Each Tuesday and Thursday afternoon, the Knox County Public Defender’s Community Law Office (CLO) opens its doors to youth in the community. Three programs – Summer at the CLO, The Arts Academy, and The Zone – are designed to prevent delinquency by providing fun experiences that encourage healthy choices, increase self-esteem, and develop positive relationships.  Developed in 2002, with an average attendance of less than 15 students, reaching out to youth living near the CLO and not served by other agencies has resulted in more than 150 youth currently participating. The programs expose youth to a wide range of topics and experiences, such as literacy enhancement, art, dance, music, theater, cooking, gardening, and fitness and health.  Middle school students enjoy life skill classes and “career days”, designed to increase academic skills, critical thinking, reasoning, and to inspire students to set high goals and work toward achievement.  Community service activities are incorporated throughout the curriculum to facilitate youth learning the importance of giving back.

CLO staff, community volunteers, and high school and college students are critical for program success as well as enhancing the “community component” of the CLO.  Over 90 volunteers have dedicated their time to work with the youth.  Program partners from the community including professional artists, university instructors, and other volunteers join together to make these programs the best they can be.

This school year will include several exciting new projects. CLO attorneys will teach classes focused on the legal system. During three sessions, students will have mini-courtroom role-plays portraying attorneys, judges, defendants, and plaintiffs. Classes taught by the CLO’s own “Mad Scientist” Issac Merkle. (IT Director) will allow hands-on projects that stimulate curiosity and interest in discovery and principles of science. Cake decorating and stained glass classes will encourage creativity and practicality in art forms. Following First Lady Michelle Obama’s initiative on gardening and healthy eating, the students will have an on-site raised garden to grow, harvest, and eat herbs and vegetables.  A computer room under construction will provide a place to do homework, take computer enrichment classes, play games and listen to music.

CLO staff are very proud of the youth in these programs and are honored that they have been selected to display their artwork at the Knoxville Museum of Art throughout the month of February.  The children’s artwork is displayed throughout the CLO. The older students have been selected to participate in a community fundraiser at the Knoxville Museum of Art called Pottery With A Purpose.  The students’ decorated and glazed ceramic dishes will be auctioned during a series of special display events.  Money raised will outfit a kiln for the museum’s youth art education program, thus is another opportunity for students to learn about the importance of giving back to the community.

The CLO youth programs are much more than a daycare lasting a few hours each week.  The CLO is a safe place where youth can participate, experience pride in achievement, and feel a sense of belonging.  It’s a place where they learn and have fun.  Perhaps, most important, it’s a place where they can form lasting, positive relationships with adults and peers.

The CLO youth programs are grant-funded by the East Tennessee Foundation.  For more information about these programs visit www.pdknox.org.