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BOBBY ARDOIN Editor/Consulting

The Opelousas Love Project, launched several years ago, is providing a major outreach step aimed at mitigating the violent youthful offender issues that City Judge Shaunn Caillier-Harden normally sees inside her courtroom.

Caillier-Harden told the Opelousas Noon Rotary Club on Tuesday that she often adjudicates cases that involve juveniles who are often angry, disconnected and affected by home environments where there is often little guidance or affluence.

The Love Project, Caillier-Harden said, is designed to create a community-based effort that is building relationships focused on making Ward 1 a safer and better place to live.

Volunteers and faith-based ministries are increasingly joining the effort, building relationships in the Opelousas area and focusing on improving the quality of life for youths and their parents, Caillier-Harden added.

For the past two years, the Opelousas Love Project has celebrated their initiative with an annual one-day Fun Day in North City Park.

That event, which originated with the Opelousas Sunrise Rotary Club and community members, has provided music, competitive games, food and fellowship for several hours in the park, Caillier-Harden explained to Rotarians.

The Fun Day event scheduled for 2024, Caillier-Harden noted, will be held on a Saturday instead of Sunday. The change in time is designed to provide more access for community religious groups to participate.

“We have a mixture of people in the Love Project. It includes a number of Rotarians, but many of our organizers are not Rotarians. We meet every three weeks. We are approaching our (community and youth offender) problems in a different way. We are realizing that you have to have a different vision, because the landscape out there is changing,” Caillier-Harden said.

Basically Caillier-Harden said the Love Project wants the Ward 1 community to know that there are people available who care and are willing to help with problems that may initially seem insurmountable within a family setting.

What she sees frequently in her courtroom tells her new types of skill sets are needed to solve problems surrounding families.

“We have right now a new generation of youths and parents, some of whom have stopped parenting. Right now the streets are raising the majority of our children,” Caillier-Harden pointed out.

Endemic local poverty is one root cause that determines much of the aberrant youthful behavior, Caillier-Harden claimed.

“You can’t imagine how many of our young people are living poorly. Not everyone is born with the same deck of cards. Young people are often seeing what they don’t have,” said Caillier-Harden.

Much of her courtroom time is spent working with the school systems and handling truancy matters.

The School District is providing assistance by assigning representatives and social workers, Caillier-Harden said.

“What I do in court is mainly how do I resolve any of the problems that are before the court. Sometimes it might require a sentence (for truants), sometimes it might not. There is an immediate concern with youth violence right now and something has to be done,” Caillier-Harden said.

Many of the young people who are referred to City Court, Caillier-Harden said, possess low self-esteem or self-respect. That attitude is often displayed with lack of respect for the lives of others.

“With our Love Project, we have been going into schools and getting commitments from students and parents. We are emphasizing that we are showing concern for crime and we are trying to address it in a way that has never been done before,” said Caillier-Harden.

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