Kathy Welsh

Kathy Welsh

WHITE PLAINS – After several years of letter writing, petition signing, forums, news articles, social media campaigns and lobby days in Albany, the legislation known as Raise the Age of Criminal Responsibility from 16 to 18 (RTA), passed the New York State Legislature, this spring.

Mary Jane Shimsky, County Leg., Cora Greenberg, WCA Exec Dir. Omar Herrara – Ossining resident. Photo by Reese Williams

As the lead agency in Westchester County for the statewide campaign, Westchester Children’s Association (WCA) made the passage of this legislation the focus of their annual summer celebration on July 18.  The summer celebration has become a tradition for WCA as a way to show appreciation for all the hard work of their partners and child advocates all year long.

The celebration was attended by Westchester Children’s Association, representatives of county departments, community based organizations, law enforcement and faith leaders and concerned individuals.  Most important were the youth who were present. Youth advocates from Youth Shelter Program of Westchester, White Plains Youth Bureau, and Youth Council of Westchester.

Jim St. Germain speaks with the young men of Youth Shelter Program of Westchester. Photo by Reese Williams

Special guest for the event was Jim St. Germain, a youth advocate and author of the memoir A Stone of Hope.  His story from arrested teen to advocate is an inspiring one — a story of what can happen when the system works.  It is also a reminder that “we are NOT the same person we were at 16 and that none of us is the sum total of our worst days,” said Allison Lake, Deputy Director of Westchester Children’s Association, when she introduced St. Germain. In addition to making appearances to share his story, St. Germain started Preparing Leaders for Tomorrow (PLOT), a nonprofit which provides mentors to at-risk youth between the ages of 9 and 21, in Brooklyn, NY.

Prior to the festivities, stakeholders attended a roundtable discussion on the implementation of the RTA legislation in Westchester.  As Allison Lake, says, “The devil is in the details.”  She went on to say, “We need all of you to remain vigilant advocates to make sure the legislation is implemented to be the best it can for our youth. Legislation is always a compromise and although we did not get everything we wanted we look forward to working with each of you to get it done.”

The event was held at First Baptist Church of White Plains.

For more information on Raise the Age visit www.wca4kids.org

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