December 2013

Youthful offenders program helps to keep dreams alive ...

Participants in many Diakon Wilderness Center and Diakon Youth Services programs take part in challenge activities on the high-ropes course at the Boiling Springs, Pa., center.

“It was absolutely life-changing. It was, by far, the hardest, most physically and mentally challenging thing I’ve ever done in my life.”

That’s how “Bill,” a 23-year-old, describes his experience in the Youthful Offender Program, a 30-day wilderness-based service offered by the Diakon Wilderness Center near Boiling Springs, Pa.

Developed in conjunction with the Bucks County probation office, the program targets first-time, non-violent offenders ages 18 to 24 facing a felony conviction. If they successfully complete the program, the felony is reduced to a misdemeanor, giving them a second chance at turning their lives around.

Program participants spend 30 days living outdoors, where they complete challenging physical and emotional activities under the guidance of specially trained staff. Throughout the experience they share responsibilities, learn problem-solving and communication skills, and overcome fears as they create a foundation for their successful return to home and community.

“I came into the program with a positive mindset, not addicted to drugs,” Bill says. “I had already begun the process of changing.”

“It has given me the ambition to pursue my dreams.”

Because his accomplishments were so rewarding, Bill did not want to take a step backward following program completion. “I didn’t want to forget what had happened on the Youthful Offenders course, what I had learned,” he says. “I wanted to keep it fresh.”

The answer was Diakon’s Flight Program. This voluntary, award-winning program provides opportunities for young adults served by Diakon or similar programs but who have aged out of eligibility for referral to juvenile services. Since its creation in 2009, Flight has helped many at-risk youths to obtain college educations and meaningful employment.

The program is a good fit for graduates of the Youthful Offenders Program and currently includes four who have completed the course, says Matt Reichard, manager of the Flight Program.

“They are dealing with the same kind of struggles or temptations, when it comes to drug and alcohol history, as the other participants,” he says. “They keep one another accountable. They call, text or check-in with each other.”

Traveling from Bucks County to Carlisle every other weekend to share meals, talk about the good and bad things that have happened, to share constructive criticism, and to participate in community service projects with other Flight members has made him more accountable, Bill believes.

“It is quite a trip for me to come out here,” he says, adding that planning something and following through on it is a big achievement. “Prior to the Youthful Offenders course, I had trouble keeping dates, appointments and plans.”

Today Bill is employed full-time and has re-enrolled in college, something just a short time ago he didn’t think would be possible for him.

“Being part of the group, talking, doing the things we do are probably the most important aspects of Flight,” he says. The program “has given me the ambition to pursue not only the goals I set previously, but also my dreams.”

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Board member serves organization he visited as a child

Larry Delp, left, with Diakon President/CEO Mark Pile. Delp retires from the Diakon Lutheran Fund Board of Directors the end of 2013, but will continue as a member of two other Diakon boards.

Long before Larry Delp walked into his first meeting as a member of the Diakon Lutheran Fund Board of Directors, he walked the campus of The Lutheran Home at Topton. As a boy, he often tagged along while his father, a Lutheran minister, visited members of his congregation there.

It’s therefore a special pleasure for him to serve the organization of which The Lutheran Home at Topton is a part as a member of various organizational boards of directors.

As he completes his membership on the Diakon Lutheran Fund board, Delp reflects on his service and what draws people to Diakon. The Diakon Lutheran Fund is the oldest of Diakon’s boards, carrying a direct lineage to one of the orphanages on which Diakon was founded.

“It’s important for me as a board member to work with an organization that has a positive image and reputation,” he says. “Diakon has the benefit of nearly a century-and-a-half of a fine reputation. It’s also important for me to be committed to the mission of the organization, as I am with Diakon.”

He praises Diakon for the diversity of membership on its various boards, with people coming from all walks of life and backgrounds. The effort to include that diversity brings varying perspectives together, often making for lively discussions, he says. He further values the regular interaction the board has with Diakon’s senior management.

“It’s exciting that, after all these years, Diakon is still growing and thriving.”

“There is a cross-pollination of skill-sets that is a real advantage,” says Delp, who has 40 years of experience in the banking industry. “I like—and think other board members like—the idea that we have influence and are helping the organization move forward.”

His time on the Diakon Lutheran Fund board spanned some rough years economically. The organization weathered the challenges, he notes, and stayed true to its mission to maintain a financially sound foundation.

“We operate Diakon very conservatively,” he explains. “But there were impacts: We had to change some strategies, re-evaluate some missions. At the end of the day, a business needs to be looked at from an economic view. We want to be there to serve as many people as we can for many years to come.”

Diakon’s nearly 150-year mission of care and concern for the neighbor invites people to join with the organization, Delp believes. He has met the most dedicated individuals, he adds, both among Diakon employees and volunteers. He believes Diakon donors are impressed by the breadth of services and the integrity of the organization. Many have personal connections, such as a loved one having received care, or they like the organization’s affiliation with the Lutheran church.

“We touch many people living in our communities and we serve a broad geographic area,” he says. “It’s exciting that, after all these years, Diakon is still growing and thriving.”

Delp’s commitment to Diakon is not ending with his current role on the Diakon Lutheran Fund board. He remains a member of the Diakon Lutheran Social Ministries board, where he just completed a multi-year role as board chair. In 2014, he also begins a first three-year term on the overarching Diakon board. In addition, his father, now a senior living resident at Topton, has remained a consistant, important, and valued supporter of the organization.

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