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The Community Court Difference

Jackie Soto & Stephanie Lovett
As many readers of this blog already know, the Red Hook Community Justice Center has the privilege of hosting over 200 visitors each year (as project director, facilitating site visits is a significant part of my job).  Although their interests and objectives vary considerably, most visitors are eager to hear something about the Justice Center's core commitment to community engagement. 
In response, we generally talk a lot about the stuff we do outside of the formal court process, e.g., the Red Hook Youth Court, arts programming, the baseball league, and a broad range of community improvement projects.  In other words, when it comes to community engagement, we are quick to remind visitors that we are more than just a courthouse.  Too quick.
Jackie Soto and Stephanie Lovett have run the Justice Center's Alternative Sanctions Office (more commonly known as "intake") for over 10 years.  Among many, many other things, intake is the first stop for anyone sentenced to community, social, or clinical services as an alternative to incarceration.  And in a bustling community court like ours, that's a whole lot of folks.
Technically, Jackie and Stephanie screen individuals to determine appropriate services, schedule them for obligations, rigorously monitor their compliance, and work closely with the Justice Center's court partners to ensure the swift and fair administration of justice.  But circling back to this idea of community engagement, I want to focus less on what they do... and more on how they do it.
Heart.  If I had to sum it up in one word, I think that’s the one I would choose.  In a fast-paced department that demands constant attention to detail and court process, Jackie and Stephanie never lose sight of why the Justice Center is here in the first place:  to serve the community with care, respect, and dignity.  Somehow they manage to do it with every single person who walks through the door, every single day, despite the relentless demands and pressures of the moment.  Spend an hour or a day in intake, and you will see two professionals who take the time to engage, to listen, and to do what they can to provide meaningful assistance in the lives of folks in crisis.  And they do it in a way that is so genuine, so natural, at times even self-effacing, that it often goes undetected – except where it matters most:  in the lives of the countless individuals they have collectively served. 
Now that’s what I call community engagement.
If I was a sports guy (which after years of denial and posing, I can now admit to the world, I am not), I would probably compare Jackie and Stephanie to some athlete(s) who make something difficult look easy, etc.  But that sort of analogy doesn’t quite capture it, even if I had the knowledge and credibility to pull it off, which I don’t.  No, as much as Jackie and Stephanie have mastered their craft and do their jobs with an effortless grace, that’s not the quality that sets them apart.  I think it comes down to a deep-felt care and commitment to the residents of Red Hook.  I think it comes down to heart.
Hope this finds you well,


  1. My exact sentiments. It's the buzz all over the Red Hook community. Jackie and Stephanie are the same way even when they are not at work. It was a long time coming. Yay for the Red Hook Champions!


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