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Read the stories of former respondents


Many people take their entire adolescence and well into adulthood to find their passion, but Ron Marelli knew what he wanted to do from a very young age. As a seventh grader at Davidson middle school, he discovered CG and Photoshop in a Web Design & New Media class. “My fate was sealed after that,” he said. He pursued this passion and leaned into his creativity outside of the classroom which furthered his love of design. “I would get on the bus and BART and travel over to Richmond or San Francisco and make album art, logos, or conduct photoshoots for bands and rappers.”


While Ron was undoubtedly a very curious and passionate young person, he also struggled with his personal life which impacted his behavior. “I had a lot of anger issues growing up. There were many complex issues happening at my home that were not constructive in my formative years.” This resulted in being sent to juvenile hall for getting into fights at school.


The Marin Youth Center is a community organization Ron attended frequently where he built a social circle and was also able to pursue his interests in Computer Graphics with the software the Center had that he couldn’t afford. When he began getting into fights at the Marin Youth Center, his ability to continue to participate at this invaluable community center was jeopardized. His behavior needed to shift. He was referred to Youth Transforming Justice (YTJ) and was offered an opportunity to work through the anger he was experiencing and learn how to take better control. 


Ron describes his experience at YTJ as transformative. “I was heard. I was given a venue where I could voice my frustrations to people my age and they understood. But I also learned how to listen. And that helped me realize that I was not alone in many of the issues I was facing. I was never told what to do or how to feel. I was treated just as a peer by everyone in the program.”


His experience in both the traditional justice system and a restorative justice program gave Ron insight on the support YTJ provided that juvenile hall lacked. He described it as focusing less on punishment and more on support for young people - most of which are struggling with some aspects of their lives. “Sticking someone in a room, alone, and locking the door solves nothing and builds further disassociation with one's community.”


Ron continued his involvement with YTJ for much of his adolescent years where he was given opportunity to use his talents in a public setting. He generated flyers and logos for the program to support the mission of the youth-led organization. “I tried to give back as much as I could” he said, of his participation as a member of the Peer Team and being able to hear other young peoples’ stories and support them. 


Working with YTJ allowed Ron to continue his involvement at the Marin Community Center which gave him access to further pursue his interest in digital media. In the many years since Ron’s time at YTJ, he has turned that passion into a successful career in visual effects for film. “Some of my most recent milestones include working on Black Adam, Spider-man: No Way Home, She-Hulk: Attorney at Law (S1), Thor: Love and Thunder, Winning Time (S1), and Disenchanted.” 


In the wake of all the amazing milestones Ron has experienced in his life, there are still many lessons he holds from his time with YTJ. Meeting so many other young people from different backgrounds through the program helped him feel less alone in the difficulties he was experiencing, knowing others were going through similar struggles. He found value in those differences, explaining, “I needed to see things from someone else's perspective, listen to others in need, and be a resource when someone needed my help. These are tools that I still carry with me.”


Growing up with two immigrant parents from Guatemala, Dennis was tasked with learning English quickly as a young child and he always excelled at school. Despite his achievements, Dennis describes himself as being a very shy and introverted person. His older brother had made poor choices as a teen and had entered the criminal justice system, and Dennis felt an increased sense of pressure to always be the “well-behaved” son, so being cited at school for marijuana possession was a huge stressor.


Dennis was grateful to have the opportunity to restoratively address his poor choice through his referral to Youth Transforming Justice’s (YTJ) Peer Solutions program. Admittedly, he was very worried walking up to the stands and sharing with strangers, “my anxiety was off the charts.” Not knowing the potential outcome of being cited for possession, he feared he had diverted from the positive path he had been pursuing. As Dennis went through the Peer Solutions process, peers not only ask questions about the incident which got him referred to Peer Solutions, but also seemed eager to know about him as a person. As the hearing proceeded, his fears subsided, and his perspective changed. “Once I understood what kind of program Peer Solutions was, I felt a lot more hopeful that I wouldn't have a criminal record and jeopardize my future for a mistake I made when I was 16 years old,” he says. 


The founder and Director of YTJ, Don Carney, played an integral role in Dennis’s experience throughout the program and was pivotal to his successful completion. “I truly felt like he cared about me and that I wasn't just another number in the system which was important to me considering I was a part of a very marginalized demographic living in Marin County of all places.” At this time, as a sixteen-year-old in high school student he was still working to find his direction and passion in life, mainly drawing strength from his parents and the hardships he


knew they had gone through. In completing the requirements of his restorative plan, he got to experience many volunteer opportunities which he says further refined his idea of what “The American Dream” was for him. “I eventually formulated a passion to help underserved communities (undocumented immigrants, queer youth of color, etc.) gain access to public health services.”


After completing the program, Dennis generously agreed to having YTJ highlight his experience in the 2010 award winning documentary Finding Justice: Ending the School to Prison Pipeline. Following the success of the film Dennis and members of the YTJ staff had opportunities to speak at events all over the state, from the local Rafael Theater to Pepperdine University in Southern California. In addition, they had the chance to meet California Chief Justice, Tani Cantil-Sakauye. “It was a very intense experience for me to share my story and for it to be seen by strangers, however I did find it empowering not only for myself but for future youth who may also have similar lived experiences,” he says. 


