For nearly three decades, Colorado Springs Teen Court has provided youth accused of misdemeanor crimes an alternative path aimed at preventing future criminal behavior. The program shifted to include Forge Evolution, a program that works to help prevent youth from getting into legal trouble in the first place. The organization is currently remodeling a new facility and is looking to be fully operational in two years.
KRCC's Mike Procell spoke with CEO Morgan Mote about their work.
This conversation has been edited for clarity and brevity.
KRCC: Can you talk a little bit about how Forge Evolution came to be?
Morgan Mote: Our young people who were not quite in trouble with the law were needing more and more resources in our community. And so, when we asked them what they were looking for, they would say things like, "I want somewhere where I can just go and be myself. " And as we started compiling these surveys and these questions and these needs that our youth had, we went to the board and we went to our staff and we said, "how do we solve this?" Because for so many years we were working with youth that kept getting in trouble with the law, but how do you prevent that step, that final step of poor choice? You start building the skills, those resiliency skills, before they make that final choice. And so, as a board and staff and organization, we chose to rebrand.
Our young people were triggered by the name Teen Court. We had young people literally jumping out of moving vehicles from their family members because they didn't want to go to Teen Court. We had our undocumented family members refusing to walk in the courthouse because they were scared they were going to get deported. We had a youth sitting in her car threatening suicide because she was scared to go to Teen Court.
Teen Court has a state statute and it requires us to work with youth with misdemeanors. The only way to get into prevention was to change our name, and that's where Forge Evolution came in.
KRCC: What specifically are some of the problems that Forge Evolution hopes to address with local youth, and how have those problems maybe changed over the years?
Mote: Our biggest focus right now is growing youth and resiliency factors. So those factors would be helping them grow their strength in communication, grow their strength in their ability for career development. How do we get young people to stay in the workforce? How do we get young people to stay committed to the decisions that they're making? How do we get young people off of drugs?
Substance use is a really big thing that we're struggling with, and that has really significantly changed in terms of when marijuana became legal, the access to marijuana at home, the easy access to vaping across the community.
KRCC: Forge Evolution recently purchased a 22,000 square foot building to house Forge Evolution and the programs aimed at prevention. What can you tell us about the location and why there?
Mote: It's essentially Bijou and Union. We chose to stay downtown [Colorado Springs] so that we could continue having a centralized location. We serve from Monument to Fountain and then all of our cities and towns out east, all the way to the westside [of Colorado Springs]. And so we wanted to be able to have a centralized location on the bus route.
That building was purchased in May, but it needs significant upgrades to be able to open that teen center. And so (we still need to raise about) $3.5 million in order to do all of the upgrades, bring it to code, and to be able to have it ready for our young people.
KRCC: What's your timeline?
Mote: Our goal is to open in the next two years.
KRCC: And how many young folks will this eventually be able to serve?
Mote: We expect our building, once fully operational, will serve about 5,000 (youth) in the first year. Then it can grow from there.
KRCC: Do you think it'll be able to keep up with the growth of Colorado Springs going forward?
KRCC: And is this just for youth in El Paso County?
Mote: Well, we currently serve youth from Pueblo, Teller, Denver… multi counties. And so if a youth wants to come to the Forge Center, then we're happy to have them.
KRCC: Anything else you'd like to add about the past, present, or future operations of Teen Court and or Forge Evolution?
Mote: I would really encourage the community to step out of their comfort zone a little bit and listen more to teens, be there more for teens. These teens are our next generation. They're going to be the leaders and business owners of Colorado Springs, or they're going to be the ones that we have to pay for. So consider investing in the future of Colorado Springs through Forge Evolution so that we can continue to have a great community moving forward.
Mote said since 1994 over 10,000 young people have come through either the Teen Court or Forge Evolution programs, the latter of which started in 2021. She added that based on exit interviews, 90 percent of youth served have gained resiliency skills such as conflict management, goal setting and decision making.
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