Juvenile Reentry to Nebraska’s Rural Communities

Teaching & Engagement, 2013


The Juvenile Reentry Project is a service learning project that matches student mentors to youth who typically do not get matched via traditional mentoring programs. It is often difficult to match these youth because they reside in a rural area of the state and they are considered higher risk. We recruited University of Nebraska (UNL and UNK) students who have an interest in the juvenile justice field. We then matched students to youth who were returning to a rural community and had been committed to the Youth Rehabilitation and Treatment Center (YRTC) in Geneva (females) or Kearney (males). Students worked with the facility for a few months, and then continued to work with youth post release, often helping their mentees obtain jobs or attend drug treatment or school.


Between January 2013 and June 2015, a total of 98 young people were matched to a University student mentor. Roughly half of these youth (44) were from Lancaster County and were served under a federal grant; the remaining youth (54) were returning to a rural location. For the majority of this report, we focus on the rural matches.

Very few mentoring programs in the state of Nebraska, or nationwide, serve this high risk population. Through the Juvenile Reentry Project we learned that reentry youth benefit from and enjoy having a college-aged mentor. Student mentors also benefit tremendously, with many of them reporting they “learned things about juvenile justice that they could never get from a textbook.” There are also exponential benefits to the state of Nebraska, as the program develops a professional, experienced workforce and reduces recidivism rates among juveniles. Additionally, our program has received national attention. In January 2015, we were invited to participate in a nationwide mentoring study being conducted by Portland State University. We will continue to participate in this collaborative research.

Additional funding from the Sherwood Foundation allowed this project to continue beyond the two-year grant period.


Project Team



  • Deborah O’Donnell Neary, Midlands Mentoring Partnership
  • Jenna Strawhun, University of Nebraska–Lincoln, Research Graduate Assistant
  • Johanna Peterson, University of Nebraska at Omaha, Graduate Research Assistant
  • Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Juvenile Services
  • Youth Rehabilitation and Treatment Center, Kearney
  • Youth Rehabilitation and Treatment Center, Geneva
  • Nebraska Juvenile Justice Association





  • Nebraska Juvenile Justice Association Conference
    Evidence-based Nebraska!
    May 6-8, 2015 | Kearney, NE
  • Nebraska Community Aid and Juvenile Justice Conference
    Evidence-based Nebraska!
    October, 2014 | Lincoln, NE
  • Heartland Campus Compact Conference
    Service Learning in Criminal Justice: Focus on Juvenile Reentry
    October 2-3, 2014 | Lincoln, NE
  • Midlands Mentoring Partnership Annual Youth Development Summit
    Mentoring Youth Reentering Our Communities
    March, 2014 | Omaha, NE


Media Coverage


Contact: Anne Hobbs, ahobbs@unomaha.edu