HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) - The Horry County Sheriff's Office has been hard at work to bring a new program to kids who have taken the wrong path, or just need a bit more direction. The program is called SOAR - the letters stand for what the officers want to help these kids do: Succeed, Overcome, Achieve and Re-educate.
Sergeant Robert Butler and Lance Corporal Harold Connor have been volunteering their time for more than five years together to help Horry County's at-risk teenagers. Butler is retired military and Connor has been working with at-risk youth for almost ten years. The two have been partner hosts for the Juvenile Diversion Program, JDP. JDP is a four-hour court-ordered class for minors who've found themselves in trouble with the law. Connor says the offenses are usually shoplifting, fighting and school disturbances. The kids tour a jail and listen to speakers at JDP. Myrtle Beach Public Safety discusses gang and drug prevention with parents in a separate group. But Connor and Butler say most kids don't take JDP seriously. That's why SOAR is coming to Horry County.
Connor and Butler will help re-direct the kids through a dose of reality, realization and reflection.
"You made a mistake…pick up the pieces…we'll work with you, we'll help you and get you succeeding to where you want to go," Connor says.
SOAR is not court-ordered, and is an overnight program modeled off the highly successful READY program in Richland County. Connor and Butler have made numerous trips there to perfect the details for SOAR. Participants ages 12 to 16 will arrive at the J. Reuben Long Detention Center around 4 p.m. Then they will receive their jumpsuits, get handcuffed, and chained to be led to the sheriff's jail transport van. The six kids chosen for SOAR will then be driven to the Horry County Justice and Government Center. SOAR will host six kids because there are six cells there.
Adult inmates will not be a part of the program. Connor and Butler will keep the kids busy through tough physical training and aggravation similar to what happens in a real jail. Aggravation like little sleep, loud noises, and an in-your-face type of direction from the officers will prove jail isn't a place these kids want to be.
"You have wake up, ya know, we want them to wake up and see - hey, this is reality. What you're doing will send you to jail. And it's - that's the bottom line. You're going to jail if you don't change your attitude, if you don't change your behavior, if you don't change what you're doing," Butler says.
The end of the program will include reflection time. Butler and Connor say many of the kids they work with have hopes to become professional athletes. Because of this, the officers hope to have Coastal Carolina University athletes speak at the program.
Parent involvement is also key to success. SOAR includes a parent orientation.
When the program's over with, Connor and Butler will follow-up with the kids. They say this means going to ball games, hanging out and giving their own cell phones in case anyone needs them.
If you know of a teenager who would benefit from SOAR contact the Horry County Sheriff's Office. The program is expected to launch in June and will take place once a month, alternating between young men and women groups.