Our story starts in 2003 with a juvenile justice conference chaired by then Lt. Governor Diane Denish, in which each New Mexico community was asked to send representation. A Los Alamos contingent was sent, including Alan Kirk, Rich Melton, Morrie Pongratz, Bernadette Lauritzen, and others. From this conference, county committees were formed, which eventually became the New Mexico Juvenile Justice Advisory continuums. First District Court Judge Barbara Vigil was asked to chair the three committees in her district: Santa Fe, Rio Arriba, and Los Alamos. Due to schedule constraints, she invited the then Municipal Court Judge, Alan Kirk, to take responsibility and chair the Los Alamos continuum. The Los Alamos committee began by researching how other communities worked with juvenile issues and asked the County and School district to approve a joint effort for programming.
On February 10, 2004, the Los Alamos Juvenile Justice Advisory Board (JJAB) was established by resolutions of the Los Alamos County Council and the Los Alamos School Board to ensure that local services were available for Los Alamos youth involved in the juvenile justice system. The Board was tasked with developing a comprehensive strategic plan for a continuum of youth services addressing prevention, intervention, and graduated sanctions.
In addition to funding from Los Alamos County and CYFD, in the years to follow, JJAB was able to develop multiple funding streams, including Los Alamos Public Schools, Southwest NM Council of Governments, the Delle Foundation, Con Alma Health Foundation, Anderson Foundation, United Way, 100+ Women Group, Del Norte LOV Foundation, N3B Los Alamos, Los Alamos Community Foundation, LANL Foundation, private donors and more. Our funding and flexibility have allowed us to manage and/or fund 15 – 20 programs annually.
The cornerstone of these programs came in the fall of 2012 with the development of the Youth Resource Advocate program – now known as the Resource Specialist (RS) program. The program was the brainchild of Kristine Coblentz, in her then role as JJAB Coordinator, Chair Alan Kirk, and the JJAB Executive Committee. The RS program was to some extent modeled after the Reclaiming Futures program. The observation was that families and youth were struggling with navigating their path through the justice system and finding the resources they needed for support. The group envisioned a wraparound model where youth and families would identify their strengths and challenges and set goals in partnership with a case manager who could assist with finding services and resources to support them. Kristine Coblentz piloted the program as the first resource advocate for high school youth. The program was eventually expanded to include all youth and families living in or attending school in Los Alamos County, not just those involved in the juvenile system. Case managers for elementary youth and their families were added in 2014, and the first full-time case manager for middle school youth and their families was contracted in 2015. Today, the RS program has six full- and part-time resource specialists and a program manager, supporting up to 200 youth and their families annually.
Los Alamos Youth Leadership – 2010
A lot has changed for JJAB since its early years of coordinating programs with minimal funding, using paper to capture data and information, having to hand checks, sharing a two-room office space provided by LAPS, and having an all-independent contractor staff. In 2019, JJAB decided to move away from the all-contractor model and hire staff as direct employees. In addition, the organization hired its first Executive Director, Lisa Zuhn. Through Board and staff leadership, the organization now has an annual budget of over $800,000, has expanded services to include prevention and intervention programs for all youth ages birth through 18, has over 10 part- and full-time employees, and directly manages six programs and provides funding for another nine.
JJAB also continues to advocate for youth in our community. Whether it has been serving on the DWI Council or the Health Council, being an instrumental force in developing the Teen Center, forming the suicide awareness and prevention working group, chairing the basic needs committee, being a strong presence in the youth resiliency committee and domestic violence task force, involvement with PRIDE, or advocating for programs and funding through the County, Schools, and State, we continue to be in the forefront.
As JJAB celebrates its 20th year transforming lives in our community, our vision for the future holds firm, ensuring the children, youth, and families of Los Alamos are resilient, meaningfully connected, and have the capacity to thrive. We are excited to see what the next 20 years will bring. Rachel Mohr-Richards, JJAB Executive Director, sums it up nicely: “We continue to set goals for the sustainability of JJAB and to build the positive workplace culture we consistently strive for. Our team is excited to be a good steward for the organization and to help take JJAB to the next level of excellence for our community.”