March 31, 2009 |

Adult probation center hopes to make a positive difference in people's lives

Making a positive difference in people's lives and in the neighborhoods are goals of the Adult Probation Day Reporting Center that opened last month in Arlington.

Frank Scherer, the program's manager, said he grew up in Arlington and "wants to give back to the community." Mr. Scherer, accompanied by program supervisor Nicole Ballard, was the guest speaker at the Allentown Community Development Corp. meeting March 26. Ms. Ballard grew up in Beltzhoover.

"We're ‘locals,'" Mr. Scherer said. "It's a program I care about. My parents live in Arlington."

State grants provided money to open the facility at 2320 Arlington Avenue which offers courses on various subjects for those on probation. Also, the staff plans to work with neighborhood groups and develop community service projects.

Mr. Scherer said he would attend future Allentown CDC meetings and give progress reports on the Day Reporting Center. A grand opening is scheduled for late April or early May.

Probation officers from a South Side office will refer individuals who need help. Service areas are Zip codes 15211 (Mount Washington), 15210 (Arlington), 15203 (South Side), 15216 and 15226 (Brentwood, Brookline and Beechview). There are approximately 1,500 people under probation supervision in those areas for property crime, DUIs and drug related arrests.

"People who were arrested can't find jobs. There was no mechanism to help them," Mr. Scherer said.

Courses are offered on life skills. Some people need to learn basic skills such as writing checks, shopping for groceries, shopping in a professional manner, preparing resumes and dressing for a job interview.

Two teachers on staff will prepare adults to pass GED tests.

There are also classes on basic computer skills, drivers education (that does not involve any actual driving), basic computer skills and anger management.

There are mock job interviews to show the job seekers how to talk in a positive manner about themselves. Mr. Scherer said 10 per cent of an interview might be negative and mention their arrests but 90 per cent should be positive and should explain "how they are turning their lives around."

"Everyone who walks through the door will get a drug test. If they test positively they will be referred to treatment…There are no beds. This is not a halfway house…Someone asked me a questions about the visitors ‘hanging out' around the center. People don't ‘hang out' around a probation center… No sex offenders will be admitted to the program," Mr. Scherer said.

Surveillance cameras will be mounted on the front and back of the building.

A police presence will be provided around the building. The police will use computers at the facility and their bicycle unit is assigned there.

The building was formerly used as a dialysis center and the property is leased from Dialysis Clinic Inc. "We have a lease for six years and grant funding for three years," he said.

Hours of operation are noon to 8 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays.

"We know we can't change everything. And the changes aren't going to happen overnight," Mr. Scherer said.

 In other business, Judy Hackel, Allentown CDC president, announced that the city's art commission approved artist Kim Beck's designs that will decorate the windows of the new Zone 3 police station that is being relocated at the site of the community's former hostel. Liz Style, a representative of the mayor's office, said she found the commission's great interest in the project "heartening." The art work will be put on the station's first floor windows with two panels each for the Warrington and Arlington Avenue sides of the building.

"Their concern was that those driving by it at night could see the designs," Ms. Style said. She said John Warren, police project manager, is obtaining information regarding adding lights.

Among Ms. Hackel's announcements was that National Night Out will be held in August and the 100th anniversary of Grandview Park is scheduled for October.

The ribbon cutting ceremony for the Zone 3 police station is scheduled for April 15. As of press time, the time had not yet been set.

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