Noah Block is a recent graduate of Goucher College in Baltimore where he continued to be an essential part of the program after volunteering all throughout high school. Like many, he was initially drawn to Youth Transforming Justice because of the welcoming community it had. “As a young person, I was highly disconnected from my community, bullied for my experience as a young person with learning disabilities. Those in positions of power and authority chose to be apathetic to my experience, causing me to find other ways of coping and adapting that did not serve me.”
In recent years, Block has furthered his activism beyond YTJ to fight for social justice causes. However, the connections and relationships he has made through the program have had large contributions to his feeling of encouragement. “It's very difficult to fight against long-entrenched injustices. I am very lucky to have a supportive community around me,” Block said.
Sacha Karnofsky is one of the many former respondents who continued her work with YTJ long after her case. She was originally introduced to the program in high school and has now become one of our most frequent advocates and youth leaders. “ I advocate because I love this program, the way it takes a step back to look at each individual as a whole person instead of their mistakes, and I genuinely believe it has a positive impact on the community with room for further growth.”
Her experience in YTJ has led her to develop a passion about raising awareness of the problems within our justice system which has inspired her to use her voice. “My experience as a young activist has been truly empowering. I have really enjoyed being seen and appreciated for the work I do including making presentations and speaking at conferences.” Karnofsky is now a sophomore in community college and planning on transferring to a UC in the fall.
While many of our volunteers discover our program through their high school, Savanna Williams joined the Youth Transforming Justice team during her time as a college student at Sonoma State University. Williams was in the process of receiving her BA in Criminology and Criminal Justice Studies at the time. She knew the severe impact that the criminal justice system has on youth, especially those of color, and wanted to learn more about ways of combating that. She has seen how YTJ and other uses of restorative justice have helped prevent youth of color from entering the school-to-prison pipeline. This lit a fire and led her to take initiative in advocating for reform in the criminal justice system. Continuing her work in this area, she has also taken leadership roles within YTJ and joined the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Commission. “Being able to use your voice and speak up for those who can’t is a rewarding feeling to say the least. It’s a nice reminder knowing to keep fighting the good fight,” Williams said.
Talia Harter is one of our longest regularly active volunteers. She began volunteering with what is now Youth Transforming Justice when she was only in seventh grade at Davidson Middle School. “Don came in to do a training for Peer Court and I was immediately fascinated by what we learned.” After hearing Don Carney talk about the school to prison pipeline and restorative justice, she knew she wanted to get involved and understand more. Harter is a vocal advocate for the implementation of restorative justice and YTJ, but she is also passionate about pushing for equal access to education and mental health support in her community. She is now a junior at San Rafael High School who volunteers for YTJ in our main program Peer Solutions but also in restorative justice efforts we have directly in the San Rafael community. During her years of involvement with YTJ, she says she has learned so much about restorative justice, mass incarceration, and beyond. “I had not yet learned how to support causes I was passionate about before then, and meeting other peers and people who had experience was critical in my getting involved in activism.”
Sophia Martin began volunteering for Peer Solutions when she was a sophomore in high school. She came in with little knowledge about the criminal justice system or the school to prison pipeline and began regularly volunteering to learn more. Over the years she has worked as a juror, advocate, and intern for the program. In 2019 she was on the Youth Board for the California Association of Youth Courts. Since the pandemic, she has started her own ventures of advocating for racial equity and social justice through her blog and school. Martin is currently on a gap year and working as an intern for Youth Transforming Justice.