for at-risk youth include (but are not limited to) the following:
- Empowering youth to explore lifelong skills that can lead to earning their high school diploma, post-high school education, employment, and giving back to their communities as positive role models and leaders, becoming lifelong learners.
- Encouraging greater self-awareness, leading to higher self-esteem, which will help students perform better and thus enrich their experiences within the public-school setting.
- Instilling kindness towards self and others.
- Guiding empathy, leading to making safer and more humane choices for the good of the individual, the organizations, the community as a whole, and beyond.
- Providing creative outlets in the arts and humanities, in turn exploring healthy ways to express feelings and emotions.
- Teaching health and wellness through basic nutrition, cooking skills, gardening, and physical activity, all within the spectrum of sciences.
- Facilitating physical/emotional/spiritual healing by creating a non-judgmental inclusive safe space for the teens.
- Exploring technology through photography with the use of digital cameras and software on laptops.
- Teaching environmental principles that lead to a healthier planet, thus healthier happier people.
- Lessons on nutrition, physical activity, health, environment, animal behavior, rescue, meditation, compassion, and so much more.
- All of the listed trip components reinforce expectations within the school systems- whether academic, social, emotional coping skills or behavior.
As part of our initiative for at-risk youth, we offer a Juvenile Diversion program for local juvenile probation offices. Juvenile offenders and their probation officers can work with Indraloka staff to care for the animal residents. We will encourage the youths to connect with the animals and the world around them through personal interactions, stories, and physical activities. The goal is to provide the education, foundation, and resources needed to avoid re-entering the justice system, lowering Lackawanna and Wyoming Counties’ high recidivism rates.
According to a 2013 report from Pennsylvania Juvenile Court Judges’ Commission, “one in every four juvenile offenders from Lackawanna County who had a case that closed in 2007 committed another misdemeanor or felony within two years.” The county’s 25 percent recidivism rate among young offenders easily topped the state average of 20 percent and was the second-highest in Northeast Pennsylvania, behind only Wyoming County at 28 percent.”Recidivism is defined as a subsequent delinquency adjudication or conviction in criminal court for either a misdemeanor or felony offense within two years of case closure. The Lackawanna County Juvenile Division handles between 600 and 700 cases per year, meaning that on average, between 150 and 175 juveniles will commit another crime. Indraloka’s new campus location is strategically situated, spanning both of these counties.
Countless studies have shown that education and diversion programs, especially focused on humane education, are highly effective in lowering rates of recidivism, and for this reason, Indraloka will include a juvenile diversion initiative to its growing list of Hopeful Heroes curriculum. The purpose of diversion programs is to redirect youthful offenders from the justice system through activities, supervision, and supports. The strategy of Indraloka’s Juvenile Diversion initiative will be to provide nonviolent criminal offenders under the age of 18 with activities designed for skill-building, developing one’s work ethic, compassionate living, earning and giving respect, and treating others and ourselves with kindness, with the goal of reducing recidivism from 25-28% to less than 10% and eventually less than 5%.