YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – An idea borne seven years ago to help veterans in trouble with the law continues to grow.
Mahoning County’s Honor Court provides resources and other assistance to service veterans who’ve been charged with non-violent felonies. Those who successfully complete the program have their indictments dismissed and their records cleared. The court has seen more than three dozen veterans from around the region graduate.
Marine Corps veteran Derick Young was asked to oversee the specialty court when it began and continues to serve as the Veteran Honor Court’s Director.
“I was kind of thrown into this position,” said Young. “I didn’t think that I was qualified at all.”
Right around the same time, Veteran Jack Russell signed on to be one of the group’s first mentors.
“Your service to your country never ends just because you’re discharged,” said Russell.
Directors say the Court focuses on one-on-one mentoring to help the participants find the right path. That mentorship means not only advocating for the veterans but also listening to them.
“The mentors are probably the most important part of our program because they are literally veterans helping veterans,” said Young. “There’s so many people out there. So many veterans that are out there that don’t realize that these resources are available to them.
Directors say often many of those veterans return too proud to ask for help if they even know where to turn for it.
“You have to be extremely kind in those situations,” said Russell. “Because support of that may be the only resolution at that time.”
Judge Anthony D’Apolito presides over the court and once the candidates successfully complete the program, their charges are dismissed and their records are cleared, the transformation is unmistakable.
“You can see it on their faces. You can see a confidence. You can see a happiness,” said Judge D’Apolito. “You can see things that were lacking at first and you know they’re ready.”
Directors admit service members spend months and even years learning to effectively fight and kill an enemy.
“But then one day, they’re let back into civilian life,” said Russell. “When you see them graduate–that’s really, you know, what motivates you to do one more.”
That success has inspired some of the graduates to pay it forward themselves like Jessica Wolfe who completed the program last July and will become the third to return as a mentor to help others much like herself.
Judge D’Apolito calls Young and Russell the heart and soul of the court saying if they weren’t a part of it, the program might not exist. He says Russell continues to serve at the age of 79 and even refuses to take a salary.
“He doesn’t give because he wants recognition,” said Judge D’apolito. “He doesn’t give because he wants acclaim. He gives because it’s duty.”