Nine years later, Dennis continues to excel at all he puts his mind to and has made great strides in his career. He graduated last year from Sacramento State University with a bachelor’s degree in Ethnic Studies and is now pursuing his passion in public health. “I currently work for the Sacramento LGBT Center as the Community Health Coordinator and am doing exactly that!”


Kevin was 13 years old when he was first referred to Youth Transforming Justice this past year possession of THC and did not have much knowledge about the program. He knew of a few peers at his school who had  been referred, but that  was the extent of his familiarity. “I was really nervous and did not know how it was going to go.” 

But as Kevin went through the process, having peers not only asking about the incident which had gotten him referred but also eager to know more about him as a person, his fears dwindled saying, “I felt really comfortable with everything.” Unlike a suspension or juvenile probation, which focuses on punishing youth, Kevin found that the restorative justice model was much more supportive and had a goal of having him learn and grow as a result of his experience.

Assigned community engagement hours are a crucial part of a Peer Solutions restorative plan. Through completing hours at a community organization they have an interest in, respondents like Kevin can explore  current or emerging interests. There are many volunteer opportunities offered including working with animals at the Milo Foundation or habitat restoration in our county parks. “My community engagement really helped with everything and it was way better than getting suspended because you actually learn something while doing your engagement.”

Today Kevin is still in school working on his academics and engaging in more activities he is interested in. He already sees the positive aspects the program has brought to him that he wants to take into adulthood, “It taught me me how I can choose to take the right paths in my life.”



Kimberly is currently a 20-year-old college student at San Francisco State University and an intern for Youth Transforming Justice (YTJ), but she started her involvement with YTJ as a 13-year-old respondent in the Peer Solutions program. After a middle school fight she was given the option to be suspended or take a referral to YTJ’s Peer Solutions program. Kimberly's initial inclination, similar to many young people who are struggling, was to take the suspension. Kimberly explained, “I was a teenager, so my first thought was ‘I would rather take the suspension because…no school.’ But my parents and the principal were telling me this was the better option because it won’t go on my record.”


Her choice to go through Peer Solutions meant Kimberly received not only additional guidance and support, but also a clean record that she believes made a big difference. “Once you get suspended you’re already headed toward the school to prison pipeline. It’s on your school record and then teachers are going to look at you more often and pick on you just because of that record you have.”


Respondents get the opportunity to help the community in ways that reflect their personal passions or help them discover a new interest. Kimberly volunteered at a local food bank and tutored elementary school students. “That kind of made me realize that I might want to go into social work because I just love helping people. Something about helping others just makes me feel satisfied and happy that I’m able to help them out with something they are struggling with.” After her volunteer experience, Kimberly decided she wanted to go into social work as a career after graduating from college. 


While she is working toward her degree, Kimberly is also an intern for YTJ. It feels like a full circle moment for her, getting to help young people in the way others helped her when she was their age. Being on the other side of the program has helped her learn the importance of patience. “Patience is key. Doing the community service hours as a respondent I learned to have patience because as a teenager I didn’t really have any. Even as an intern for YTJ you never know why kids get into trouble or why they're doing the things that they’re doing that landed them in that position. So, you have to be patient with them and kind to them because you never know what they are going through.”




Adolescent years are a time where young peoples’ brains are still developing. As a result, we often see teens making split second decisions without consideration of the long term implications to their future. Sacha describes herself as a typical teen in high school who experimented with a lot of risk taking with friends. “I was always on the hunt for the next exciting thing, and I often chose instant gratification over smart decision making.” It was an incident during this period that first led Sacha to be referred to Youth Transforming Justice (YTJ).


Many young people in Marin are unaware of YTJ’s holistic approach of accountability and support, and they often presume it is reminiscent of more punitive systems such as juvenile hall and probation. Sacha remembers having a similar feeling. “I was nervous to go up in front of a bunch of my peers to be 'judged,’ but that was the furthest from reality when it got down to it.” Sacha experienced empathy and support from the Peer Team running her hearing rather than judgement, and she saw the unique benefits of YTJ as a justice alternative. She decided she wanted to become more involved and work to actively help other young people in her position, so she started an internship with YTJ. “This opportunity began as a way to get out of having something on my record, but it turned into an extremely valuable lesson and connected me with a kind and caring community that is making a real change in people’s lives.”


Sacha is now a college senior at the University of California, Santa Cruz, where she is studying psychology, her long-time passion. “YTJ further sparked my interest in psychology and taught me even more than I was already learning in school, which was amazing and kept me engaged.” Sacha still makes time to continue her YTJ involvement, participating as a presenter at the annual Stanford Cannabis Awareness Conference the last two years with Youth Transforming Justice director Don Carney. Sacha emphasizes how much she learned about so many things from leadership to drug safety through her involvement, “But the biggest lesson I took away was realizing that people are so much more than the mistakes they have made.”

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