VOICES: Choose optimism to ‘to bring out the best in kids’

Eighteen-year Montgomery County Juvenile Judge Anthony Capizzi retired at the end of this past year. As a judge, he fought to bring special attention to the needs of children and families because he felt they were underrepresented by politicians who generally focus on constituents of voting age.

As the current President of the Kettering Dor-Wood Optimist Club, I recently had the privilege of hearing Judge Capizzi speak at the Optimist International Ohio District’s quarterly conference. When we asked the judge what we could do to best assist his mission, he asked us adamantly to “help him help the youngest kids” – those in the 3-7 age group – “who are too often most vulnerable to the broader societal problems that foster juvenile delinquency.”

As Optimists, our daily mission is “to bring out the best in kids.” This challenge resonated with all of us in attendance, because while I think Optimists do a great job every day working with and supporting youth in our communities, our resources are often focused more on kids who are a little older (later elementary school, middle schools, and high schools). With small adjustments to our budget and some help from new volunteers, it’s clear to my Dor-Wood members that we can maintain our current programs and also start to put more of our emphasis and energy into creating new activities that focus on Judge Capizzi’s target group and to help reduce the population in the Montgomery County Family and Juvenile court system.

With leadership transition in the Juvenile Court, the Montgomery County community will need to ensure that any progress being made will continue. One of the “eye-opening” statistics Judge Capizzi shared with us is that only one-third of kids who are part of the juvenile justice system are involved for a criminal delinquency or offense. Two-thirds of the kids on Judge Capizzi’s docket are there because either they’ve been abused or neglected or they are part of the civil “divorce court for the unmarried.”

That two-thirds of children are in court through no fault of their own is a heartbreaking statistic. Support the continuation of Judge Capizzi’s mission to provide timely support to families, ensure fairness, and balance consequences, rehabilitation, and assistance with the rights of the community the juvenile court protects.

This mission cannot be successfully accomplished by the courts alone. Community organizations like the Optimists and other similar volunteer organizations must adjust their charters and areas of emphasis, and committed individuals must step up.

The Dor-Wood Optimist Club, focused on the young people of Kettering but supportive of any good youth and family cause in Montgomery County, has taken Judge Capizzi’s words to heart. We invite you to visit our website at dorwood.org or email us at information@dorwood.org. Become part of the solution by joining our club or helping us in any way that fits your current situation. We welcome new members and new thinking, and with the start of the new year, it’s the perfect time for you to ensure that your ideas are applied to help us reach all ages of our youth and help fulfill Judge Capizzi’s mission for the great betterment of our kids.

I look forward to working with you.

Mike Zywien is the 2022-23 President of Dor-Wood Optimist Club, a former teacher/coach, retired USAF officer and business executive who now spends time with his family and serves volunteer organizations such as the Optimists and the Montgomery County Veterans Treatment Court.

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